The only time she did not like how she looked was when she was pregnant with Ranald. She wasn’t one of those women who glow
As soon as Harriet’s in, the second she hears the screen door bang shut behind her, she feels an arm come round her neck. “Ranald?” She can hardly gasp the name. The arm tightens. Something with a point pushes into the small of her back. Breath — smelling of Juicy Fruit gum — blows hot across her cheek. She turns her head to the right, and the pressure on her throat eases. It can’t be Ranald. He doesn’t chew gum. And not even Ranald would play a trick like this. “What do you want?” she says. Her voice surprises her — low and calm.
No answer. Just a sharp intake of breath. The arm at her neck is trembling, and she detects a tremor in the hard point digging in just below her back ribs. Is he just a kid? One of the town boys who stand in a sullen pack outside the 7-Eleven?
“Tell you what.” She tries to sound companionable, to take the tone she used to with Ranald when she had to coax him out of one of his sulks, give him some means of retreat with honour. “You can just let go of me. I won’t turn around. I won’t look at you. I’ll never know who you are. You can get out of here, really fast, and it will be all right. You won’t be in any trouble — ”
She’s on the floor. On her hands and knees. A second shove, from a foot to her buttock, pushes her flat. She breathes in the dusty smell of the rag rug.
“Where is it ?” He sounds as if he’s trying to make his voice deeper and rougher than it is. The foot gouges her buttock. “Where ?”
“You mean — my money?” Another gouge. “My purse is in the bedroom. On the dresser. I don’t have much — ”
He grabs her bathing-suit straps. Pulls her up onto her knees. She scrambles to get her feet under her. Then his arm is at her throat again. The pointy thing in her back.
“Go get it! Move !” His voice cracks on the last word.
They do a clumsy dance out of the living/dining room, around the corner, past the bathroom. She thinks of something and stops. He shoves her. “Wait.” He shoves her again. “No! Wait. Please. There is a mirror on the dresser. I promised I wouldn’t look at you. So put your hand over my eyes. Or turn us around and back us into the bedroom. That way, you’ll know I haven’t seen you.”
They stand still. She can feel him panting, can smell the Juicy Fruit on his breath. All at once, he swings her to the side, shoves her onto the bathroom floor. She slides on the tile, slams her head against the toilet. Sees stars. Hears him going into the bedroom. A clatter. A thump. Then he’s pounding past her, back through the cottage, out the door and gone.
Slowly, she sits up. Touches her head where it hit the toilet. No blood, but a goose egg rising. Her knees are red from where they skidded on the rug and the tile. Her elbow hurts. And she’s starting to stiffen up all over.
But she’s okay. And utterly amazed at herself. The way she remembered that trick of turning her head so she could breathe. When was the Safety for Seniors talk? Last winter. And she almost didn’t go. Figured it would just be common sense, nothing new. But she did go, and she did learn something. “If someone comes up behind you and puts their arm across your windpipe,” the young police officer told them, “turn your head into the crook of his elbow. That will give you some breathing space.” What would have happened if she hadn’t heard that bit of advice? She might be unconscious. Brain-damaged. Dead, even. She feels her head again. She should put some ice on that lump. She imagines it sticking