We were getting off the Ferris wheel when Judy said,
“I think I was raped.”
Things were going around in circles.
“I’m not sure. But I think I was.”
I waited for her to continue but she just looked at the wheel.
“Raped? By who?”
A balloon guy started walking towards us. Most of his balloons were red, but there were some white ones too.
“Look, I don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe I wasn’t. Never mind.”
The balloon seller stopped and sat down. He took a cigarette from behind his ear and although it wasn’t quite a trick, I liked it anyway.
“Come on Joe, I’m tired,” she said.
We walked back to the car. On the way a boy was crying because he’d dropped his cotton candy. He was jumping up and down, pushing it into the mud. I gave the boy a buck and said to get another. He stopped crying and ran off. Judy yelled at him, Say thank you, but it was too late.
When we got to the car I let Judy drive. I figured it would take her mind off things. I didn’t know if she was angry with me or the guy that raped her. Not that it mattered. I’d seen her like that before. When she got mad, the best thing I could do was keep my big mouth shut.
I rolled the window down. It was a warm night and I could smell flowers. The streets were clean from the rain, the dust not really settled. Even though I had work next day, I wanted us to drive for hours, my head hanging out like you sometimes see dogs do. But Judy pulled over after the third set of lights. She turned off the motor and the crickets got loud.
“He was a friend of my Dad’s.”
“And he was the one who raped you?”
“That’s what I said.”
“No, you didn’t. You said he might have.”
“Look Joe, if a woman says it’s rape, it is.”
“OK, alright. So he raped you. When was this?”
I tried to get comfortable.
“It was the summer before I went to college. I was working in a place just across the street from Dad. He used to come in after work, sometimes on his own, sometimes with Bob. They usually sat at the bar and talked about fishing, you know, lines and bait and shit. It was pretty boring. Are you listening?”
I said I was.
“You’d fucking better be. Gimme a cigarette.”
I fished one out the pack, thinking how much cooler it would have been to reach behind my ear. She lit it, took a deep drag, then blew the words out with the smoke.
“Dad said Bob’d been married twice but hadn’t learnt a thing. That the only thing he could commit to was a rod. And he was definitely one of those guys who looks and doesn’t mind if he gets caught. He was careful when Dad was there, but as soon as Dad went to the john, Bob had a good look. That summer was really hot, I usually wore a shirt and shorts.”
“I bet you looked hot,” I said.
She broke off, inhaled and held it. Then she blew it out and said,
“If you say another fucking word, I’ll break up with you right now, I swear.”
I said I was sorry.
A police car approached and slowed. The officer leaned out.
“You folks alright there?”
“No, we’re just talking.”
“Alright, have a nice night guys.”
“You too officer.”
We watched the car glide off.
“One day, when Dad was out of town, Bob came in on his own. He drank beer when he was with my Dad but that day all he drank was rye. I treated him like any other customer, you know, smile, be nice, but not too much. He asked for twenty bucks of change and then disappeared. I forgot about him because this little guy named Mitch started hitting on me, but it was okay, it was almost funny. He kept trying to kiss my hand, saying all this crazy shit about how I was a princess that would one day be a queen.”
I reached out and stroked her hair; she didn’t seem to mind.
“Anyway, then Mitch starts giving me all this crap about how if I was in a tower he’d damn well climb up. And I got really mad, I knew what he was saying. I told him to leave it but he just kept on. Then the music began. It was definitely a Doors track, I don’t know which one. It was about a girl, it sounded weird. Bob came back, walking slow, just as the chorus kicked in and it was obvious he’d timed it, just so he could make some sort of entrance. I wasn’t impressed but Mitch got the hell out of there, so I was kind of grateful. Bob said, Just look at the old boy go, and I had to laugh. I thought he was going to keep talking but all he did was order. After that the music kept on, he must have put the twenty in. It was old stuff, but good, a lot of Stones and Elvis, some stuff that sounded British but wasn’t the Beatles. The whole time he just sat there, drinking, playing with a ring.”
She was looking straight ahead, maybe at the car in front, maybe at the lawns.
“Eventually the tunes ran out. The place was quiet, so I went over. He said how you doing kid? I asked if he wanted another, on the house, for all the music, and he said no, he’d had enough. He looked like he was about to leave, not that he was getting up or had his jacket on, he just seemed sort of ready. I asked how come he’d got divorced. He laughed, twisted his ring and said, Which one? I said either and he said, Well, alright. First time because I was dumb, the second because we both were.
I thought this was an asshole thing to say, so I asked how she was dumb. He told me how she always bought the wrong milk, every week, for two years, and how he got to thinking if a person can’t get something that simple right, the rest hasn’t a chance. And although this sounded stupid, it was kind of interesting. I didn’t know anyone else who’d been divorced, it was that sort of town. And he had one of those voices, the kind that are easy to hear, like on the radio.”
I saw a car approaching and was sure it was the police. But the car didn’t slow or stop, it just carried on.
“Then he stood up to go. He walked to his truck in a straight line, I guess he could really hold it. But he didn’t drive off right away. I could see him in the cab, sitting, smoking, his eyes shut. Then he rolled the window down. He flicked out the butt then drove away and if some guy hadn’t ordered, I’d have gone and stood on it, you know I hate that.
After that it got really busy. It was some guy’s birthday and they were playing games. I must have poured a hundred shots. Earl had to break up a fight after one of them said something to a Korean guy who seemed pretty nice.”
Judy always had a soft spot for them.
“I must have gotten out of there sometime after ten. Usually I didn’t mind walking, not if the weather was good. That night I just wanted to be home. So when I saw Bob sitting in his big red truck, my first thought was to catch a ride, and only when we’d been driving for a few minutes did I wonder why and when he’d driven back.
Bob asked if I went fishing and I said a bit, not much. I told him sometimes me and a few guys went to the lake by Denton’s farm. He said, You ever catch anything? and when I said No he said Really? Not even VD? Then he laughed and said I know a place where no one goes, the fish are so bored they want to be caught. If you want to go, it’s close. But you’d better tell me, that’s your turn off. And before I knew it I’d said yes and we were going past.”
I risked a question.
“I don’t know, maybe the ride had woken me up. Or perhaps it was like my Dad asking. I guess I wasn’t thinking.
We turned off the highway, down a small road that became a track. Branches brushed against the truck, I guess no one did go there. We stopped and then got out. He must have seen me shiver because he reached in the back. He brought out a rod, some bags, and then a sweater, a big old heavy thing that came down to my knees. It had a strange smell, like lots of things mixed together, aftershave and smoke, dust and maybe sweat. But it smelled alright, not dirty.
The path twisted left and then I saw the lake. There was a big moon and the water looked like it’d had a load of milk poured in. It was a good night for swimming, and if it was now I would. But I didn’t swim that well then, really, not at all, so I didn’t, and anyway, I guess there could have been all kinds of stuff.
I looked at the water while Bob went to get the boat. I wasn’t sure I wanted to but Bob said it was a nice night, we should. We pushed off and when the engine started it seemed way too loud. But then it settled down and we chugged on out towards the centre. When we got there he cut the motor and it seemed like all the insects were holding their breath.
I watched Bob bait the hook. When he handed it to me I realized that it was the only rod. He said, I’ve fished here plenty times, I’ll let you have the pleasure. Then I cast off and made a real mess of it. Bob didn’t say anything, he just took the rod and reeled the line back in. Then he gave it back to me and said, Let me show you. He put his hands on mine and they were large and smelled of soap. He raised my hands to one side then flicked my wrist quickly and I felt the line and my hands flow forward. I watched the hook sink in and wondered if the sleeping fish would notice. He moved his hands to my shoulders. I didn’t flinch or tell him not to. I guess I wanted to be touched, maybe just held and if he was there and wanted to, well, that was OK.”
I took my hand from her neck and hung it out the window. A cool breeze was starting and I remember thinking there’d be rain by morning.
“He kept them there a while, and although I thought I felt a few tugs, nothing really happened. Then his hands moved to my hips and he said I was pretty.”
I felt a yawn begin but got to it in time.
“He shifted to get closer and the boat began to rock, not much but enough to make me scared. I didn’t know what to do, my hands were busy with the rod. He started kissing me and then his hands were between my legs and tugging at my shorts. He pushed me down into the bottom of the boat, but not in a rough way. I told him I didn’t want to but then he was on top of me. He held my hands tightly. It didn’t take long.”
Outside the wind picked up a little, not much but enough to make me wish I’d brought a jacket.
“Afterwards I lay there looking at the stars. I don’t think I knew what had happened. It had been that way with my boyfriend too. We’d been making out in the woods and then he’d been on top even though we’d agreed to wait. I think until a few years ago I thought that was just how things were. And on the drive back Bob acted like nothing had happened. He asked when I was going to Buffalo, if I knew people there. When he stopped outside our house he said, See you around. I got out and then he nodded and drove off.
When I got in my mom and brother were asleep. I took a shower and went to bed. And when I woke up next morning I told myself that it was just a dream or didn’t matter.”
Judy started the engine.
“Didn’t you tell anyone?”
She shook her head.
“He and Dad had a falling out and then we moved away. Last week my mom told me he’d died a few years back, lung cancer she said. I guess I hadn’t thought about him much until then.”
I rolled the windows up and we started the rest of the drive back. I wondered what I was supposed to say. I had a few ideas, but in the end I figured that I wasn’t supposed to say anything. She’d just wanted me to listen.
When we got in we watched TV and then went to bed. I was horny, but also nervous, like it was our first time. I lay next to her, wanting to touch her but not knowing if I should. In the end she put her hands between my legs. When we’d finished I lay awake for a long time, not just thinking about Bob but about all kinds of stuff. And a few weeks later I started seeing one of the secretaries.
-first published in Stand Vol. 8 (2)