UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 12/2011
JAMES VALVIS

CHOICE

         He stood in the doorway, blocking her exit. They’d both been drinking. She touched his arm, nudged.

His arm shook when she touched him. He was shy like that. He’d been nice to her; he listened to her tell the story about the time her professor raped her. The room was dark. The only light came from outside in the parking lot, a street lamp that slanted copper shards through a window. Her eyes were still moist from telling her story, but she was no longer crying, just frightened. He knew she was scared. He had to know. Why wouldn’t he let her leave? Maybe he believed this was a once in a lifetime chance. And if he believed that, he was right.

She’d been vulnerable, she needed someone to talk to that night. He happened to be there. There was never anything more to it. There never would be again. He wasn’t her type. He told her she could stay. If she wanted, she could stay. The room tilted. His features changed. The nose became larger, eyes smaller. Before he was ugly, now he was hideous. His breath smelled of beer and need. He leaned very close to her and asked her to stay. She said no, said she’d take a rain check. He looked at his bed, a single mattress, one pillow, no blanket. She knew what he was thinking. He was thinking what she believed any man would think. Her professor raped her and she had said nothing to anyone, not until tonight, not until him. He was thinking her professor had gotten away with it and he could too. She felt her stomach tense, prepared herself for the fight to come, the scratching, the weight of him as he slimed across her body, his claw reaching down to jerk open her jeans, and all that would follow. It flashed before her, and she felt the tears rise again, the heat of her face making her nose run. He stepped in closer, ran his pinky finger down her arm, and she withdrew. She hadn’t meant to. It was instinctive revulsion. She knew what something like that could do in a situation like this. She expected him to make his charge now, but instead he made a fist and let it go. He looked off into the distance. He caressed her face, a soft sweep of her cheek, and then, like someone coming back to consciousness from a long sleep, he made a choice and rallied around a sad grin. He said he’d walk her out. She moved in front of him, not slowly, each step a miracle. Quickly they were at her car. He didn’t touch her again. The light was stronger here, and the night warm and wet. She told him she would call, and he smiled at her lie. She stepped into her car and locked the door. She started the engine. She turned to look his way again. He was still standing there, like she might yet change her mind. She felt a little sorry for him, then, and, as she pulled away, she thought in a different world she might love this man, standing alone and waving bye, having made the decent choice, instead of loving her professor.

James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). His writing can be found in Anderbo, Arts & Letters, LA Review, Rattle, River Styx, Underground Voices, and is forthcoming in Hanging Loose, Midwest Quarterly, New York Quarterly, Poetry East, storySouth, and others. His poetry has been featured at Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction has twice been a Million Writers Notable Story. He lives near Seattle.







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