Somewhere in the Middle

“Why did you go up there? Were you drunk?”

Was she drunk, was she stoned, was she on something more scandalous? What on Christ’s sweet earth was she thinking? Her mother repeated each one until they sounded like unconvincing lines of a sales pitch, in rising tones of horror and panic and shrieking frustration. As if inebriation would make it acceptable. Respectable.

Her mother was shaking. She was not.

“You’re in shock,” she told her daughter.

Loose towelling loops snagged on a hangnail as she scraped her fingers over damp knees, smoothing herself down more for her mother’s sake than her own. They said she’d feel better after a shower, after she’d washed herself clean. The chemicals of her mother’s shampoo had burned the insides of her nostrils but for appearances, at least, now she was wet and smelt of apples.

His bed had felt like somewhere a cat had given birth – to be left quiet and greasy and undisturbed. He’d turned away at the end, exhaled with a guttural, barking sigh, leaning over the end of the bed. Into his hand? She didn’t know. He got up and shut himself in the bathroom. She placed her feet on the warm floorboards and they seemed to melt quietly into the wood. A faded book with a split spine nudged against her heel. She flicked through it, as if waiting to go down for a hotel dinner, but found to that she had temporarily lost the ability to read.

The signs were clear. Too much of an age between them, too little hair, not enough personal hygiene, the lower lids of his eyes lined with darker-than-natural lashes, a figure that found smiling and waving a transient, uncomfortable callisthenic. They had suspected him long before this, they claimed. Kindness became unsavoury attention, gentleness metamorphosed into aberrant caresses.

Perhaps it was true. With no father to call her beautiful, she’d fallen guts first for the glance and the suppressed sigh and the assertion that she was a gift and an exception and so very mature. She didn’t even know how to cook an omelette. She didn’t believe he was a monster. He was scared of her - he told her so, before he told her what he wanted to do to her.

She could see the appeal of pretty young things with firm calves and slick skin and smirking little mouths. So full up with fresh, pulsing blood that you can almost hear it as they pass. Still growing, not yet dying, day by day. Bodies threatening to flourish at any moment – a plumpness that will elongate and meander until it forms something that is no longer forbidden, but appropriate, wanting, reciprocal. She supposed that was where the attraction ended for him, and a form of pride caused her to worry about the day she reached that point.

She started to see the shape and flirtation in a child, whether acknowledged or not; a form of transaction and collaboration that crouched within the finest and purest, to keep us alive, to drive us to make more, make many, make the most of our intricate internals while we are here. She understood his impatience.

“I could smell him on her,” her mother whispered moistly into the phone receiver, salt water and snot gathering on her upper lip. She licked it off, but more dripped into the holes of the voice piece - a pathetic fallacy to her conversation. Her daughter stood moistly in the hall, un-rinsed conditioner gathering on her split ends. She sucked it off, but more dripped on the laminate, giving the cat something to lap up.

The police took her clothes. They were less gentle than he had been inside her. She was grateful that her dad wasn’t there to stand huddled with her mother, clutching hands fused around a plastic un-drunk coffee, waiting for them to take the blood and the swabs and the pregnancy test. He would have wanted to know – demanded to know – what was going to happen. He used to flip to the back of a book to see how it ended, in case he died while half way through. The last book on his bedside table was some self-help tome.

He would have been disappointed with her ending. She’d walked until blood seeped through her jeans and a woman at the bus stop, embarrassed on her behalf, hustled her into a shop doorway to point out the stain, to offer a tampon. She didn’t cry, decided she probably wouldn’t until they decided that the back of her shock should have been broken by now. The woman held her hands. She looked at her lips instead of her eyes and wondered what they’d touched, what they’d tasted. She called her mother. She changed her mind somewhere in the middle when she realised that she was the fool and called it rape, instead.

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