[Issue 12 / 1 Feb 15]
Things like this can happen. A man waits for a woman as she takes a shortcut through an alley on the way to her car that’s in a free lot—because her safety isn’t worth eight dollars.
His timing is perfect.
He knows her name. “Angela.”
What else does he know?
She goes to him like a dog whose master calls, because names have power and Angela has none.
“What color are your eyes?” he steps out from behind a dumpster that smells like soured grease.
Angela doesn’t run because the man is an impenetrable object. Too tall, too dense, too strong to resist. His face hidden in the shadows. His voice a mellow base counterpoint to the Louis Armstrong music filtering through the exhaust fans of a Cajun restaurant that serves blackened everything.
“When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.” Angela names the song she can barely hear over the sound of her own breathing. As if she is playing a game with this dangerous stranger in this lonely alley. I can name that tune in four notes.
He reaches out with one hand, much more quickly than she thinks possible and grabs a handful of her shoulder length black hair, styled just this morning so she’d look perfect for her cyber-date who never showed.
Or perhaps he did.
Harold Johnson likes Thai food and Clint Eastwood; he attends church regularly, according to his profile. No picture on his Facebook page. He posts a photo of his cat instead—an orange tomcat with tiger stripes and kinks in its tail. A cat who sits on a rapist’s lap and purrs because they are two of a kind.
Angela doesn’t resist when the man twists her head so she’s looking at the full moon. Reflected sunlight from the other side of the world is almost bright enough to bring tears. She waits but the tears don’t come. Perhaps she’s used them up in other times and other places where they did no good.
“Green,” says the man whose name might be Harold Johnson. “Perfect.”
If Angela’s eyes were blue, this thing wouldn’t happen. If she brought a friend, this thing wouldn’t happen. But Angela’s eyes are green, and she is all alone when the man in the alley forces her to the pavement, reaches past the hem of her one and only ‘little black dress’ and slides her panties down her legs like a magician reaching into a top hat. Calm, efficient—Harold Johnson has done all this before.
Angela smells Pad Thai on his breath, the only Thai dish she can name with certainty. That much of his profile is true.
Stray cats slink out of the dumpster to watch the action. They form a feline circle around Angela and the rapist, nervous, just barely out of reach.
A cat can’t be too careful. Angela counts six of them, and there are probably a few more beyond her range of vision. Boney creatures with spots of mange, broken tails, and broken whiskers. Clear, angular feline faces, but the rapist’s face isn’t clear at all. It’s smooth, without definition, like he’s wearing a nylon stocking over his head. But she knows he isn’t doing that, because when he opens his eyes, she sees them clearly.
Cat’s eyes. Golden with vertical pupils.
No one will believe her. Not her friends. Not the police. Hallucination is what they’ll call it before writing her off as totally crazy, and maybe they are right. Troubled is a label she’s worn for several years. Since the automobile accident that killed her parents. The one that wasn’t her fault, even though she was driving. That’s what everyone says, but it doesn’t feel that way.
Accidents happen. Monsters happen too. There’s no resisting things like this. There’s just trying to survive.
Harold Johnson blinks his cat’s eyes once, twice. Empty, totally free of emotion.
He doesn’t hate me.
It’s all a matter of being in this place at this time. Summoned by a higher power who might not be real. Angela wants to say a prayer.
Dear God. Like the greeting on a letter to a supreme being who knows everything before it happens but lets it happen anyway. The words stick to her tongue like Velcro fasteners on hospital restraints.
Things like this are part of a cosmic plan, and Angela understands only the smallest part of it. Harold Johnson is no ordinary rapist. No misogynist with a grudge against all women. He doesn’t want to hurt Angela, though he easily could. He doesn’t want to humiliate or degrade her, although that’s exactly what he’s doing. He is like a wild male dog who’s smelled a bitch in season and is compelled to plant his seed where it will grow.
Please don’t let that happen.
Fertile soil. Inside the bitch, who’s name is Angela. She doesn’t try to get away because she’s not supposed to. If God exists, he has his reasons.
“Zyprexa.” It makes her feel stronger to name the bipolar drug she no longer takes. There are so few things a troubled girl like Angela can refuse.
Harold Johnson doesn’t ask about Zyprexa. He’s busy with other things. The rhythm of his movement changes. He exhales a stuttering stream of Pad Thai scented air.
A spoiled feeling spreads through Angela’s vagina. It spreads into her uterus, much faster than sex ed. videos say it should. In seconds, Harold Johnson’s monster semen is half way up her right fallopian tube where an ovum is descending this very minute. Her right side throbs, like an appendicitis attack, when the sperm and egg join forces.
It’s done. This is how it feels to be pregnant when an almost human takes you in an alley with stray cats watching.
Harold Johnson stands, clearly finished with Angela. No looking back. No parting words. No sense of guilt or shame. Angela lays on the pavement listening to the music playing through the restaurant exhaust fans. Louis Armstrong is finished, just like Harold Johnson. Now Ron Guidry sings Boudin Day.
A voice behind the music speaks, just below the range of hearing. It might be Shakespeare. It might be the Gettysburg Address. It might be a ball bearing in need of oil. The world spins the way it used to after electroconvulsive therapy. Nausea is right around the corner, but if Angela lies still it might pass her by.
No point in getting on with life just yet. Plenty of time to organize thoughts and make plans. The worst has already happened after all. Hasn’t it? Zydeco music is ruined forever. So is Louis Armstrong. So is Cajun food, and sex.
The stray cats gather around her, closer now that the Harold Johnson has moved on. One bumps his head against her face. One climbs onto her chest and inhales her recycled oxygen. One cleans the excess semen from her vagina with its sandpaper tongue.
How will she explain cat DNA to the police? They’ll find it when they take samples. They’ll want a description of the rapist and all she has to give them is his yellow cat eyes, and the smell of Thai food on his breath, and a name that he’s made up.
Where are all her cuts and bruises? Where are the tissue samples caught beneath her perfectly manicured nails?
Why didn’t she call out? Why didn’t she fight back? There are lots of ways to ask those questions, and only one way to answer them.
I just didn’t.
So maybe there won’t be any police or any rape kits or any pictures of places where bruises ought to be.
Maybe she won’t report the rape, and have to explain all the things she can’t explain. Especially the cats.
RU 486. The morning after pill. She can get one of those can’t she, even if she is a senior at Baptist Christian University and sort of believes abortion is murder? Rape makes it all right, especially in an alley with cats watching. Especially if the rapist isn’t human.
Does she really believe that? Does she really believe anything?
Angela shoos the cats away. She struggles to her feet. She leaves her panties where Harold Johnson tossed them. She walks to her car, glad for the moment that she isn’t bruised and beaten, because she knows this rapist would have done whatever was necessary to have his way with her and when you have no choice it’s best to get it over with. Women have been doing that for thousands of years, haven’t they? Ever since God made the first one out of Adam’s rib. That’s what things like this are all about. Getting it over with as quickly as possible.
The A.M. P.M. Clinic recommends a gynecological examination, complete with stirrups, speculums, and gauze sponges, but they settle for a few questions and a credit card charge of two hundred dollars.
The best health care system in the world.
Mifepristone. That is RU 486’s generic name. A progesterone receptor antagonist that will kill Angela’s unwanted baby anytime within the first two months of pregnancy.
“The sooner the better.” The doctor is a tall black woman with posture like a soldier’s. She has a Jamaican accent and dreadlocks and eyes that won’t look away until Angela acknowledges her advice.
“The sooner the better,” Angela says. No fight in her, just like during the rape.
The A.M. P.M. Clinic doesn’t dispense Mifepristone, so the doctor gives her a prescription. She will hand it to a pharmacist without explanations or excuses. Humiliated twice after being raped, that’s the price for killing a baby while it’s still a teaspoon full of cells with no resemblance to humanity.
And no soul.
When does a baby get a soul anyway? Surely not until it latches onto the uterus and pulls nutrients out of its mother, like a tapeworm.
The trouble is not knowing. So Angela hides the prescription for one tablet of Mifepristone in her purse beside the small can of mace she carries to fend of attackers but hadn’t thought to use in time. She’ll let the cells in her fallopian tube live a little longer.
A girl needs time to think when things like this happen. Maybe just a day or two, so she can talk to a councilor at Baptist Christian University, where she almost has a degree in communications. Just one day—surely one day won’t make any difference. Not in the eyes of God.
Does he have eyes? No one knows for sure. Angela crosses herself, even though she’s not a Catholic. It feels like God approves.
Coraline Longacre, Ed.D. will see Angela right away. She has a funny name and a degree Angela has never heard of, but beggars can’t be choosers. Dr. Longacre earned her doctorate counting unreported rapes. According to her there are a lot of those.
“More than anyone would suspect,” she tells Angela. “More go unreported than reported.” So Angela shouldn’t feel too bad and she’d get through this rough patch in her life with just a few counseling sessions that Coraline Longacre will provide, compliments of Baptist Christian University.
What a deal.
There is a picture on the councilor’s desk—Dr. Longacre, posed on an art deco sofa beside a younger version of herself.
“My daughter,” the councilor explains without being asked, but she doesn’t explain the calico cat sitting on her daughter’s lap.
Then no one says anything for a long time, until Angela can’t stand the silence any longer.
“What about the RU 486?” She asks, because she is absolutely sure she is pregnant, and needs advice, even from a councilor who owns a cat.
“Every rape victim thinks she’s pregnant,” says Coraline Longacre, Ed.D. “Even though it’s highly unlikely.” Rape victims think a lot of things that aren’t true.
“Like they deserved to be raped, or they brought it on themselves, or they are in the grip of a supernatural battle between good and evil.”
Angela almost says, “Zyprexa,” because she needs to feel strong for a few seconds, but she doesn’t want Coraline Longacre to ask questions about bipolar medications.
So she says, “Supernatural battle,” instead. Those words make Angela feel strong too, and a little bit important. She hadn’t intended to tell Dr. Longacre about the cat’s eyes or the face that looked like it was covered by a nylon stocking, but now she does.
“Religious people deal with trauma in religious ways,” says Coraline Longacre, Ed.D., who doesn’t seem very religious at all.
“That usually serves them well, but in your case, I think a psychological point of view is more appropriate.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Monsters don’t really walk the earth,” the councilor says. “So you had a hallucination.” She says “hallucination” with an English accent that is much less authentic than Angela’s cat-eyed-rapist.
Coraline Longacre doesn’t think the stray cats really happened either. “Your mind just retreated into a world you found more appealing than reality.”
The councilor has clearly never felt a cat’s tongue on her vagina. “Well, what about the morning after pill? Should I take it?”
“By all means,” Dr. Longacre says. “Why take a chance.”
Absolution. That’s what Angela came for and she has it—from a councilor at a Baptist university. Who could ask for more than that?
But Dr. Coraline Longacre won’t look her in the eyes when she advocates murder. Not like the Jamaican doctor in the A.M. P.M. Clinic. And that makes Angela wonder.
One day slips by after another while Angela considers the sins of unborn children, until six weeks have passed. She’s missed her period, which she heard is common after severe emotional trauma, even though she is usually as regular as Sunday. What’s worse, her breasts are sore and maybe just a little swollen, and she is nauseous in the mornings. Bad signs, every one.
It still could be hysterical pregnancy symptoms according to everything Angela has read and everything her councilor has told her. But probably not. Her breasts hurt too much for imagination, and the regurgitation is very real.
Now that Clear Blue Easy has confirmed it, twice, Angela has a decision to make.
“Easy choice,” Dr. Coraline Longacre tells her. “Abortion is what sensible girls do when things like this happen.”
But it isn’t such an easy choice, because Angela felt life forming inside her immediately after the incident, and while she didn’t feel good about it, she doesn’t feel good about ending it either.
“Hormones have been turning sensible young women into mothers for a very long time,” the councilor says. “You’ll feel different after the fetus is extracted.”
Like an abscessed tooth. But you don’t go to the dentist to have a fetus scraped out of your uterus. You go to an abortion clinic, where people are standing around with signs calling you a murderer. They hold pictures of unborn children hiding in the safest place in the universe, waiting to be rooted out with curettes and suction tips.
The babies on those posters look far too real to murder, so Angela doesn’t keep three appointments, and the clinic won’t make another for her. She has to make up her mind and do it quickly, because the abortion clock is ticking, and pretty soon she will be in the late term abortion stage, and no one in the state will do that for her. She’ll have to go to one of the godless states like Kansas or New Jersey, and in the meantime she needs to see an obstetrician.
“For your own health,” a nurse at the abortion clinic tells her over the phone, “And for the baby’s, should you decide to keep it.”
Should you decide to keep it?
At two months a fetus is 0.63 inches long measured from crown to rump because it has no legs. It weighs 0.04 ounces and will fit comfortably into a sugar spoon. It looks like something you’d step on without a second thought, if you saw it crawling across the floor. Abortion is not so much of a sin at two months, but things happen fast after that.
At four months the fetus is 4.57 inches long and weighs 3.53 ounces, as much as a prepackaged plastic container of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. It looks just like the pictures on the signs carried by the anti-abortionist protesters who gather around every clinic. Human enough to name. Too human to kill.
One woman shows Angela a sign with a three dimensional ultrasound while she hesitates a few feet from the front door of her clinic of last resort.
A security guard comes to the rescue. He tells the woman she’ll have to step back.
“You’re well within one hundred feet.” He shakes a finger at her and reminds her of the law.
But not before she has a chance to say, “Please don’t kill your baby.” Not before she tells Angela, “Fetus is a Greek word that means Little Wise One.”
That’s enough for Angela, even though it’s probably a lie. She walks away holding her hands over her belly as though they had the power to change the future.
At six months a fetus is 11.81 inches in length and weighs 1.32 pounds. The size of a soccer ball that has been kicked squarely into the net. Score one for the visiting team. By most moral and medical standards, Angela has waited too long. With the help of a competent medical staff and modern neonatal technology, her Little Wise One could survive on its own.
“But it shouldn’t,” Coraline Longacre, Ed.D., tells her.
“There are places where these things are done, as long as the mother’s health is in danger—and mental health is quite enough.” The councilor has learned all about Angela’s history. The voices and the visions after her parents died.
“After I killed them,” Angela says. “And now I’m going to kill my baby.”
It’s easier to do nothing. That’s what she’s always done when the voices speak to her—giving her advice that only she can hear because they speak so softly.
“They’ll get louder,” Dr. Longacre tells her. “And the authorities won’t let you be a mother if you hear voices. And no one will adopt a baby with a crazy mother and a father who’s a rapist.” She says it just like that. No clinical euphemisms to soften the facts.
Frank talk. Even the rapist hadn’t been so cruel. Dr. Longacre must be desperate.
Angela shows the councilor her book of baby names.
“Elizabeth if it’s a girl. Richard if it’s a boy.” Named for her mother or her father, to replace one of the lives she’s taken. Then she walks out of Dr. Longacre’s office without making another appointment, because she knows she won’t be back. She has a place to go where Christian women will take her in. Women with signs who stand around abortion clinics pleading for innocent lives. Women who don’t own cats.
The obstetrician doesn’t scold Angela for delaying prenatal care. He brushes the hair out of her eyes like her father used to do and tells her she’s making the right decision. He’s already listened to the baby’s heart and taken measurements and told Angela both she and her Little Wise One are doing fine.
“We’ll know for sure as soon as we do an ultrasound.”
It’s not the three dimensional kind like the abortion protestors have on their signs.
“We need to look at the heart, and a skeletal landmark or two,” the doctor says. Then he steps out of the room while the nurse gets her ready.
First a knee length hospital gown that ties up the back. Then the nurse covers her with a paper apron to preserve a little of her dignity.
The doctor lets her guide the ultrasound transducer onto her lower belly. More dignity preservation. After that, he takes over, and everything is subliminal sound, sensations she’s not supposed to feel, and a television screen with blurry pictures.
The penis is the first thing to come into focus. Angela can just make it out.
“A boy,” the doctor says, as if that’s the best news in the world.
Just like his father. Angela tries to look happy but when she can’t manage that she tells the doctor, “My baby’s name is Richard.”
“Named for my father.” She wonders if that would make Dad happy, or would he be furious—giving his name to a monster’s child.
“He’ll be proud,” the doctor assures her, because he doesn’t know any of the facts.
Doesn’t want to know.
A hand is the next thing Angela sees.
“Look, he’s waving to you.”
All part of the bonding process. This doctor wants Angela to fall in love with her baby so she won’t change her mind again when her hormone levels dip and she has time to think. She knows that might happen, because she already hears new voices whispering in the background, telling her she is making a mistake. Quiet hallucination voices, embarrassed by their lack of reality.
The doctor’s voice is loud and real, as he shows Angela her baby’s heart, and his feet and his bottom. And then, the Little Wise One turns his head and looks directly into the sound waves capturing his image.
“Cat’s eyes.” Angela’s voice is calm, but the machines monitoring her pulse rate register her shock. The eyes are as clear and undeniable as a lightning flash. Then they are gone, all mixed up in a blurry two dimensional image too unconvincing for an anti-abortion poster.
“Cat’s eyes,” Angela says again. If the doctor and the nurse saw them they aren’t admitting it.
“An artifact,” the doctor tells her, too late to convince.
“Everything is perfect.” He takes the transducer away before she sees the baby’s eyes again.
“Just as it should be.” He uses his most patronizing doctor voice.
“A perfect baby boy.”
“Just like his father,” Angela says.
No one in the room has anything more to say. For the first time Angela hears the music playing in the background. It’s been there all along, barely above the range of hearing, just loud enough to set the mood.
Louis Armstrong sings When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, just like he did at the beginning. Angela’s past and future come together in his ragged voice. She blots tears with her hospital gown before they spill onto her cheeks.
The doctor tells her it’s all right to cry. “It’s perfectly natural, when things like this happen.”
He’s right. When things like this happen, all a girl can do is cry.
John T Biggs has published sixty pieces of short fiction that don’t fit clearly into a specific genre. Most of his stories are loosely linked and describe the unique blend of Native American, African American, and Euro American cultures in his adopted state of Oklahoma. John has published two novels, Owl Dreams and Popsicle Styx, that feature contemporary Native American mysticism. A third novel (as yet unnamed) and a collection of short stories, The Sacred Alarm Clock, will come out later this year (2015). The title story for the collection first appeared in Open Road Review in February 2013. You can find John’s books on his Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00GW5A1QU or visit him at his website http://johnbiggsoklahomawriter.com