by Jennifer Alexander
The teacup shook violently in my hand, spilling tea on mother’s embroidered tablecloth. “Don’t drop it, Elizabeth. It’s your grandmother’s good tea set. It’s been in the family for years,” she said with a faint smile. My mother belonged to all the community associations. She spent her time raising funds for those less fortunate and attended garden parties with her like-minded friends. “I know it’s a shock dear, but you just have to try to forget,” she said, not wanting to broach the subject. Ladies don’t discuss such things.
My upbringing in ‘high society’ (as mother called it) made it difficult for me to relate to kids at school. When I was very young, kids in the playground teased me, “You wouldn’t want to play with the likes of us, would you? We’re not good enough for you.”
I frequently came home in tears, with no-one there except Mother, whose favorite saying was, “Now dear, you must keep a stiff upper lip to these things.” She had the same attitude now.
“Mother, I have tried to forget for the last ten years, I thought I had succeeded.”
“Terrible, terrible incident. You poor darling. Let’s not discuss it. Let’s have a cup of tea, shall we?”
A cup of tea. The fixer of all things. Mother always said that things looked better after a cup of tea. But they didn’t. Tears welled in my eyes as I struggled against them. My mother gave me a hug, thinking of appropriate words of comfort to say. But an eerie silence fell on her kitchen.
The memories still flooded my mind of that afternoon. I was only walking home from school through the park. Kids were playing on the slides, their laughter rang out from a distance. I didn’t notice the shadow creeping in from the side until his knife blade bit my throat. He dragged me into the bushes over the gravel that embedded in my thigh I screamed but nothing came out. My body felt rigid with fear, like a rabbit caught in a trap. I begged him to stop, to let me go. He scoffed as if I was joking.
“You deserve it, you snobby little brat,” he snarled.
He pushed me to the ground and stuffed the rag down my throat until I gagged.
“When I’m finished with you, I am going to cut you into tiny pieces.”
I struggled harder and tried to scream around the rag but it came out muffled.
“Scream all you like, nobody is going to hear you,” he mocked.
The more I fought, the more force he used, striking me with his hand across my cheekbone. Half frozen with fear, the other half wanting to fight, I was rendered helpless by the weight of my captor. His face was indistinguishable, except for his eyes. He had the eyes of a wild beast; dark, cold and terrifying. He tore at my clothes as he pulled his jeans down. I whimpered uncontrollably. Searing pain ripped through my body as he entered me.
I wished I had listened to my mother, she told me never to walk home alone through the park. She warned me of men like this. Men that were only after ‘one thing’.
I heard a faint sound in the distance. God, please let somebody find me. I tried to respond but couldn’t. My attacker paused, holding the knife to my throat again, signaling me to be quiet. But my savior came closer.
My attacker, realizing he was spotted, pulled his pants halfway up and fled.
“Hey, what’s going on there?” An older man walking his dog appeared in my peripheral. He wore a tweed coat and had a kindness to his voice. “Miss, are you okay? Are you alright? Don’t move. I’m calling the police,” the passerby said after finding me half-naked and bound.
“Don’t leave me, please,” I begged. His dog sat beside me. Somehow, listening to its breathing soothed me. The sound of an ambulance could be heard, screaming as it approached.
The police interviewed me after I was discharged from the hospital. The room felt sterile, the bright lights bounced off the white walls. “Now then, I believe you had a slight incident today,” the police constable said smirking as he pulled up a chair. He glanced at my face and realized it was no joke. Clearing his throat he said, “Why don’t you start from the beginning, Miss.”
My voice quivered my feet and hands still shook even hours afterward. “I was walking home through the park. It was quicker that way. He was in the bushes.”
“Just one?” the constable asked.
“Can you tell us what he looked like?”
“No, I couldn’t make out his face.”
“What about his age or weight?”
“I don’t know. Everything is so mixed up in my head… I don’t think he was very old.”
“Elizabeth, we need you to concentrate on the incident if you want the charges to stick.”
“Did you arrest him?”
“Yes, we think we got him. But we were hoping you could identify him,” he said with a reassuring smile.
“I think I would recognize his voice,” I said. “Will he go to jail if I identify him?”
“We certainly hope so. Did he say enough to you, Elizabeth, that you would know his voice?”
“I don’t think I will ever forget him saying those things.”
Many months of agonizing waiting passed after I identified him. The courts found him guilty and he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. The judges said that it was one of the worst rape acts that he had seen and it sickened him to his stomach to think a young girl could be abducted in daylight in a busy park.
Mother and I relocated far away after the ‘incident’ as the police called it. It took me a long time to feel safe in open spaces. Time passed and the scar wasn’t as vivid anymore; it was more like an old crumpled paper with faded print that told a story of long ago.
I thought it was finally over until I heard it.
I was in the mall with my friends; we were coming out of a coffee shop laughing at some silly joke. Then I heard it. The unmistakable voice that still haunts my dreams, “You deserve it, you snobby little brat.” I spun around, eyes tearing, palms clamming, goose bumps rising; but, nobody was there. My face ashen white and my heart beating so fast it felt like my chest would explode, I screamed, “Where is he? WHERE IS HE? I heard his voice.”
“Where is who, Elisabeth? There is nobody there,” said my friends. I couldn’t escape him. That face. That voice. That feeling. Not awake, not asleep, the only way to forget would be to…
‘Parole’, they said. ‘Good behavior’, they said. ‘He’s a free man, Madam. He can live wherever he wants’, they said. Well, what about what I say? What about me? I can’t live with a shred of possibility I’ll bump into him. As always, the voice of the victim falls on deaf ears. I’ll never be safe.
Now, I tremble with fear when a man comes near me. I can’t hold a job. Can’t hold a boyfriend. I can almost smell the embers of a normal life flying away in the wind. A knock at the door leaves me trembling uncontrollably. It’s been some time since I have felt the warmth of sunlight kiss my cheek. Mother doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know how your mind won’t let you forget. How you see his face in the darkness. How you haven’t slept a full night since the rape. No amount of tea can take that away. But I guess I ‘deserve it’.
They say that time heals all scars, but they lie. Scars fade on the surface but they lie in wait, like land mines.