Good Boys

Photo: © John Michael Swartz. All rights reserved.


She has the dream again, the one where she has to pick her rapist out of a lineup. This should be easy: his face is the first one in her mind’s eye when she wakes, the last when she shudders herself into orgasm. She’s memorized the look of it, the feel of it, the hills and dips beneath her tongue, and yet.

Beneath the pale green light, the suspects stand shoulder to shoulder. She toggles from one to the next, features vague, a collage of every man she’s ever known, before landing on the one. That’s it’s, that’s him, she thinks. The sight of his beautiful angry face, those caterpillar brows, a kick to the pelvis. When something happens: the sinews of his face slacken. His eyes turn blue. Not her rapist anymore, but the man she calls her boyfriend. Suddenly everything she knows to be true is called into question. A voice without a body asks: Do you recognize any of these men as the man who raped you? And before she can stop herself, she says, I don’t know.

Sometimes there is an audience off to the side, sitting in plastic folding chairs. Her friends and her rapist’s friends and all the friends she and her rapist shared in college. There were so many of them. Some of them are rapt, as though they will be quizzed on it later, while others are on their phones tweeting live updates. Nobody that has anything to do with her boyfriend, none of his friends, are ever in the audience. She met her boyfriend after college, in a separate plane of reality, where the rapist doesn’t have to exist if she doesn’t want him to.

The dream is ridiculous on a number of levels. For one thing, her boyfriend is small and lithe and pretty, like a woodland creature, while her rapist is tall and lanky with harsh, angular features. For another, her rapist is a rapist and her boyfriend would rather slit his own wrists than hold her down and clamp a hand over her mouth during sex. She knows this because they got into a whole argument about it once and she never brought it up again.


The mornings are the hardest. The sun stripes in through the blinds gently at first and then all at once, flooding the room with a terrible white light. Dust particles drift off the window, chalking up her nose. Fetal position: hair on her face, in her mouth, a pool of saliva by her cheek. The small, persistent hang of her stomach. Remembering the fact of her body after eight hours of something she can’t quite call sleep. Becoming herself, again, and again, and again.

She grasps for her phone on the bedside table, a loose appendage, and hits the small blue crescent. Is You-Know-Who still president and whose life has he ruined today? Has hell frozen over, the white rhino gone extinct? Are people even tweeting about it? The notifications flood in, like a pack of hungry dogs unleashed, and she begins again.


Her new city is a collection of containers, an assortment of rectangular boxes to store her body throughout the day. She fills the hours between waking and sleep by shuttling herself from one container to the next, from her apartment to public transit to coffeehouses to beer gardens to friends’ apartments to twenty-four-hour bodegas. Here, no one knows the boyfriend nor the rapist; still, she is possessed by the strange desire to talk about them anyway, telling stories that make her new friends wince, and then when she gives them permission by laughing, laugh.


Boyfriends are like presidents is a high thought she had once. Even when their term is up, they continue to reside permanently in the compartment of her brain designated for boyfriends. Which is why when she refers to him as her boyfriend without the compulsory ‘ex’ tacked on the front during her weekly Facetimes with Annie and Mitra, they are kind enough not to make her feel weird about it.

We don’t call them our ex-rapists now do we?


In hindsight, it was a lot of pressure on her boyfriend, being a Good Man. Because for the ninety-nine point-nine percent of the time that he was Good, there was also the point-one percent of the time that he wasn’t, and then they had to stay up all night debriefing it.

One time she didn’t speak to him for a week because he asked her if there was a reason she’d stopped shaving her legs.

Another time she cried because he said he was impressed by how much butter she put on her toast.

Whereas she knew from experience, once she started letting things slide, she let everything slide, and next thing she knew, her body wasn’t her own; her rapist would empty himself inside her and she’d roll over and stroke his chest and whisper: again?


They were at a drag show. She watched him from the opposite end of the bar as he got hit on by a queen with hair the color of a creamsicle—and who could blame the queen, what with her boyfriend looking so good in his liquid eyeliner, two tight little checkmarks—when the realization that she loved him bubbled up in the air in front of her. The question being whether or not to snatch it.

She turned to Annie and Mitra: I think I love him, she said.

The ‘I think’ was perfunctory, the sort of stuttery qualification required of women, even in this day and age.

Honey, said Annie, grinning.

We fuckin know, said Mitra.

Later she pulled him aside: Remind me to tell you something when we get home, she whispered into his neck, the strobe light bathing them in a pool of pink then green then blue. His eyes went big then small.

Yeah? he said, finally, finding her hipbone with his pointer and middle fingers.

She nodded. Yeah.


The problem with her rapist was that he also had his moments.

Like five Fourth of Julys ago, when they drank a pitcher of watermelon mojitos and sucked on Firecrackers, running through the sprinklers as their friends trailed behind, and then later, licked the red, white, and blue dye off each others’ teeth.

Or the time they drove from Massachusetts to Maine because they heard about the world’s largest blueberry, singing with the windows down.

Sometimes he did the big-hand, small-hand thing that tall guys like to do with their smaller, female counterparts.

She used to be obsessed with those moments, hoarding them like sapphires. Amidst the cutting remarks, the intermittent booty calls, or his tendency to interrupt while she was in the middle of telling a story with a non-sequitur, his penis, or both, the good times kept her afloat. Put a spring in her step. Her friends didn’t seem to understand why a single text from him after weeks of nothing would be enough for her to drop everything and appear at his door. But they also didn’t know about the glittering jewels she held tight to her chest.


It’s board game night. Her new friends teach her a game that involves trading resources and building settlements across a fictional landscape, in pursuit of world domination.

Like Monopoly, but for colonialism, she says, which makes them all laugh.

She likes this game. It’s challenging, but she catches on quickly, amassing a cache of resources. She is sorting her gains into their separate piles, from sheep to brick to wheat, feeling quite pleased with herself, when a friend tells her she’s being immature.

What did I do? she says neutrally.

You literally said eat my asshole, bitch when I wouldn’t trade my ore for your wheat.

He looks embarrassed that he has to explain this to her.

Oh, she says in a small voice. Right. Sorry.

At home, she cries in front of the mirror, watching her face crumple like tissue paper. She is so ugly when she cries and she likes it. Likes when her outsides match how she feels on the inside: bloated with grief, monstrous.


Bedtime: she insists on going through the motions. Reassembling her bed, its cheaply-made slats, she wedges the wooden boards between the gaps, replaces the mattress, smooths out her sheets. Lights off, she blinks up at the ceiling for however long, starfished across the mattress for even weight distribution. Sleep doesn’t come at first, but this is nothing new. Her phone sits on the bedside table. She reaches for it, the blue light casting a comforting glow on her lap, and opens a note titled Reasons, selecting and deleting the first item: too competitive during board games.

She reviews her list:

His mother still buys his clothing for him.

Tells stories that are too long and meandering, never ‘gets to the point.’

‘vegan chili.’

Natural deodorant????

That time he got me a portable iPhone charger for my birthday.

She doesn’t remember what the natural deodorant thing is about—hadn’t her boyfriend always smelled quite nice? She considers removing it from the list but then reconsiders. There had to be a good reason why it had irked her, even if she can’t remember it anymore.

And all of a sudden she’s typing furiously: flosses while driving, dandruff, the phony little voice he puts on when he’s talking to his boss, the phony little laugh he does when he’s meeting new people, one time he cut his nails and left the clippings all over my desk.

Getting it all down, for posterity’s sake.

The next thing she feels is chalk in her throat. Somehow she always ends up on one side of the bed, in a crevice formed by a fallen slat, fetal.


Sapphire: the photo that got fifty likes on Facebook back in college. She and her rapist tucked into a corner at a party, laughing into each other’s eyes.

She doesn’t remember much about that night, nor what was so funny. But sometimes she dredges it up from the Facebook archives, if only to use it as evidence in an imaginary argument with herself: but what about this? she says to no one. Huh? Huh?

She even showed the photo to her boyfriend once, which was a mistake.

Why are you showing me this? he asked, his facial expression residing in some middle ground between confusion and hurt.

Fuck if I know, she said.


Another problem is that she and her rapist liked all the same music. Which isn’t to say that the good songs are now ruined so much as it seems he owns them in some frustrating, fundamental way. The murky soup of emotions stirred by Jeff Magnum’s grainy voice trace, inevitably, back to him. Listening to The Strokes feels like pressing on a bruise. And she can’t put on Kid A without feeling like she’s conceding something.

Whereas her boyfriend’s favorite song is “Hey Jude,” which she wished he’d stop advertising.


After the queens went home and the glitter began to settle like dust, she and her boyfriend tramped over to his cavernous basement bedroom. What was the thing? Oh, the thing? The thing is I love you—was how she imagined it going. Their faces illuminated by his ironic collection of lava lamps.


They sat on his bed, facing each other. The realization that she loved him floated still in the air before her. She reached out to snatch in, when:

Before you say what I think you’re about to say.

What do you think I’m going to say? she said.

You should know everything, he continued.

At which point he began rattling off his sins, one by one, like an eight-year-old at his First Confession, thumbing the beads on a rosary.

He paused. She blinked at him. He blinked back at her.

You done yet? she said, suppressing a grin. He looked so sweet, lips curled into a pout. His face illuminated by his ironic collection of lava lamps. He nodded. And then she snatched the thing floating midair.


Another sapphire: The evening she wore a clingy white dress and he a suit. They took photos in front of a portrait of a dead old man. Then, tramping along the streets to a party somewhere, he kept her upright, a palm pressed to the small of her back as her high heels scraped on the icy concrete. At a crosswalk, they stood next to a small child, clutching her mother’s skirt. She peered up at them wondrously and asked: Are you getting married?

Yes! they exalted, in unison, laughing, without thinking, and for the first time, she didn’t have to feel embarrassed of her naked affection for him, because it was he who twirled her around, he who kissed her in front of the mother, the daughter, everyone, as if she were a new bride. He did all those things, even if later, after she finished him off, the light in his eyes shifted and he went marble cold.


She reunites with Annie and Mitra and their boyfriends for a long weekend in the English countryside. The premise of the trip is to get away from it all, by which they mean ‘the dumpster fire that is 2019’ and her breakup. The latter being a subcategory of the former, if small, if negligible.

A rental car pulls up in front of the airport and Mitra pokes out her head, handing her a can of ginger ale and a packet of skittles.

For the road, Mitra says. We know how you get on long car rides.

If anyone’s the fifth wheel it’s Aaron, Annie says in the car later, swatting her boyfriend away as he reaches over her lap for control of the aux cord.

Aaron is not ugly but has the restless, cokehead energy unique to certain short men. As they drive, he hurls out facts, thoughts, witticisms, as if to see what sticks. Mitra’s boyfriend Simon possesses a sexless charm. From the passenger seat, Mitra holds out one salt and vinegar chip at a time in front of Simon’s face as he drives. He plucks them out of her hand with his mouth like a baby bird.

Why don’t you ever feed me, babe? says Aaron, rapping on Annie’s shoulder blade.

Pass your driver’s test and then we’ll talk, says Annie.

Look, those sheep over there are fucking, she says, to say something.


Simon, she decides, is a Good Man, based on virtually nothing. It’s just a feeling she gets. Although she does like how he is ‘optimistic about the weather for the weekend.’ This seems like a nice way to be. Optimistic about the weather.

Aaron she wouldn’t classify as either Good or Bad, but instead, a member of the nebulous middle majority who could swing either way, given the context. It just so happens he went to a fancy liberal arts college where everyone knows you aren’t supposed to call women cunts.

Though she’s pretty sure Simon does call women cunts, but he’s English, so it’s different.



The friends check into an Airbnb four miles outside of the city, a white-brick cottage perched along the sloping green hills, with big sliding glass doors. The hosts greet them outside with a glass of wine in each hand—an older couple, the husband broad-shouldered and solid, ex-military, and the wife, small and plump, her watery blue eyes magnified by her round spectacles, like insects wriggling beneath a microscope.

We only have two beds, the wife says apologetically, sizing up the five of them.

I’ll take the pullout, she says quickly.

Annie and Mitra exchange a glance.

We’ll rotate, says Annie.


They tour a sleepy town where the Romans used to gather and recreate and swim in the sacred baths.

That is, until Hadrian became emperor, at which point only the men were allowed to bathe, says Aaron, walking backward like a tour guide.

Well, isn’t that just a metaphor for everything, says Annie.

Let us bathe! Let us bathe! chants Mitra.

They meander through the fluted Corinthian columns, their voices echoing down the cavernous halls. They stroke the rough stone, sniff the sulfurous walls, bask in the occasional patches of cool. While the boyfriends insist on reading every plaque, putting their otherwise stale history degrees to good use, she, Annie, and Mitra perch on the edge of the bath and peer into the swamp-monster green.

Can we touch it? says Mitra.

Let’s touch it, she says.

The water is hot and thick, like mud in the sun.

Ooh, says Annie. I want this all over my body.

Lather me up, she says.

A fit of giggles, schoolgirls on the playground. The beautiful regression that occurs with childhood friends.

Ladies, barks a security guard, in a heavy English accent. Hands out of the water!

His mustache, his accent. There is something patently comical about him, like a guy playing a police officer in a movie. They sink their nails into their thighs to avoid coughing laughter into his face.

There’s some really nasty stuff in there, he continues. You get it up your nose, there’s a ninety-nine percent chance you will die.

Fuck, she says, after he is gone. Because my next suggestion was going to be that we snort it.

The laughter that follows takes a hysteric pitch. The kind of laughter where you think you actually might die.

The boyfriends come over to see what’s so funny.

The mustache! shrieks Annie.

The—Mitra breaks, pantomimes snorting something off her forearm.

And for her part, she can’t stop laughing for long enough to form a single word.

The boyfriends exchange a glance, but not an unkind one.


They sit outdoors for lunch at a Nordic-style café and eat open-faced sandwiches with smoked salmon and capers, order a bottle of white and a bottle of red because no one can seem to agree.

I’ve always wanted to go to Scandinavia, says Annie, snapping a photo of the sandwich for her Instagram story.

Well actually, says Aaron. Pausing, looking around for effect. The thing is.

Oh no, she thinks.

Tell me, says Annie, white-knuckling the stem of her wine glass. What is the thing?

The thing is that Nordic and Scandinavian are slightly separate classifications, he says. A rectangle and a square, if you will.

That’s very interesting, Mitra murmurs absently.

Annie zips her a look.

And anyway, Aaron continues, seemingly unaware that Annie is moments away from bashing his head in with her wine glass, The classification of ‘Scandinavia’ tends to have geographic and some linguistic roots, too. Whereas the term ‘Nordic’ has more of a historical basis. Also can be used to refer to a social-political model—

Annie slams down her glass and storms off. Aaron turns a light shade of red, before dabbing his mouth with a napkin, recovering.

She turns to Aaron: Should you or should I? she asks.

Aaron rises from his seat. I should, he announces.

Turning to Mitra and Simon: Awkward, she says.

But they don’t hear her. They are doing the big hand small hand thing, giggling.


And then later, they are at a wine bar, with string lights and tables constructed from oak barrels. Their stools are pulled into a tight circle, and they order plates of cheeses, meats, and slices of bread, an ambiguous pickled garnish. Aaron is going on about something, that black, conservative supreme court justice who never says anything but still manages to do so much damage in the world, comparing him to a character from an old, famous book.

And then Aaron winces, turning to look at her. Was that offensive? he says, his eyes big with worry. Just a boy who longs to be told he is good, good, good.

She realizes with a start that everyone’s looking at her.

When did she become the arbiter of these things, she wonders.

She lives for it, this power of hers. The way all the men of the world, the Good and the Bad and the Not Exactly Ugly seem to want to gather at her breasts like hungry children and confess, just so that they can hear her say You are forgiven, lapping up the milk of her absolution.

A little bit, she says, patting his hand comfortingly, lifting her forehead toward the sky. But it’s okay.

She glows with her own virtuousness. Sets him free.


She says to Annie, as they fidget with their hair in the bathroom of the wine bar: One time, before my rapist became my rapist—though come to think of it, maybe he’d always been my rapist and it just took the Big Event for me to see it that way—we took edibles and broke into the campus radio station. And then we were kissing to a song that sounded like robots when the walls started pressing in on me and the music started to sound like how I imagine getting your limbs severed with a chainsaw would feel. And then I looked at his eyes, and they were all droopy and red-rimmed, and I swear to god at that moment I believed he could kill me. So I just ran. Ran and ran and ran. All the way back to my dorm room, where I locked the doors and didn’t answer his calls or texts. I just curled up in bed and watched my phone vibrate madly, like it was having a seizure, on my bedside table. Until the morning, when the high wore off, and I felt really bad. I called him up, invited him over, and I could tell he was hurt. Not that he said anything, he was just really quiet and kept looking at the floor. So I apologized, said I didn’t know what came over me, and he forgave me, but still. Sometimes I wonder if I did know what came over me, you know? Like somehow my body just knew, even back then, that something was off. Do you think that was it? Like my body knowing what was going to happen before it happened?

Know what I think? says Annie turning away from her reflection to face her. She sets her hands on her shoulders. I think you were just high.


At a pub, late Saturday afternoon, an accused rapist gesticulates from the TV screen above.

I just want to go one fucking day without seeing his face, says Mitra, Just one fucking day. Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately yes, says Simon. Us English are almost as obsessed with him as you guys are.

That’s exactly it, she says, piping up suddenly. We’re fucking obsessed with this man. It’s like an illness or something.

On-screen, the man greets his English doppelganger—not an accused rapist, but not a particularly Good Man either—before an ornate staircase. Together they look like a pair of overripe bananas, grown fuzzy with mold at the tips.

You think he gets off on it? asks Aaron.

Aaron, chides Annie.

Totally, she interjects, getting excited for some reason. I bet he has a big, giant hard on for our collective hatred.

I bet he jerks off every time AOC blasts him on Twitter, says Aaron.

To be fair, same, says Simon.


I bet he can’t come unless he pictures Alec Baldwin dressed up as him, she adds.

More laughter. The unhinged, helium-kind.

I am almost certain he has found a way to incorporate those tiny plastic hands in a sexual situation, says Mitra.

Even more laughter, until they can’t stop laughing, until the laughing sounds less like laughing and more like the heaving sound everyone in the world makes every morning when they wake up, remembering that he is still there, barking, tweeting, hovering his opposable thumbs above the nuclear button.

The waiter comes round with another round of pints, amber and frothing. The friends lift their glasses, tilt their heads back, and drink, the foam leaving a white mustache behind on Simon’s stubble, which brings them all to tears.

Above, the bananas are talking, walking, shaking hands. Posing for a photo, which will become the stuff of nightmares.

So then here’s the question, says Mitra, when the laughter subsides. How do we get ourselves to stop thinking about him?


If he gets Wisconsin it’s all over, her rapist said for the thousandth time that night back in 2016.

They fucked before the election. They would fuck after. To pass the time between, they sat bathing in the blue light produced by the television screen, mouths agape. Sucking down a bottle of wine, a second, and a third. Passing back and forth a joint. Catastrophe has a way of making you cling to your fellow man, love him even. So she did. She dug her nails into his palm and loved him. Even if the sound of him talking and talking and talking made her want to ram her head against the wall.

He kept muttering the names of states in her ear as if it would change anything. Kept saying them until they stopped sounding like states to her and started sounding like small mythical nations where things like this didn’t happen anymore and everyone was kind and gentle and she’d get to live inside a strawberry with Merry and Pippin and friends. Take me to Michigan. I left my heart in Penn-syl-vania.


And there’s even a sapphire to be found in this memory because the next morning she woke up to him rubbing her back. She blinked, yawned, and stretched like a kitten. He kissed her once on the forehead, once on the cheek.

Tell me it was just a bad dream, she said.

And here, he did her the kindness of saying nothing.


For dinner on their final night, the boyfriends go to pick up the Indian takeout while the women stay at home to toss a salad and sip white wine, the hunter-gatherer model rebranded, made fun and fresh.

Annie says, I think it’s funny that Simon calls you darling. Do you call him darling?

Darling, honey, love, says Mitra. What do you call Aaron?

Just Aaron, Annie says with a laugh. I can’t do pet names.

Aaron’s a big ‘babe’ guy, isn’t he? Mitra shudders. I’m trying to imagine Simon saying ‘babe’ with his English accent.

I don’t think English peoples’ mouths are capable of making that sound, says Annie, Bay-uh-buh How’s it going bay-uh-buh?

Mitra snickers. Hey bay-uh-buh, fancy a—a—

A shag, says Annie.

A crumpet, says Mitra, at the same time.

When she bursts into tears, they both look at her startled, as if they’d forgotten she was there.

Oh my gosh, says Mitra. I’m so sorry.

That was extremely insensitive of us, adds Annie.

No no no, she says, waving their apologies off with the butter knife. It’s not that. It just…I really really missed this.

Missed what? asks Mitra, looking baffled.

Her brain is a soup of white wine, but that doesn’t make it any less true when she says: This! You guys! Us!


Everyone is asleep in their beds. Except for Aaron, who snores next to her on the couch. He must’ve fallen asleep there while they were all watching TV. Selecting the ‘Reasons’ note on her phone, she begins to type: His music tastes are unoriginal. His cooking is bad. He sings in the shower, chews with his mouth open, he—she stops typing. She isn’t being fair. The boy never stood a fighting chance; sometimes she thinks she hardly knew him. She selects the tiny trashcan icon in the bottom right corner. Her phone warns her: This note will be deleted. This action cannot be undone. Okay, she thinks, that’s fine. Then she hits OK.

Aaron lets out a ragged little snore. She puts down her phone and tiptoes down the hallway, where she climbs into bed with Annie, who stirs but doesn’t wake, reaching out and pulling her close.


It’s a beautiful evening in her new city. The mountain looks aflame in the distance. Had it always been like this? Her suitcase bobs along on the cobblestone behind her as she makes her way home from the train station, propelled by the rush of commuters. She can’t help but think how in a big city somewhere, her rapist walks around anonymously, carrying his shame like a bundle hitched over the shoulder. A shame so big, so ugly, you’d have no choice but to look, and then promptly look away.

Earlier, they were caught in traffic driving back from the countryside.

Annie kept refreshing the train schedule on her phone. It says it’s coming in at platform three. Got it? Have your stuff ready and when we pull up in front, just run. Remember platform three, and you’ll make it.

Platform three, platform three, she recited, succumbing to the animal comfort of letting someone else do the worrying on her behalf.

As the car rolled to a stop in front of the station, she swung open the door and sprinted out, sliding into her train car with seconds to spare. In her haste, she forgot to tell Annie and Mitra that she loves them. But they know.

Now she walks up a slender alleyway to her apartment, opens a wrought iron gate, and bounds up the stairs.


The time she met her rapist’s parents over brunch and they ate eggs and avocado on toast and laughed, and her rapist’s father, a kindly older man with a beard, offered to drive her and her friends to the Women’s March. After brunch, his parents texted him saying they loved his ‘new girl,’ and briefly, she convinced herself this also meant he was capable of loving her too.

The way her mother still to this day gushes over her rapist, how handsome, how smart, how promising, and why the hell did you let that one get away? Because what her mother doesn’t know won’t kill her, or in this instance, knowing might actually kill her.

And what about the night before graduation? She hadn’t spoken to him for weeks, not since he did the Bad Thing, and yet on that night , she found herself sitting across from him on the campus green, their friends popping champagne and dancing less than a hundred yards away. How he sobbed into her chest, saying he was so sorry and that he’d fucked it up he’d fucked it up he’d fucked it—

Shh, she said, pressing a finger to his lips, afraid that if she let him say another word, it would shatter her lasting resolve. I forgive you. And then she stood and kissed his head and exited his life forever.

She’s not collecting sapphires anymore, but if she were, these would be brilliant and blue among them.


No, she won’t tell you what he did. Is it not enough for her to say it was Really. Fucking. Bad?


Recently, she’s been acting like a child in all manners of life. She laughs at a sex joke, cries to a Taylor Swift song. In the evenings, she goes to the bodega near her apartment and buys sour candy and soda, rainbow stripes dangling from her mouth all chameleon-like. At a pub, she sprays beer out of her nostrils, turning heads. Sometimes she finds herself frightfully hilarious.

She peels herself out of a bubble bath (she hasn’t taken a bath in years, by the way, not since she was young enough for someone else to bathe her. She’d forgotten it was an option. And oh, it is so, so nice). She stands naked in front of her floor-length mirror and twists her mouth in amusement. Nipples are funny and belly buttons are funny and the moles on her hips and thighs are funny. She lifts and drops her breasts and twists a towel around her head. Sucking her cheeks in like a blowfish, she thinks: maybe regression is just the thing that happens right before you step out of your dead skin and emerge as the person you were always meant to be.


The mornings are still the hardest. The brash, white light. The way she must take stock of herself, her human elements, ten fingers, ten toes, and then her dreams, and then the world.

What is this bed, this apartment, this city? Is the mountain really aflame in this distance; is it climate change? Is it a sign of pending doom, or just a trick of the light? Should we do something?

And who is the man sleeping beside her? Her heart rate quickens then slows again. His shoulder blade a small hill beneath the starch-white sheets. Not the rapist nor the boyfriend. Breathe in, breathe out. Just a man, like any other.

She pulls her phone off her bedside table and the man stirs. She puts her phone back on the table, peels away the sheet. And begins again.

Samantha Kathryn O’Brien is an MFA candidate for fiction at Cornell University. Her short fiction appears or is forthcoming in Washington Square Review, The Los Angeles Review, Across the Margin, Tidal Echoes, Jenny Magazine, and elsewhere. Her short story collection, Your Grieving Mother Waits, was named a finalist for the 2021 New American Fiction Prize and she is an alum of the Alderworks Writers & Artists Retreat.

Appears In

Issue 17

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