Photo: © Adam Courtney. All rights reserved.

It doesn’t matter that they meet at a bar called The Buckshot, only that they do. It doesn’t matter that he is wearing a soft gray beanie over his black shoulder length hair, or that she wears cowboy boots and a crop top exposing her soft flesh. It doesn’t matter that he pulls her toward him by her belt loops and whispers, “Let’s get out of here” into her smaller-than-average sized ear. It really doesn’t matter that that first night, they don’t even have sex, that he chases her around her bed, trying to wear her down, but that she remains firm.

It doesn’t matter that the next morning, she gives in to him, spineless and writhing, and that in that simple act, she feels as though she transcends space and time.

The fact of the matter is that years later, after they have sex a countless number of times, after hundreds of late-night text messages, after he slips up and says, “I fucking love you” instead of, “I love fucking you,” on a quiet Thursday night in May, he rapes her.

Jane, meet John. John, meet Jane. Let’s start at the end.

Earlier in the evening, before the rape, Jane goes on a date. She’s not planning on drinking (she has been sober for exactly seven days) but as she is getting ready, staring herself down in her bathroom mirror, door closed to drown out the sound of her roommates, makeup applied, brows fluffed and lips darkened, cheeks rosy and cheekbones bronzed, she says something like, “Who do you think you are.”

Wait. There’s something else you need to know. Jane and John haven’t seen each other in over six months. John has a girlfriend now.

One night, long before the seven days of sobriety began, Jane lay in bed, drunk and spinning. She texted John something vague, something non-committal, even though she was dying to feel him between her legs. Something like what are you doing. It is their code. John responded quickly and seeing his name on her phone spiked her heartbeat. Jane squeezed the sheets with fists. I’m seeing someone, so I’m not really into hanging out like that anymore. They were both dancing around what they meant. Five months earlier, Jane had been in bed with John, making moans of pleasure as he pinned down her wrists.

Jane opens the bathroom door and breezes past her chattering roommates. She grabs her wallet and walks to the corner store, buys a six-pack of Stella Artois. She hurries back to her apartment like she’s breaking a rule, like she’s underage, like she’s about to get caught. After seven days of sobriety, she feels relief at the first sip and seeks more of it. She downs two long-necked bottles.

Jane has gotten used to not having John around. Six months without him, at her first AA meeting, she stood and introduced herself (“Jane, alcoholic”) and they clapped for her, and she cried. She’s been promoted at work. Her friends comment on how happy she looks. Even she has noticed how her eyes crinkle and glitter again when she smiles.

Before they ended, the last time Jane and John saw each other was a hot night. There was a heatwave and fans were sold out all across the city; none of the apartments in San Francisco were equipped to handle the heat. Even at night when it cooled off outside, the old buildings refused to exhale.

After visiting every hardware store in a ten-mile radius and returning empty-handed, Jane found a small, rusty fan shoved to the back of the top shelf of her building’s laundry room, left there by a previous tenant. She stood on a washing machine to retrieve it. She snuck it into her bedroom without her roommates seeing. “You should charge money for this,” John said to her. She lay splayed open on the bed, he on the floor below, headfirst into the tiny fan. His skin glistened with sweat and promise.

Like I said, that was six months ago. Now, it is a quiet Thursday night in May and after a couple more beers, Jane meets her date at a Korean BBQ restaurant. He is blonde and polite. The restaurant is nearly empty, glowing lightbulbs hovering over glossy black tables, their surfaces gleaming. Sitting across from each other, her date fumbles with his chopsticks. After they finish eating, Jane asks him, “Do you want to go to the best tiki bar of your life?”

They sit at the bar and Jane angles her crossed knees towards him and as his hands graze her legs, a zing of pleasure goes down her spine. It’s dark and loud—thank god, she thinks. From underneath the shade of a plastic palm, Jane and her date watch the bartenders blend neon blue drinks. They pour them carefully into large shallow bowls, top them with tiny paper umbrellas and balance them in their hands as they glide toward full sticky tables. Jane thinks of John. About his proposition. About his body, the way it takes up all the space in her bed.

When her date jumps off his barstool and strolls across the bar to the big old-fashioned jukebox, Jane pulls out her phone and texts John. What are you doing?

You see, despite what he texted her five months ago, John has started calling Jane again, late at night. He sends text messages, too—the code. Jane has been ignoring him, remembering the days she’d spend in bed after he’d left her, feeling empty and used up. “He’ll never commit to you,” her friends told her, and she finally knows they are right. But the more John calls and texts, and the more Jane ignores him, the more powerful she feels.

Here’s a montage scene. With Jane and John, it’s all colliding bodies and sweaty sheets and breathless, panted words. It’s late-night text messages and skin and lips and eyes and mouths. It’s his body framing hers, drawing one finger down the centerline of her back, riding the bumpy ridge of her spine. It’s her meaty legs, his muscled biceps. It’s bruises and red skin. It’s quickened pulses, adrenaline, dopamine. It’s bitten lips. It’s a single bead of sweat that runs from the side of his neck to the center of his chest and drops into the divot between her breasts. It’s like the only thing that matters is Jane and John, late at night, the good music flowing between their flesh and bone bodies, like they can fuck their way to love.

Does the story make sense this way?

Jane was at a performance with her father and his new friend. Actually, Jane was in the theater bathroom, sitting on a toilet, fully clothed, when the text that changed everything came in. I’ve been trying to ask you to go get drinks, John said. This was six months since they’d last seen one another. Unable to summon the resolve she had a month earlier when he had started texting her again, she responded right away. She felt afraid of how much power she had accumulated, eager to throw it away. I can’t.

Upstairs in the theater, a girl was wailing at the piano. The bubbles on Jane’s phone hovered and blinked. The anticipation was killing her. She was hiding; hiding from her father and his new friend, who was, of course, a woman; hiding from the terrible performance, the girl at the piano so drunk she had to be helped onto the stage; hiding from how badly she wanted to feel John’s skin under her palms. Finally, John’s text came in: do you want to have a threesome with me and my girl?

In the tiki bar, Jane’s date comes back from the jukebox, a goofy smile on his face, and they knock their knees together and order another round. Jane feels warm and bubbly, like she’s generating something inside of her. She can feel it reeling her date into her, like she’s a lusty, tricky siren to his innocent, stricken sailor.

She leans over and says, “Wanna get out of here?” into his ear, just like John did the first time they met at The Buckshot, and Jane feels the buzz of John’s reply against her leg, and she doesn’t know if she can handle all of this anticipation, all of this bottled desire about to be set loose. “Before my song plays on the jukebox?” her date asks.

In the theater bathroom, John’s proposition pulsed off the screen. A smile, involuntary and betraying, spread across Jane’s face. She felt her eyes light up. Her heart raced, dizzy with relief and desire. She imagined being the kind of girl who said yes to a threesome. Upstairs, the piano clanged. Jane’s legs and feet were asleep; they buzzed thickly. She typed, sent her response quickly, I think I want to say yes. His came instantaneously, I know you do.

That very first night, in the taxi on the way to Jane’s house from The Buckshot, John pressed his body into hers. They slid over vinyl seats until her back pushed against the cold window. The door handle imprinted her spine. His mouth was on her mouth, his mouth (not his hand, not yet) was on her neck. His hands reached out to feel the backs of her legs as she led him upstairs to her bedroom.

The next morning in the shower, Jane found the hint of two small bruises blooming on opposite sides of her upper leg. Twin pieces of evidence you could connect with a string threading through the meat of her thigh.

In her cubicle at work, she unbuttoned her pants enough so that she could hold out the fabric and peer down at one side of the bruise, then the other. She watched the bruises grow over the next few days as they deepened to a bluish purple before lightening into a sickly yellow. They were a pretty stone in her pocket, a smoothness to thumb, her own little thrill.

Jane’s date drives her back to her apartment, and when he stops the car Jane leans over and kisses him hungrily. He kisses her back. She clamors over the center console and straddles him; the steering wheel imprints her spine. She kisses him passionately, moving her hands from his chest to his shoulders up his neck to his head, and she can feel his hands on her hips, on her waist, her breasts. She presses into him.

“You’re trouble,” he says. Jane smiles, rolling the word and his tongue around her mouth. Later, she thinks of this as a prophecy.


The rape is important and not important. You don’t need to see it, but you need to know it happened.

The morning after the rape, Jane stays in bed until 10am even though she’s supposed to be at work. Don’t judge her—she can’t get up—she is wracked with anxiety, fear. When she finally manages to get out of bed, she goes straight to the shower and shaves off all her body hair, which, later, she learns is not ideal evidence-wise.

She’s on hold with the rape hotline for five minutes, then ten, then twenty, then forty, before someone picks up the line. She is pacing outside her therapist’s office after their emergency session. Across the street, nestled in between the old Victorians, is a church. Women wearing headscarves carry in food on silver trays. Jane loses sight of them as they bend into the back of a van to retrieve them. Then they are tray-less below the church steps, emerging from the threshold of a dark opening. The person at the rape hotline tells Jane she has two options: she can go to the hospital, or she can go to the police. She can’t really fathom either, but chooses the hospital, based on what the person at the rape hotline has just taught her: she only has twenty-four hours to create something called a rape kit, which the police use for evidence.

Later, she tells the police officer that yes, she knew John. She tells them that she told John not to come over which is and is not the truth. She thinks it sounds more convincing: the more she can paint John as crazed, maniacal, and unpredictable the better. She is still having trouble believing that she didn’t somehow ask for it. She stares past the officer at a recruitment poster, some nineties relic, tacked onto a bulletin board that is now mostly holes.

Jane tells the police that John choked her, which he did, while saying, “If you tell her I’ll fucking kill you.” The police ask how long John choked her. “I don’t know, thirty seconds maybe?” She can’t remember—she’d left her body by then—but his threat rings in her mind, wakes her up the next morning, keeps her in bed, haunts her throughout the day.

It will continue to haunt her for many years, will interrupt her sleep, will come to her unbidden while she’s having consensual sex with other men.

Jane begins to sweat underneath the impossibly bright florescent lights.

“If he had his hands around your neck for thirty seconds, ma’am,” the officer says, and is he looking at her or is he looking just past her, “then you would have lost consciousness.” Now he looks at her, Jane is sure of it. “Did you lose consciousness?”

Before that, at the hospital, they put her in what’s meant to feel like a room but is just an open space with a curtain that each nurse whips closed after they leave. It is cold and quiet, eerie. The head nurse swabs Jane’s belly, prods her vagina.

“At the risk of sounding crude,” he says—how she wishes it was a woman examining her, not a man, not another man—“you have several abrasions on your vagina, which absolutely constitutes evidence.”

The police write down everything Jane says on a small narrow pad using a short stubby pencil. “Did you say ‘stop’ or ‘no’ at any point while he was inside of you, ma’am?”

Jane looks at the police officer, wonders if he has a sister or a mother or a wife or a daughter or an aunt or a female co-worker or a grandmother or a niece. “I said, stop, I think. Or maybe I said no. I can’t remember.” Jane blinks into the flickering lights.

The police officer looks up from his pad. “You can’t remember?”

After the police have finished, the investigator shows Jane a photo of John. “Is this him?” The investigator holds the photo close to Jane’s face. They sit on opposite sides of a yellowing oblong table in a musty conference room a floor above the police station.

Jane nods yes. John’s hair is long, his chin is tilted up and his head is leaning back from the camera, like he just won something and is posing for the local paper. Jane feels the rush all over again, like it never happened.

After the head nurse has swabbed and examined Jane, he tells her that she should take off her clothes and put them into a paper bag, provided by the hospital, in case she does want to file a police report later. She is far too cold to take off her clothes. “The more evidence the better,” he says.

“What am I supposed to wear home?” Jane asks.

“Oh, the hospital can provide you clothes from our lost and found. Don’t worry—they’ve been washed.” His voice carries across the squeaky linoleum.

Jane is wearing her favorite underwear, favorite sweatpants, favorite flannel shirt. Earlier that morning she had put them on for comfort. She thinks about how now they are covered in John’s DNA, ruined. The head nurse leaves, pulling the curtain on its cord, a high-pitched zip echoing through the corridor. He comes back with large green sweatpants and an oversized long-sleeved t-shirt with the 49ers logo emblazoned on the front.

“Whose are these?” Jane asks.

“They’re from the lost and found,” the head nurse says, like Jane is stupid. He turns around, and Jane realizes this is her cue to undress and to put on the clothes he’s brought her.

“What we’ll need you to do,” the investigator explains from across the table, a pen tucked behind his ear, “is to call him.” He mimes picking up a telephone. With his other hand he is making a talking gesture, snapping his four fingers against his thumb like a mouth. “We’ll record the whole thing, tell you what to say, try to bait him into admitting what he did.”

Jane cannot fathom this. She thinks of all the unfathomable options up to her, all the impossible decisions she has to make.

At her mother’s house, Jane floats in the pristine porcelain bathtub. A bowl of old potpourri rests on the sink, next to it a candle, tall and lit. She sinks below the water, counts. The flickering flame blurs. She holds her breath for as long as she can. Everything goes wobbly and then—quiet. When she comes up for air she tries not to pant. The room comes back into focus, and she sees a clean towel on the edge of the sink, neatly folded. She can sense her mother standing just beyond the threshold of the door. She wonders how long it will take her—to allow these small kindnesses, or to drown.

The investigator continues, unaffected by Jane’s expression of horror. He stands up from his creaky swivel chair. He rests his hands on the scratched tabletop and leans over, face to face with Jane. “The other option is that we can call him and tell him that he’s a suspect in a sexual assault case, and would he like to come down and give a statement?”

Jane swallows.

“It’s just that, when we do that, we usually don’t get anything.” He sighs, sits back down, slides his chair in. He crosses his arms over his chest. “The best option is really to bait him.” The investigator’s eyes gleam. “What do you think?”

Jane has no thoughts, Jane has only her unwavering fear.

Jane makes sure she hears the front door click close after John leaves. She gets up from where she’s been lying on the bed, stomach sticky and wet, and falls to her knees. On her knees (again), the carpet burns. Some ancient animal climbs up from within her and pries open her mouth, wide as it will go (again) and a scream slides out, slow and soundless, her throat aching, her chest bare and wet. She curls up as small as she can get and holds her knees to her chest and rocks, rocks, rocks.

Let’s end at the beginning.

When Jane thinks of that first night, it’s not her body she remembers, it’s his: long and strong, brown skin and black hair. That first night, she watches from above—no, she is him, and no one is her. His barrel chest hovers over her. One long leg, bent at the knee, muscle lifted from bone. Skin stretched over the bony notch of his hip. A head of wild black hair spread across her white sheets. Jane pictures how her body looks beneath his, the way she makes him wait, until she doesn’t want to anymore, and the way she submits, endless and blooming. How she curls into herself and then opens up to him.

Jane is finally free, suspended in her want, and she wants more, for that moment to go on forever, for it to never stop. The purple imprint of his fingers is a kind of creation myth.

In her cubicle, she thinks: if Eve could spring from Adam’s rib, what might come from this?

Katie Mitchell is a writer by night and project manager by day living in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in Kithe and Hive Avenue. She is the recipient of Sou’wester Artist Residencies in 2023 and 2021, and she attended the Tin House Summer Workshop in 2021. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Portland State University.

Appears In

Issue 20

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