The room smelt of mildew and old socks. The wallpaper barely hung on the walls, peeling away down the seams, hanging from the top corners. A fly buzzed in short bursts, trapped on the windowsill. Her head pounded as she sat up, pulling a yellowed sheet over her naked body. Between her legs dampness oozed and she rubbed her forehead, trying to ease the stake of pain lodged behind her eyes.
She dredged a vague, floating memory of the wooden bar top, polished, reflecting the lights above, and the tatty coaster she’d centred her half finished glass of wine on before she’d leaned down to pick up her purse. After that memory…nothing until this moment.
Why did she order that extra glass of wine? She had no idea what had happened after she’d put down her glass. The bowl of peanuts had been tempting but she’d preferred to wait for Henry, not wanting to spoil her appetite or to begin a conversation with the men seated alongside her.
The crunching sound as the men ate the nuts had reminded her of how she’d hurried to be on time, briskly walking along the oak lined street to get to the bar, crunching acorns underfoot. Henry had been late, yet again. This habit of his had driven her to drink, literally - one drink too many.
Daylight tried to penetrate a fly-spotted cream blind, the pull-cords grey from the grasp of a thousand hands.
God, her head ached.
A stranger entered the room, offering her a steaming mug of something, but the urge to vomit propelled her out of the bed, dragging the sheet with her. Following the direction of his scrawny arm she lost a meal, and more, down the rust-stained bowl. Outside a bird screamed cat-cat-cat, and the whoosh of passing cars meant a nearby road and the possibility of being able to hail a taxi.
She filled her hand with water from the bathroom tap, rinsed her mouth, and tottered back to the bedroom, fumbling around till she found her clothes and dressed. She waved away the proffered mug, refusing to look at the man’s face; his scrawny knees and knobbly feet matched the grubby room.
She ignored his apologetic murmurings, putting her fingers in her ears as she pushed past him. With a tight grasp on the hand-rail she navigated her way down the stairs on ridiculously high heels which last night had seemed so smart. She yanked open the door at the bottom and stumbled onto the pavement, her arm raised to hail a passing cab.
Thank God for the ‘morning after’ pill which she purchased at the first chemist they passed, the taxi’s meter ticking over as she hurried in, mumbled her request and paid, not meeting the gaze of the man who served her.
She’d given the driver her home address but she changed her mind.
“One Tree Hill Police Station, please.”
She ignored the exasperated sigh from the driver. The Police Station was a shorter fare. She didn’t care. Despite a pit of fear in her stomach and knowing she would possibly have to repeat her story many times, she’d decided to report the ‘incident’; which is how it would be described in any formal report. What could she prove? She had the street address and had glimpsed the brass number on the door as she hurried onto the pavement. She’d read about the procedure and guessed they’d get a doctor, who’d take a swab of her vagina. Surely there would be semen evidence remaining, on the soiled sheets if not in her. Hopefully the Police would follow it up today. The state of the flat hadn’t advertised a house-proud tenant who might’ve already thrown the linen and the evidence in the wash. The skinny bastard would have some questions to answer.
She paid the driver, adding a tip for his patience at the chemist’s. Her shaking hands now mimicked the tremors that wracked her, twanging her nerve ends like someone plucking an out-of-tune guitar. Her senses were off-centre, out of kilter and she seemed to be watching herself from another space. Her high heels slipped on the stone steps into the Police Station. She took the shoes off and dangled them from her fingers as she pushed through the heavy wooden doors and crossed barefoot to the counter. No one there. She took a few slow, deep breathes, confirming her decision, before slamming her hand on the desk bell and calling ‘shop… please’ in a loud, demanding voice, that cracked as she added the please. That should get someone’s attention.
Two hours later, back at her flat, she showered until the water ran cold, then huddled in the sun on the window-seat, wrapped in her dressing gown, clasping a mug of hot coffee.
How did it happen? Last night at the bar, she’d turned from her drink only briefly to reach into her handbag for her phone, checking whether Henry had texted an excuse. In that moment someone had spiked her drink. It had to be then. She remembered placing her phone next to her drink on the bar, yet she’d seen it in her handbag this morning. She’d forgotten to tell the police about her phone. She hadn’t used it today. Perhaps it had his fingerprints on it?
She crossed to the kitchen bench, found a plastic bag and grabbed a pair of tongs from beside the stove. With care she removed her phone from her purse and dropped it in the plastic bag, sealing the locking strip with a quick slide of her fingers. Gotcha you bastard.
Once more on the window seat the sun warmed her back and she wondered if she should she tell Henry? He’d want his usual Saturday morning romp and today she would refuse. How easy was it to catch a venereal disease? She shuddered.
He wouldn’t be pleased at her refusal. He considered their Saturday morning nookie an essential part of his fitness regime, after which he would shower, slide into his lycra and dash out the door to run five miles around the streets; leaving her to rest her sated body - so he thought. Not that she did. Most times she cleaned the flat, then popped down to the deli’ for something nice for their lunch. But she wouldn’t be doing that today.
This morning, at the Police Station, her energy had run out of her fingertips. Despite several cups of hot sweet tea, she’d shivered, cold with anger and disbelief. Her emotions had been screwed and twisted tight as the enormity of the assault sank in. The concerned, gentle questioning; the fatherly figure who believed her story; the lady doctor who’d taken the smear test; their kindness had triggered intermittent sobbing until she’d run out of tears. At her request the police had dropped her at the corner nearest to her flat and she’d refused the company of a matronly police officer, putting on a determined face and assuring the officer that she’d be ‘just fine’.
Her father’s old chiming clock announced ten o’clock with loud dongs, much like her father’s voice sounded when he thought he was right. Henry sometimes echoed the clock’s tone. She heard his footsteps taking the stairs two at a time, his usual pause on the landing to get his breath and any moment now he would bounce into the room, his excuse at the ready along with a winning smile.
It didn’t go well.
She mumbled vague answers to Henry’s questions. She didn’t know how she got to the grotty flat. No, she’d never seen the skinny man before. Henry agreed her drink had probably been spiked but it hadn’t eased his fury. She should have waited for him. She should have been more careful. ‘And you should have bloody well been on time’ she screamed in her head, keeping her lips closed and her eyes shut. Eventually she slid her fingers into her ears. Henry’s voice faded and finally stopped.
She shouldn’t have told him. Sometimes the truth is too cruel. He slammed the door so hard the small china jug wobbled off the shelf and onto the floor, shattering most appropriately. Through the window she watched his hunched shoulders and long strides as he’d walked away, never looking back, not once, to wave goodbye.
Somehow he’d twisted things and made her feel guilty.
She guessed he was trying to shed his own guilt. He thought his habit of being late for every appointment was an attractive trade mark, like the by-line on his newspaper articles. She doubted he’d comment on date rape any time soon, unless to say he knew of someone it’d happened to. A dash of salacious kudos among his peers, as long as they didn’t find out he’d created the opportunity.
She refused to be the victim. She’d go public if she had to.
That skinny bastard in his grotty flat had chosen the wrong drink to spike last night.