The cop slides past her, into her apartment, perching himself on the arm of her couch and pulling out a little flip notebook and a tiny, neon pen. It is the dead of winter and this man is in short-sleeves — she can see the raised, red goosebumps striping his arms. He pointedly does not look at the dirty bra crumpled on the cushion next to him, has, in no way, responded to the flushed bloat of her face, the steady stream of tears soaking thick into her shirt collar. Really, he looks bored as he stares at her living room wall, at her assortment of maps. He points at Westeros. “Cool poster. You caught up?”
She stares, deadpan, through the slice of her swollen eyes. “Yeah.”
“Great show. Can’t wait for the last season. Where’d you get the map?”
“It was a gift.”
He nods, flipping the page, clicking his pen. “Okay, Mara-”
He apologizes, corrects it in his notes. “Okay… Moira. Are you hurt, at all?”
Hurt? No. Her muscles are seized. Her brain is fried. The next morning, in the bright light of her shower, flushed with soap and steaming water, she’ll see the blush of a bruise, just above the crook of her elbow, the size of a thumb. But no. She isn’t hurt.
“Well, thank God for that.” He looks up, crosses his leg over his knee. “You can sit, by the way. There’s no rush.”
She only has the couch to sit on, but even the arm on the opposite end feels too close. She sits on the edge of the tv stand and tells him it happened outside the elevator, at the edge of the parking lot.
He writes this down. She thinks distantly about the weed in her bedroom, wonders if he can smell that she smoked earlier, if he cares. Her eyes gravitate to a smudge of ash on the coffee table.
“Was he waiting for you?”
“I don’t know. He walked past me at first, like he wasn’t gonna do anything, then he grabbed my arm real hard and moved in front of me.”
“That’s when he showed you the gun?”
“And, what all does he take? Your phone?”
Her backpack. Her computer. Thirteen inch Macbook with a toilet sticker. A notebook with her writing. Her wallet, ID, social security card. Why was it there? You’re supposed to keep that in a drawer somewhere, right? A photo of her family on the beach, all pasty white and squinting into the sun. Receipts and reusable straws. Chapstick. Scrunchies. More things that she won’t even think about until weeks later. Where is that? I know it’s somewhere. The further she gets from the event, the longer it takes for her to remember. Oh. My backpack. Army green. Covered in buttons.
A significant pause as the cop writes. He asks her the monetary value of her phone, and her laptop. A rough estimate is fine. In the distance Moira’s cat, Fish, knocks a shampoo bottle into the bathtub. He’s always doing this, startling her awake in the middle of the night, but the cop doesn’t even flinch. “Does he ever actually aim the gun at you?”
Yes. At her stomach, low.
More pen scratching. Fish sprints into the room, his tail puffed.
“If you were to see him, do you think you’d be able to recognize him? Like in a lineup of people.”
She knows the answer, but gives herself a moment before responding. She wants him to believe her — to believe she’s being methodical, not hysterical. But the truth is, the moment she turned the corner and saw him moving toward her, grabbing his crotch, tonguing the edge of his mouth, she knew she was in danger, like slipping slow-motion into an interstate pile-up. “Yes. Absolutely.”
Before leaving, he asks if she has someone to call, to invite over for the night. She tells him somebody is already on their way. Lie. You don’t even have your phone. Tell me how you’d call someone?
He says to expect the detective to email, and flicks his big hand in a wave as he disappears down the yellow-lit stairway. She steps away from the door, pushing it shut and locking it. It’s just the one lock on these apartment doors. It’s on the lease that she can’t add more.
Turns out it’s easy as hell to replace a phone — like an impulse buy, a candy bar or a cute card or chapstick. The first payment doesn’t even get taken out until her next bill, which isn’t for two weeks, an eternity. Her card info is saved. Her address is saved. A handful of clicks on a library computer and a remarkable 4 hours later, it’s there, at her door, bigger and newer and a loud shade of coral, nicer than she had before, nicer than she can afford — a piece of this thing fixed, just like that.
She emails the detective that she has a phone and he calls by midday to confirm details. She sits in the sun, in her bedroom, hoping the warmth anchors her as she goes over it all again. Bundled up in dark clothes, a blue beanie. Strange walk. Maybe a limp or just fucked up.
He’s impressed that she can say with confidence that it was a revolver, but she only knows because she looked it up minutes before the call, found an image, recognized it. That’s it, she thinks, staring at the tiled guns, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. “Yes. I’m sure.”
Moira finds herself in her car, parked in front of the café, wondering what that sensation is called, the one where you black out during your drive somewhere. She does have to work right? Yes. Actually she’s late. She grabs her apron from the backseat, rushes inside.
As Moira rounds the counter, Kendra presses a cap down on a to-go cup, tests it, slides it across the counter to a waiting woman. “Afternoon, Moira. How’re you?”
Moira sets down her bag (an old, cotton cross-over she found at the bottom of her closet, years-old crumbs packed in the pinched corners). She knew this question would come and fumbles it, still, as she ties her apron around her waist. Turns out it doesn’t matter. Kenda’s eyes drop to the counter. “Wow. Is that a new phone?”
“Ugh, no fair.” She wipes the espresso machine down, shaking her head. “Mine’s a piece of crap, but I can’t afford a new one.”
“I was mugged.”
Kendra freezes, towel wrapped around the steaming wand. “You were – what?”
“My phone was stolen. My computer.”
“Oh my god. Are you okay? Did he have a weapon? Jesus.”
Before Moira can respond, Lewis, her grungy, soft-hearted weed dealer, steps through the door. They look from Kendra to Moira, sensing the tension immediately. “Oh man. What’s happening?”
“Moira was mugged.”
Moira steps up to the register. “You want an americano, Lewis?” Overcorrected — way too chipper.
“Uh. Yeah. Are you okay? When did this happen?”
“Night before last.”
“Why didn’t you text me? I live so close!”
“I don’t know! I was fine. He didn’t actually hurt me. It took forever dealing with the police, and when they finally left, I dunno, I just wanted to be alone. I was exhausted.” This all tumbles out of her breathlessly. She can feel them both gauging her, their concern oppressive, like a lowering ceiling. She drops her eyes to the floor. “Besides, I didn’t have my phone. So.” She feels very hot, sweat collecting at the nape of her neck as she runs Lewis’ card. She longs to step back into the cold, to just sit for a moment in the quiet of her car, hidden by the fog on her windows.
Kendra sets the americano down for Lewis, her eyes still on Moira. “Do you want to go home? It’s been really quiet, and Catherine will be here in a bit.”
“Yes. Yeah. Thank you.”
“In fact, she’s on winter break right now and said she wanted more hours. Maybe we could give you a couple days? You should take it easy.”
Lewis nods. “Yeah, like, this is traumatic. Maybe you should talk to someone? God. Did they catch him?”
The grill at Moira’s side gushes heat. She brushes sweat from her forehead, eyes on the ground. She feels them waiting for her to respond, but she can’t find the words. And why should she have to? The attention feels sharp and demanding, and she’s so tired. Something like resentment is burning in her chest, and she knows they haven’t done anything but she hates them. She hates them.
Her stomach tilts. “I’m fine. Sorry.”
“Babe, you’re crying. Sit down.”
Moira inhales deeply, grabbing her bag. “No. I mean, no, I’m okay, really. I’m just tired. I’m gonna go home. Any shifts anyone wants they can have. Just tell me when to come in.”
It’s still light out when Moira arrives home, but her apartment feels shaded, unnaturally dark and unknown, five-hundred square feet widening out around her. She hangs her keys, drops her bag to the floor.
Fish hides. Any noise a little abnormal sends him skittering into a closet, under the couch, behind the books on the shelf, etc… Shaking his food bowl isn’t enough to bring him out. Moira has to find him, and wrestle him from his spot. Lewis likes to say that a pet’s personality imitates its owner’s, as if repeating this to her would make her less of an agoraphobe, Fish less of a scaredy-cat. As if knowing why you do something is all you need to stop doing it.
This time, Fish is in an obvious spot, curled up behind her guitar. Finding him typically puts her at ease, but now her eyes dart from corner to corner in distrust. She feels as if the walls are watching her, as if she’s not alone.
It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, this particular kind of paranoia. She spent a stretch of her childhood with an aunt, her daytime babysitter while her young mother unloaded trucks for a super-store. Her aunt would spend entire days lounging in her sun-drenched bed, reading racy novels with the police scanner squawking in the background. In the afternoon, she’d wander out, light a cigarette at the dining table, and begin the process of dialing different family members.
“Where are you? There’s a wreck on the highway.”
Or: “Don’t go out alone, hun, and check your car before you get in.”
She’d tap her cigarette into the ashtray and listen to their responses with an intensely palatable boredom. She’d then look hard at Moira, through her entrails of smoke, one eye-brow cocked in a tight, thin arch, and say, perhaps to both Moira and the phone, “Well, honey, truth is it’s not being paranoid; it’s being smart.”
Moira’s mother blamed it on their childhood in Chicago, told her they’d “been through some things.” It’s why Moira grew up not in the Windy City but in Kodak, Tennessee, a place so small that its own post office is in the next town over.
But her mother didn’t make her check the closets and under the beds every time they arrived home, like her aunt did. She didn’t call every family member within twenty miles to make sure they weren’t in a car accident. She didn’t obsess, late into the night, about the gaunt faces glowing on the evening news. What’s the difference between the two? Where do the paths split?
Moira moves through the apartment, opening every closet, pushing coats aside, looking deep into the dark corners, just as she used to with her aunt, except now no one is making her. The thing is, she ran straight home after he mugged her. He could have seen the apartment she ran to from the parking lot. She looks under her bed. She whips back the shower curtain. Heart pumping, she steps back into her tiny square of a living room, where Fish is cleaning himself on the couch. Stupid. Big fucking baby. But, shit. The door is unlocked, has been this whole time. She snaps the lock in place, stepping back and staring at it. Don’t be an idiot. No one came in. You’d have heard him.
But she looks again, in every spot.
Somehow Kendra managed to get her a week off, and other than her anxiety about going out after dark, Moira begins to feel weirdly okay. Anti-social, sure, but it’s not like she wasn’t already a recluse. Living alone makes it so easy. She likes watching movies and smoking weed and playing video games and none of these things require other people.
Well, she thinks, looking into a nearly empty ziplock, picking at the tiny green flecks. Sometimes you need other people.
She has Lewis’s name saved in her phone with a sunshine emoji. She originally wanted it to be one of the plant emojis — when she thinks of Lewis, she thinks of them lounging in grass, green stains on their knees, sunglasses reflecting the blanket of blue sky above them — but she imagined them seeing the plant and snorting. “Goodness Moira, could you be more obvious? You know under ‘Company’ you could just write ‘Weed Dealer’ and call it a day.”
They won’t be home for another two hours, at least. She packs her last bowl, smokes it in the sunshine of her bedroom, Fish stretched out on the floor in front of her, tail twitching. With the smoke hanging around him, soaked in warmth, Fish looks royal. His bored eyes peer across the floor at her, so large and green. The thought rises unbidden from somewhere deep, that Fish could have outlived her, up here, in their home. If she had been shot, or kidnapped. If she had disappeared. Fish blinks and she feels like crying. Almost as if he senses this welling emotion in her, he breaks eye contact and starts licking his asshole. Moira decides she should stop being so dramatic and get out of the apartment.
There’s a coffee shop across the street, primmer than the café where she works with Kendra, more of a chic hipster vibe, with bright white walls and big, green plants. She’ll sit over there until Lewis is home.
She finds a window seat full of sunlight and slides into it with her phone and coffee. She’s still stoned and the warmth feels so good on her skin that she catches herself closing her eyes. The room is filled with dish clatter and gentle conversation. Espresso grinding. She sips on the coffee and it’s delicious and bitter. This was a good idea.
Everyone in this neighborhood looks like they hopped out of a university pamphlet, with cute baubled winter caps and brown leather boots, hipster beards and wine-red lipstick and rose-gold laptop cases. Even the barista looks hip, with her hair tied back in twin buns, her makeup lightly sheened with sweat as she pulls espresso shots in a cloud of steam.
Moira’s table neighbors erupt into squeals, snatching her attention. She follows their gaze out the window. A big, ugly mastiff lumbers down the sidewalk, tongue lolling out of his wet jaws. The woman attached is tall and made of sharp angles. Her brunette curls are tied back into a loose, wind-blown pony-tail. Her nose is straight-sloping, her cheeks bright red from the cold. Moira imagines pressing her fingers to her face, watching the red brighten to white under her fingertips. When suddenly the woman looks up, making eye-contact, Moira slams her eyes back down to her phone, on the table. A moment later, the door opens and closes.
“We love your dog!” Neighbor Table coos, in lilting unison.
Said dog is sitting just outside Moira’s window, tied to the handrail, panting heavily and looking in. Smiling. How can something be so gross and so cute and so intimidating all at once?
Maybe I should get a dog.
A moment later, the woman breezes by, coffee in hand. The dog’s big paws bounce on the sidewalk at the sight of her, tailing whipping hard against the window with a dull thunk, thunk, thunk. The whole coffeeshop snickers.
Oh god, am I about to go buy a dog?
Her phone buzzes – Lewis. C’mere.
Cool. Want a coffee?
Ellipses. She looks back out the window. The woman and her dog are crossing the street, their backs to her. They stop in front of Moira’s building, and hit the elevator’s button. Her phone vibrates. Moira. Light of my life. You get me. You see me as I’ve never been seen before.
She snorts, pockets her phone.
“Turns out she lives in my building somewhere. I’ve just never noticed her.”
Lewis smirks, dropping another nug into the solo cup, watching the number on the scale inch higher. Their hair is a fresh color, a deep, ink black that stinks of product. Satisfied, they dump the weed into a ziplock, zipping it up, and handing it over. Moira stuffs it into her jacket pocket, passing over a small fold of bills. Lewis pulls a five out and pushes it back to her. “For the coffee. You going to try and talk to her?”
“Oh, god no.”
“What? Why not?”
She shrugs. Lewis moves back into their living room, where Hank, Lewis’s roommate, lounges with a game controller in his lap. Lewis plops onto the couch, patting the cushion next to them. Moira sits, watching Hank’s character move through a forest holding a machete.
Lewis turns to her, lowers their voice as if Hank weren’t two feet away. “So, I mean sorry to bring it up, but have you heard anything?”
Moira inhales. “Uh, no. I mean, it’s really unlikely I’ll ever get my stuff back. The cop kind of told me that right away, that it’s just gone.”
“And the guy?”
She shakes her head, feeling deeply uncomfortable. Hank is silent as his character kicks open a door to an abandoned cabin and digs through some crates.
Lewis again, still mumbling. “I saw a news article about it — he had a gun?”
Another character bursts into the cabin and Hank deftly slices them a handful of times, his body tensing on the couch.
“Uh, yeah. Like a revolver, I guess.”
Someone else enters the cabin and kills Hank with an ax. He sighs, takes a hit from the bong on the coffee table. He exhales, passes to Lewis. “It was probably fake. The gun.” Piles of smoke curl toward the ceiling.
Lewis nods. “Yeah, let’s hope so. It’s better to think so.”
Hank’s character respawns. Lewis holds the bong out to Moira. “And, hey, it’s all creative fuel right? What doesn’t kill you.”
Home again — all the closets and dark corners glaring at her, daring her. Fish nowhere to be found. She fills his food bowl and shakes it around. She checks all the closets, for intruders and for Fish. She finds neither. She drags a chair over to her front door and props it under the handle, then checks the lock again. She packs a bowl and plays video games until she’s too high and then she curls under a blanket to watch TV. She chooses something bland and comfortable. She smokes more. She falls asleep, watching the title sequence flash like passing headlights into her living room.
Late in the night she’s woken up by the sound of people chatting outside her door, near the elevator. Fish sits on the coffee table in front of her, staring. The TV is frozen on the “Are You Still Watching” screen.
Fish, where do you go?
He blinks, looks away. She follows his eyeline to the front closet.
I checked there.
He hops down, scampers out of the room.
She can hear the elevator arrive, the doors ding and slide open. She grabs her bowl, looking only about half finished, and takes a long hit. She’s considering getting up for a glass of water, when a scream cracks from outside and below. She jumps off the couch, chest screaming, and runs for her door, kicking the chair aside and tumbling outside. She has her phone in hand. She leans over the banister, looking down into the parking lot. A woman running. Oh my god. Oh my god.
She hits the emergency button on her phone. Calling 911…
The woman turns, doubles over, her shadow spilling long across the concrete.
She’s laughing. Her friend is running up to her, laughing too.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
They hug, keep hugging as they move from the center of the parking lot to their car.
“Hello? This is 911, what’s your emergency?”
“Oh my god. Sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Ma’am, is there an emergency?”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I thought there was, but it’s okay. I’m sorry.”
Before she finishes, they’ve hung up. Below, the car pulls slowly into the street, headlights cutting through the dark. Moira turns to see her door left open, the chair on its side, canned laughter bubbling from the glow of her living room.
She knows she’s going to run out of weed soon, if she doesn’t slow down, but anytime she tries to go a few hours without, her body tenses, rope tight. She can’t sit through an hour of TV. She has a crying fit when she’s doing dishes and breaks a mug. She stares, long and hard, at every person passing in the street below. Is that him? Is that him? She smokes until she slips into sleep, and then she dreams, wild and bright. She wanders through an endlessly large house, opening cabinets and closets, searching for Fish. In this dream, she knows a copperhead is also hiding in the house. Sooner or later she must find one or the other. Or, she’s in the elevator. It reaches her floor and stops with a bump, but the doors don’t open. She looks down and blood, brown and thick, gushes from her stomach. It sticks with a smack to the bottom of her shoe.
What day is it? Fish’s bowl is still only half-empty. She shakes it, so that the food lays evenly across the surface. She finds her phone, forgotten on the bathroom counter. There’s a message from Kendra. She reads it while she pees.
Hey girl – I hope this doesn’t freak you out too much but I saw that someone was mugged last night near you. Maybe you should check it out and see if the description matches?? Hope you’re getting lots of rest!!! See you Sunday! [heart emoji] [sparkle emoji]
She’s linked to a post in a neighborhood watch group. It’s long, written by the husband of the victim, who’s safe, yes. But the man assaulted her. Caught her while she was walking to her car, pressed the gun into her side. He took her engagement ring and her bag and made her lay flat on the ground while he searched her for more, while he groped her.
The description matches, down to the blue beanie and the odd walk. The detective says, simply, that he’ll look into it.
The coffee shop is busy today, loud with brunchers, but Moira’s favorite table is free.
She ran out of weed six hours ago, and it’s left her feeling hazy and thick, somehow both antsy and exhausted, paranoid and unable to concentrate. If she could just get her muscles to loosen, her feet to stop twitching, maybe she’d be okay. Maybe she’d wake up and instead of being terrified, she’d be hardened. She’d go back to kind of liking the sound of the sirens screaming by her window — thinking it adds a kind of heat to her life in the city. Things are happening. But now every ambulance and police car just fires off fear. Somewhere someone is hurt, or traumatized, bleeding or crying. The wail of a siren means tragedy.
A guy stands over her table, a large backpack slung over his shoulder. “Mind if I sit?” As he asks, he drapes his bag over the back of the chair.
Moira looks around as he takes a seat. The shop is busy, but there are larger, more shareable tables with seats free. “I was about to leave anyways. No worries.” She starts to stand but he reaches out, touching her arm. She yanks it back quickly, shocking him.
“Sorry – don’t leave on my account. I just thought, well…” He pauses, pulling his tablet from his bag. “I see you in here sometimes. You always seem so lost in thought. It’s really cool to see someone not sucked into their phone all the time.”
“I love my phone.”
He laughs, as if she was joking. “So, do you live around here?”
She stands up. “Sorry, I’ve got to get to work. I’m late.”
He stares at her for a second, like, I saw you just sit down, but then gets his face together, grins. “Well, alrighty then. Maybe next time I can get you to talk to me.” He winks. She imagines setting herself on fire, right there in the center of the room.
Sometime between leaving the coffee shop and getting to the other side of the street, she decides, fuck it, she’ll buy more weed. She just needs to fucking relax. She feels like crying, and why? Because some dumb troll hit on her? Get your shit together.
She stops, turns. It’s the woman, with her dog. They’re nearby, the dog sniffing around in the dead grass at the parking lot’s edge. She holds up a bill, the five Moira keeps forgetting to use. “Sorry, I think maybe you dropped this?”
They meet halfway. The woman’s curls are down today, flying wild in the cold breeze. A hair is caught in the corner of her lip, stays there as she hands the bill over, like a crack in marble. The dog pushes his head up against Moira’s stomach, leaving a thick trail of slobber.
“Oh my god, I’m sorry. He’s so affectionate and so gross.”
Moira laughs. “No, uh. I like it. I mean, I like dogs.” She rubs the dog’s head, scratches his ear. His head is huge and heavy, his fur surprisingly soft. The woman tells her his name is Frankie.
“Hello, Frankie.” Moira says, smiling at him. His tail wags in response, face busting into a big dog grin. She laughs, feeling her body shake itself loose under the dog’s soft eyes.
“You have a cat right? Sorry, it’s weird to know that. I just see him in your window sometimes. A big, fluffy grey boy?”
“Yeah, that’s Fish.”
“Fish. He’s so cute, I just wanna scratch his fuzzy cheeks.”
“You can meet him if you want.” She isn’t thinking this through. She hasn’t cleaned her apartment in days – there are still broken mug pieces in the sink. God, who knows what the bathroom looks like.
“Really? Sure! I’ll just put Frankie up real quick.”
“Okay. Cool. I’m gonna just – just come up whenever.”
First thing’s first, dirty underwear off the floor. Shit, there are so many dishes everywhere. How many fresh glasses of water has she grabbed? The sink is full, beyond full. Good news is the cabinets are nearly empty. Moira grabs the dirty dishes and stacks them back in the cupboard until only a few things are left in the sink.
She runs into the bathroom. Of course, she looks awful. Tired, unshowered. She splashes cold water on her face, towels off. Then she hears the knock.
Okay. Where’s Fish?
Not behind the guitar. Not in the front closet.
The woman’s second knock is a bit more timid. “One second!” Moira calls, moving books aside at the bottom of her bookshelf. Not there. When did she see him last? She’s been in such a haze the last few days. Behind the shower curtain? No. Bedroom closet? Under the bed? Inside his litter box? No. No. Fuck, where is he?
She grabs his food bowl, still only half eaten, shakes it. “Fish?” Nothing. When did she see him last? When? When?
She remembers, then, the late-night 911 call, turning with her phone held limp in her hand, seeing her door left open. No. That’s not the last time she saw him. It can’t be. It was too long ago.
She goes to the door, opens it. The woman is leaning against the banister, fists dug deep into her peacoat pockets, at ease. She smiles kindly at Moira, but it quickly falters. How insane she must look.
“I – uhm – I can’t find him.” Moira’s voice cracks. She swallows.
“Oh. Okay. Are you okay? Do you want help looking?”
And then she is in Moira’s apartment, grinning like a maniac, like this is somehow okay, like Fish isn’t dead somewhere because Moira’s a pot-head loser. The woman picks up Fish’s bowl. “Have you tried shaking his food around?”
“That doesn’t work.” Moira’s voice is brusque, but she can’t help it. “I don’t think I need your help, actually.”
“Okay.” The woman’s reaction is soft, and she quickly moves back to the door. “I’m sorry.” Outside, again, she turns. “I’m Hannah, by the way. I don’t think I said that earlier.”
Hours go by and Moira’s turned her apartment upside down, inside out and Fish is nowhere. Sometimes she has to stop looking to half sob, half scream into a pillow. She hurts in her center, like heartbreak. While searching her closet for the third time she finds a pocket knife in a shoe box — a tiny thing that could go on a keychain. For a fluttering moment, she imagines sticking it into her own chest, leaking all the tension out of her body. She slides the blade out and back in, running her thumb along it. Eventually, she pockets it.
Lewis still hasn’t responded to her texts for weed. Tired again, she fills Fish’s bowl, all the way to the top, and tries to sleep, but ends up just lying, tight as a board, staring at her ceiling and listening for him.
Sirens pass. People laugh from the street below.
Just sleep. C’mon. He’ll be staring at you when you wake up, begging for more food, the fat-ass.
More sirens. And more. Moira gets up, moves to the window. Two police cars zip around the corner, screaming down the street. Should she make flyers with Fish’s face on them? Pass them out to her neighbors? Her sluggish brain wanders to her closest neighbor, a middle-aged, divorced man who works at sunrise for some construction company in town. The night of her mugging, he had answered her fevered knocks wrapped in a shitty old robe and holding a hammer. In spite of his initial suspicion, he was quick to hand over his cellphone, a newer model, but wrapped in a brick-like case that made it feel like something from the eighties.
“They sending an officer?” He asked, after she handed back his phone, his voice low and thick with accent. She nodded. “You’ll be okay?” She nodded again. He opened his door, then, but hesitated, shifting his weight from one boot to the other. She heard the sirens, far away but tumbling closer, like rolling thunder, this time coming right for her. “You should think about getting a gun, little girl like yourself living alone.”
Maybe I should. Apparently it’s easy.
But when she imagines blowing someone’s face away, sending their thoughts and their soul flying into smithereens, a firecracker of blood and brains spitting onto a wall, it isn’t her attacker she thinks of killing.
I wish he had just killed me.
The thought arrives as Moira stares out the window, uninvited but clear, and it feels good – like picking a scab free. I wish he had killed me.
Her heart races as it appears, again and again behind her eyes. It feels like revenge. It feels like giving up a ruthless, winless game. She breathes deep and lets the tears fall fat down her face as she crawls back into bed.
Eventually, she does sleep, a sleep thick enough that she floats out of it, like surfacing from a deep lake. She’s in her bedroom, bundled up in her pile of blankets. It’s dark out. Was it dark out when she fell asleep?
She palms for her phone, finding it up under her pillow — dead. She plugs it in and rolls onto her back, trying not to think about Fish, who was not here waiting for her when she woke. It was stupid to hope so. The phone lights up. She grabs it, punching in her code.
Fuck, Lewis texted.
Four and a half hours ago. Fuck. Fuck.
Her thumb moves quickly and incorrectly across the keypad. Autocorrect gets it all wrong, and she has to erase it all and start over. hey bud im so sorry r u still available??
She sends the text and her heart sinks. What is she thinking? It’s nearly 9:30. She can’t leave. She stands up, moves to the window. Down below, the street is busy, busier than it was that night. Witnesses everywhere. She can do this. Her phone buzzes.
I’m not home and won’t be til way later but I got some on me if you wanna meet me here @ Blue Bar
Her heart thumps. It’s okay. It’s not going to happen again. She grabs some pants, pulling them on. But why couldn’t it happen again? Socks, somewhere. They don’t have to match. Maybe he’s nuts. He did mug again, just days after, in the same neighborhood.
Shoes on, she moves to the bathroom, grabbing her brush and tugging it through her hair a few times. Cold water on her face, which somehow still looks exhausted. This could be the decision that kills me.
It’s such an insane thing to think, and yet it can’t be disproven until it’s over. She can’t reason herself out of it. She stares at herself hard, trying anyway. Moisturizer. Eye cream. Bag slung over shoulder. Out the door.
God, it is so unbelievably cold. She had no idea. She tightens her jacket, stuffing the trembling key into the keyhole. Lock. She pushes the elevator button. It lights up blue, and her chest tightens. Here she goes. Inside, her heart continues to pound, the numbers ticking down. Fourth floor, third, second, first…doors open. A man stands outside, waiting. She nearly cries out, but it’s not him. The man smiles and steps aside as she rushes, head down, past him and to her car, which is parked remarkably close.
Blue Bar is just down the street. In three minutes, she’s there, squeezing her car into a spot, half up on the grass and definitely too close to its neighbor. She hops up the stairs, her ID out, ready for the bouncer.
There are people hovering right inside the doorway, so she has to side-step inside. It’s a dark, divey sort of bar. The haze of the room is thick and hot, the cigarette smoke visible in the glow of the corner television. She has to pee, realizing now that she hasn’t since she woke from her long nap. She glances around, knowing the bathroom is somewhere toward the back. She’ll find Lewis after.
But as she’s slipping through the crowd, Lewis catches her eye, waves. They’re holding a fresh cigarette, standing at a small table with a few other people. The music is insanely loud, throbbing. Lewis pulls her into a friendly, one-armed hug, introducing her to the table.
“Nora?” One asks.
“MOI-ra!” Lewis shouts back.
Lewis is slick, sliding the bag into her hand effortlessly and without any dramatics. “You wanna stay for a drink?” They ask into her ear.
The last thing she wants is to scream small talk in a room packed with strangers. She hugs Lewis, this time both-armed, thanking them, and makes her way to the bathroom.
It’s a single-room bathroom, two women in line ahead of her. She stands with her hands stuffed into her pockets, trying to look casual and unbothered, but there’s something resting deep in the fabric’s corner. She pulls out the pocket knife, her heart skipping. She quickly pushes it back into her pocket, just as one woman exits and another rushes in. Taking a deep breath, she flips open the knife, inside her pocket, running her thumb along the edge. Her nerves float in her stomach like a tide, building. Maybe she should just stay here. Maybe Lewis can follow her home in a bit, walk her inside. That’s all she needs — somebody to walk her inside. And they’d do it, if she just asked. In a second they’d do it. After the bathroom, she’ll —
A hand wraps hard around her arm, turning her. She cries out, ripping her hand and the open knife from her pocket. The man staggers back, immediately, his hands up. He’s shouting, his face red, drunk. The music is still so loud that she can’t hear him — for a surreal moment he looks like a fish, mouth wide and flapping.
It’s the coffee shop guy, the one who sat at her table, who reached out, touched her arm. Winked.
She’s still standing there, with her little knife pointing at him. His friends are gathering around, touching her, pushing her arm down. The bathroom door opens but the other woman in line is just staring. A few phones have risen from pockets, aimed at her. The music has morphed into a ringing between her ears
“Stop touching me,” she hears herself saying, her voice low and distant. “Stop it.”
From near her scalp, just above: “Put the knife away, then! Crazy bitch.”
From farther away: “Don’t say bitch, dude. C’mon.”
Moira drops the knife. Someone near her picks it up, and she pushes past them.
“No way, don’t let her leave!”
She rushes into the crowd and through it. No one tries to stop her.
She pushes her forehead down against the steering wheel, wailing and punching her palm against the dashboard. She’s never been this scared, not even during the actual fucking mugging. She’s trembling all over, shaking so hard she’s beginning to ache. And, god, she still has to pee so bad. She can’t wait much longer. Get it together. Get out now. Now.
If someone else would just pull in, she could walk in at the same time. Because he’s there. She can see, behind her eyes, over and over again, him pulling the gun out from the front of his pants, his other hand, not just grabbing himself, but rubbing himself as he turns the gun on her, wetting his mouth, so explicit in his need for her to know, this is about her being a woman. This is about sex. Over and over she realizes the power he has over her, that he could kill her, or rape her, kidnap her and take her anywhere. The fact that last time all he did was take her stupid stuff just means she won’t be lucky this time. Who’s lucky twice?
Please, someone come out.
She really is going to piss herself if she doesn’t get home soon.
And then, from a few floors up, she sees them, Hannah and Frankie, on their way down the stairs. Moira holds her breath, waiting for them to reach the bottom. It’s dark, but she thinks she sees Hannah notice her, hesitate. Regardless, Hannah looks away quickly. Frankie’s paws hit the pavement and Moira rushes out of the car. She doesn’t look back, walking fast until she reaches the stairs, at which point she breaks into a run.
She reaches her door, panting, and fumbles the key. She’s crying again, because she can feel as she finally shoves the right key into the door, she’s not going to make it. After all that. When she’s so fucking close.
The release is hot on her legs, and once it starts she can’t make it stop. The door opens and she stumbles inside, slamming it shut behind her.
In the bathroom, she peels off her soaked clothes, and then all the rest, throwing them into a corner. She steps into her bathtub, pulling her knees up against her chest. She lays her forehead down and tries to breathe, but she’s racked with sobs, hyperventilating from it. She can’t exist like this, in a world like this one. She should crawl out her fifth story window. She really fucking should.
A soft fuzz on her knee, pressure. A throaty chirp. She looks up, through her foggy eyes, to see Fish staring at her, perched on the edge of the tub, eyes big and tender. He meows, more insistent this time, pushing his head against her knee.
“Oh — hi.”
She looks up. Hannah and Frankie are at the corner, near the crosswalk. “We were just on our way there!” Hannah says, gesturing to Moira’s coffee. Frankie barks, ecstatic and pulling to see her. Moira lifts her coffee away from his big head, petting him with her free hand. “Yeah, it’s like the only place I go to anymore.”
Hannah laughs, like it’s a joke. The crosswalk light changes, but she stays at the corner with Moira. “So,” she shifts on the balls of her feet. “Maybe this is weird, but I’ve been meaning to ask, because, well I know you were the one who got mugged here, like a week ago. And I noticed you, last night. Just when I was walking Frankie.”
Moira looks away, heart skipping.
“If you ever want someone to, like, walk you to your car or to your door…I mean if you’re alone and it’s late…?” Moira looks up, sees that Hannah’s blushing a little. She ruffles the fur on Frankie’s back, continues. “I mean, he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he’s intimidating at least. I could give you my number. You could just text, anytime.”
Moira must look shocked, or perhaps angry (people were always thinking she was angry), because Hannah lifts her hand, then, wide-eyed. “I’m sorry, maybe that’s super presumptuous-”
“No. I mean…” Hannah saw her last night, sitting like a scared psycho, sobbing in her car. God, what if she knows Moira pissed herself? A car passes — she briefly wishes she had been under it. “I guess I have been a paranoid freak lately.”
“Oh, that’s not what I was trying to-”
“I’ve been checking all my closets when I get home for intruders.”
“A drunk guy touched my arm at a bar and I pulled a knife on him.” A beat passes and Moira laughs, startling herself at how mean it sounds. “Fuck. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m unloading on you like this.”
Hannah frowns, opens an arm to her. “Do you want a hug?”
“No.” Moira’s stomach pitches. “I’m sorry. It’s not about you, I-”
She laughs. “Hey, it’s okay, that’s why I asked.”
Moira takes half a step back, sips at her coffee, looks out at the street. “I hardly leave my apartment anyways. I don’t need, like, a pity escort or anything. I’m fine now. But thanks.”
Hannah winces. “Okay.” She pats Frankie’s backside, who, by this point, has plopped himself down on the warm sidewalk. He stands with a groan and a head-shake. Hannah hits the crosswalk button. “You know, it’s okay if you’re not fine. I mean, I don’t think I would be.”
The light changes before Moira can decide what to say. They cross, their bodies shifting to black silhouettes in the rising sunlight, and in the distance, a siren wails. Moira feels a tugging in her chest when she notices Frankie stop and look around, his big tail suddenly lowered between his legs, his ears flattened back. But Hannah pauses with him, kneels and presses her hands against his face, squeezes his ears in her hands, levels her eyes to his. Her lips move, too soft to hear over the sirens, which grow louder and closer by the second, but Frankie’s tail begins to wag.
Ryne Walker is a bookseller in Nashville, TN, and has performed her writing for Band of Poets, The Regenerates, Heartbreak Happy Hour, and The Idle Hour Reading Series. Her most recent essay can be read at Entropy Magazine. This is her debut fiction publication.
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