One Saturday night, she had dinner with an old lover, a guy she liked a lot but with whom she had little in common. They had never been serious about each other; in fact, they’d used each other as back-ups, making a date to spend some time together when both were lonely and no one else was on the horizon.
Don was moving to Alaska. He had been at loose ends for years, dissatisfied in his middle-school teaching, wanting something else in his life. At one point, he had put out to sea on a big sailing yacht to go around the world, but something had soured the trip and he had come, more restless than ever. He’d been unwilling to reveal any details, and she’d realized that one of the things that didn’t work between them was her need to tell stories and his need not to.
She knew he was hoping for a sexual farewell, but she’d fallen in love several months before and she still believed (six months of happiness to go) that her new man was the one. So at 10:30 she kissed Don goodby in his car and went into her apartment to gather things together for the night with her lover. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something slip around the edge of the building into the side yard, but it was quick and she wasn’t sure. Once in her apartment, she didn’t hear anyone in the old house, and Beverly’s apartment below her was dark, no light showing through the heat vent in the floor.
She wasn’t in her apartment more than 10 minutes. She washed her face, freshened her simple makeup, and gathered papers to grade until John got off work. She fed the two cats and left the tiny window out onto the apple tree open so they could come and go as they pleased.
She thought again about what she had seen as she came in. She listened for any unusual sound in the old building but it was silent. No one home but her. She got her bag and went down the stairs. She locked the apartment door, conscious as always that its hollow core and door knob lock was scant protection. She turned off the hall light as they always did and stepped out onto the porch. There was no one there and she breathed a sigh of relief and headed down the steps and across the lawn.
He must have been waiting for her. Funny that that was her first thought when he grabbed her hair and pressed the sharp point between her shoulder blades. She felt paralyzed with fright, with surprise. Why was she surprised? Somehow she had known he was there, that he had gone around the house looking for something. Why not her?
She was conscious of his smell, clothes long unwashed, and something sweet, hashish maybe. His voice was low and rough from cigarettes. “Which car is yours?” and he pushed her towards the street.
“I don’t have a car,” she lied, and without thinking about it, she threw her keys under her Celica. How did I know to lie? she thought. How did I know to throw the keys away?
He pushed her down then into the grass along the parking strip and she fell on her knees. Out of her mouth came a voice she didn’t recognize. She was so shy she couldn’t ask for directions on the street when she was lost. Now someone in her body was screaming for help.
The man hit her then, cuffed her head several times, and then she realized she was alone. She had not felt him leave or heard him run away. The voice that was not her own went on screaming for help. Help came right away. A bicyclist stopped, a couple walking down the other side of the street came over to her.
And all the vividness of every second faded, and she came back to ordinary time. The bicyclist helped her upstairs. He called the police. The woman of the couple got her a glass of water. She told the story again and again. She gave his description but it was vague, too dark to see. But she would recognize his smell again, she was sure of it. The policeman smiled at her foolishness.
The police found Beverly’s kitchen door ajar, the lock jimmied. Across the freshly painted floor were large footprints.
She asked the police to call Beverly, to tell her not to come home that night. Then the police left, the couple left, the bicyclist walked her to her car and she drove to John’s. She felt exhausted and hyper-alert.
About four months later, the man passed her on the street as she walked home one Saturday afternoon from Safeway. It wasn’t her mind that recognized him but her body and the pulse of fright and surprise that echoed through her. She told John but she didn’t call the police. What was the point?