Wit­ness

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

The Walrus - - FEATURES - By K. D. Miller

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

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