We stood in the kitchen while she made her daughter a sandwich. I felt the sorrow begin to swell, deep in my belly, a sob that rises into excuses and apologies. Its bedmate, shame, overpowers my thinking brain and my face becomes hot.
I don’t know her well. I don’t know how she’s receiving me, at all. Not today, not any day. But her hands slice the tomatoes, I pass her the bread, she digs in the fridge, water from the well splashes along a blade. Sunlight glints on glass, laughter from children playing and cackling ducks reaches my ears. A dog barks.
The middle finger on my dominant hand throbs, leaking my life’s blood. Not an emergency, just a slow seepage that stains my nail bed, enough to pull my attention. It could be worse. I’m fine. No, it’s all right. I’m wiping tears now. Injured. Fatigued. The lie of my words betrayed by my grief.
I start talking. A general comment. I hesitate. She looks up from the turkey she is slicing, questioning. Not prodding, just… available.
The words begin to tumble forth. I’d received a message from a man who had sexually assaulted me a couple of years ago, his assumption one of friendship. I had spent the morning writing him a letter. Not a well formed, edited piece. One section at a time.
You groped my breasts, my ass, your dry fingers pressing through my clothes between my legs. People all around, I felt ashamed. I told you to stop, pushed you away. I didn’t call out for help, we were friends. Weren’t we? Your mouth on my neck, the flask in your jacket pressing into my breast in opposition to your fingers at the nape of my neck.
Eventually, you lost interest. I breathed a sigh of relief. My friend, having a lapse in judgment. We would talk later.
At closing time, I offered you a ride home, believing myself safe from further molestation. Because you’re my friend. You were so drunk, I was worried for you. In the car, you began again, renewed in the semi-privacy of a late-night car ride. Grabbing the steering wheel, shifting gears. A game to you, you began biting me. Up and down my arm. All traffic lights and stop signs and parked cars, I didn’t stop, but I should have put you out in the middle of the road.
I wrote to you of how the days and months and now years after what you did have added to an already unbelievable number of similar incidents. The weight of them all, I decided in writing you, was more that I would bear any longer. Hope springs eternal, I offered to correspond with you. I want you to have the opportunity to accept responsibility.
She rinsed her hands, dried them on a towel, mouth held in a stern line. In the telling, my rising sorrow had begun to change to something hard. A resistance. Anger. Rage. You think it’s worth making an attempt at educating him. A statement, but she asked the question with her clear eyes.
I shrugged. Maybe.
At that moment, her gaze drifted from my face, and her eyes became wide. I turned to take in the scene: the pasture was on fire. Spreading, so fast, past the furthest reach of the spray from the irrigation. Halted with hands dumping bucket after bucket. Steam, and ash, and then over. Safe.
No one said anything. We all returned to our tasks, and quit that fire. Inside of me, the rage too was quenched, and I was left with a curious feeling of char and the sensation of walking away, a door swinging in the wind behind me.