Here’s a short story I wrote. Actually it’s the first chapter of a novel I’ve given up on. It was previously published on an online literary site I should’ve researched more thoroughly before submitting to.
Twenty years later, Samantha wouldn’t remember his face.
She wouldn’t remember the slight cleft in his upper lip, or the v-shaped image of concentration on the bridge between his eyes.
She wouldn’t quite remember his name: Kurt? Bart? Something mono-syllabic, short. Once sweet, then a curse.
Twenty years later Samantha would try and fail to recall his clothing – jeans, white T-shirt, black flannel jacket – and even his smell wouldn’t quite come to mind, though at the time, lying under him on the damp grass, it was an overpowering and effective scent. And when she smelled it two days later at school she had to fight not to vomit right there in the hallway with a hundred other kids milling around as if it were just another gray, awful Monday.
She wouldn’t remember his hair. His hair was blond and wavy, slightly too long for his thin face, but he had a habit of tossing it out of his eyes that had been the first thing to catch her attention. He sat in front of her in history class at Belchertown High School. Whenever he looked up after reading or writing on his desk he had to do that, flip his bangs out of his way, and every time the motion pinched Samantha hard and a slight gust of breath escaped her chest.
His hands: rough, chapped, lacking grace. Twenty years later Samantha wouldn’t remember how sharp they felt when they shoved up inside her, further up than her own fingers had ever explored in the safe darkness of her bedroom, under a protective layer of blanket and sheet. And now this, in the open dark of her own backyard, a boy’s fingers, uninvited, intent on their own needs. Those fingers were the first sign that time had split into a Before and an After.
She wouldn’t remember his mouth. She wouldn’t remember that Before she had thought his mouth sensuous and kind, the kind of mouth that would always listen before uttering anything unforgiving. And that After, after their first date, after a sweet walk along her own street where safety had always been a suffocating given, that his mouth would change into a sneer that didn’t know anything about kindness. His mouth had turned into an extension of his terrible fingers but she wouldn’t remember that twenty years later.
A mist had started down. Already parts of her were wet: her hair, her calves, her feet. Her feet were bare; one sandal was hooked around her ankle and the other was gone, somewhere between the gate to the street and here, this spot on the grass where one summer she had set up a wading pool that had killed dead the grass underneath. Her mother had been mad.
Now she felt him grasp her breast. She had an inkling that she could rise and walk away if only she could move her limbs – but his weight. His weight had her pinned against the scrawny grass that every spring her mother nagged her father about aerating and replanting and fertilizing, the grass Samantha had killed one summer with a kid’s wading pool. The pool had been blue and made the water inside blue like the ocean even though it was only a scant foot deep.
One hand squeezed her breast and the other shoved and shoved and shoved and pinched.
Now his hand moved to the other breast. Like he’d find something different.
Twenty years later she wouldn’t remember his breath, the way it caught and held and exhaled into her face, how he smelled like the greasy french fries they’d shared at the mall.
Her parents – if she could scream, she could wake them up. They were in the house over there, her house, the house dark but for the pale pink glow that marked the upstairs bathroom, a night light that had burned every night Samantha could remember. Could she scream? Her mouth was open but felt filled with a plug of tamped air, an invisible gag. She hadn’t know this part of nightmares was true, this muteness.
Her hands – violent, grasping, poor desperate hands – reached his face and started to scratch whatever she could feel. She wanted to feel the squish of popped-out eyes but now she was distracted by a low, muffled growling. The growling was her. Finally, some noise, but not loud enough to attract any help and Hart reacted, dragged the blousy tie-died scarf from her neck – the scarf was the only article of clothing she ever borrowed from her mother – and stuffed it into her mouth and grabbed her hands and stretched them way over her head which almost hurt more than his fingers had in her crotch and now she was more afraid.
Hart held a finger to her stuffed mouth and whispered “Shhh.” She could smell herself on his finger – a seaweed smell; it took effort not to gag around the scarf. Her gorgeous, powerful scream that would have raised armies of dead to come save her transformed into a snort that burned her nose.
They had had a good time. Three hours ago Hart had arrived on time at the end of her driveway to take her to the mall. They had wandered, found friends, recognized much of the crowd, speculated about strangers. They discovered they both liked horror movies and could quote a few classics at length: “They’re dead, they’re all messed up.” They’d driven home with salsa music loud on the radio, dancing in their seats like they actually liked it. When they’d arrived back in front of her house she’d wondered if he’d simply let her out and drive away and she thought that would be okay; she liked him, but something in his face made her unsure if he liked her back. He was polite, he was kind, but a few times he seemed to be listening to a sound that wasn’t her, that she couldn’t hear.
Twenty years later she would forget most of the events that transpired there in her backyard, beyond her ability to stop them. She would remember the barking dog a few houses away. The dog’s name was Charlie and two summers ago she’d walked and fed the thing while its family vacationed in Florida. The dog had peed on the living room rug and the family blamed Samantha and never paid her as much as they’d agreed to. That Halloween Samantha left rotten eggs in the mailbox. Now the dog wouldn’t shut up. Samantha wondered if he was trying to save her, protect her.
Quiet above her. Samantha opened her eyes. She realize she’d closed them. Hart wasn’t looking at her. The hand not busy holding her arms above her was jerking on his belt, unzipping his fly.
Her eyes closed again on their own, as if to save her in some small way.
In her own dark space Samantha felt her tissues split and gaseous bile rose up. He might not let her turn her head to vomit and she’d choke and that would be preferable to this. Now something else was inside her, not fingers, something more blunt, something that burned.
The breathing above her turned rhythmic, short. He seemed to reach a fast edge and whimpered, like he was falling. Then, violently, he tore himself from her and she was left wide open to the now soaking rain.
Eyes still closed, she heard him shuffle his pants up and run away from her, then the gate squeaked over by the house and he was gone.
She waited. The rain – she imagined it washing away his remnants. Hair, skin and sperm running off her body into the ground, soaking into the grass and dirt below, leaving her clean. Her jaw clicked when she dragged the scarf out of her mouth and closed her lips against the rain. No reason now, to scream.
On shaky legs she wobbled to the house, underpants pulled up and skirt pulled down with liquid fingers. A chilled gob ran down her leg. She grasped the top bar of one of the decrepit, second-hand lawn chairs her father was proud to have found. She smoothed her hair. At the kitchen sink the running water felt like a flood against her hands, a safe flood, and she lifted fistfuls to her face again and again and felt parts of her returning, parts that had escaped when Hart first hooked her ankles with his and caught her as she landed on the grass. At first she wondered if this move was a less graceful chapter in their story, precluded by the one tender kiss they’d shared at the gate to her yard, a kiss that made, she’d thought, a kind of promise of mutual patience and slow swimming toward an easy goodnight. But then Hart changed. Like an asymmetrical face that suddenly turned its ugly side to her. He’d tripped her.
She wanted to shower and then she wanted to sleep. And then she wanted to wake up and have no memories.
Samantha’s mother waited in the dark living room and spoke when Samantha went through to the stairs. “Well, hi,” Evelyn said in a low voice.
“Jeez, Mom, you scared me,” Samantha said, her body tensed and electric. I cannot take one more shock, she thought.
“So, have a good date?”
“Fine. Waiting up for me?”
“Well, yes. I am the parent.”
“You don’t have to wait up for me.”
Strange, Samantha thought, how we fall right into this conversation, the same one we’ve had so many times before. As if everything was exactly the same as it had been earlier this evening when Evelyn raised her eyebrows at Samantha’s short skirt, sparking a rally of comments and defensive comebacks until Samantha stormed out to meet Hart at the curb, his car humming benignly in patient wait.
“Obviously, I do.” Evelyn pointedly scanned Samantha’s body with her eyes. Samantha did not have to glance down to know that her clothes were skewed, her legs were smudged with mud, her mouth was red and raw. She looked, she knew, like she’d had sex in the backyard. And she had, but not the kind her mother thought.
“You don’t know anything,” Samantha said, hating the shake in her voice. She should just tell her mother the truth, that would shock that superior look off her face. But the truth, somehow, would not come to the surface.
“I know enough,” Evelyn answered, rising from the chair. “I’m going to bed. I suggest you do the same, missy.”
Samantha was left alone in the dim light of the living room. That feeling of aloneness would last and she’d remember it twenty years later and debate about forgiving her mother, forgiving herself. The boy would fade, as tragedies do, but the harsh taste of her mother would last a long, long time.