by Ethel Rohan
Nights, I tell myself I’m safe. I’m safe, I repeat, and nothing bad is going to happen to me if I let go of awake. I’m at home and the doors are locked, I checked and double-checked, and the alarm is armed. I roll over on my mattress and face my bedroom door, the key in place and chair wedged under the handle. So many like me the world over, listening, listening, and hurrying up morning.
I close my eyes and despite myself go back to that night last year with stars like fires. My mind writes its letter, the same warnings it has written a thousand times, telling me not to take the N train, not to wear the red dress, not to walk through the park like a forest, not to hum with happy beer breath, not to be polite when I should have started running, not to have given in so easily to the stab of his cock.
The weight of him returns and it’s hard to breathe. I kick off the sheets and blankets and punch my faithful pillow, its bruises invisible. From the street, a woman screams. I startle, feel shaken by a giant. The silence ticks by, one second, two second, three. I creep to the window and peer through a crack in the blinds. Nothing except houses and cars and lights and darkness and the Catholic school on the hill with its cross. I wait and watch the street for the woman, for any sign of trouble, and then return to bed, shivering. Maybe it wasn’t a scream so much as a shout. My heart slows. It was likely nothing. The woman’s safe. I’m safe. All is well. The letter starts again in my brain—not to take the N train, not to wear the red dress—like writing lines in school as punishment. My jaw locks so hard my teeth might break. I rip up my imagined letter and mash the paper and words in my mouth. Swallow, throat. But I can’t. I spit and wipe at my tongue with my hand until all the pieces are out of me. Then I start another letter, my first to the criminal, sending him back in time to that night, to the day he was born, telling him not to.
Ethel Rohan was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. She is the author of two story collections, Goodnight Nobody (September, 2013) and Cut Through the Bone, the latter longlisted for The Story Prize. She is also the author of the chapbook, Hard to Say. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, World Literature Today, Tin House Online, Sou’wester, Post Road Magazine, and The Rumpus, among many others. Visit her here.