‘It is the stillest words that bring on the storm’
Even the sun’s got a price.
She once loved those words from a Tori Amos song. She believed it then to be a witty line; but she was young; didn’t grasp its meaning.
She doesn’t love those words anymore. It’s not only the sun: even the world has a price.
It’s two months since the rape. After it happened Ethan was tender, delicate; his every move revealed his fear of touching her. He seemed capable of uttering nothing but platitudes. Oversweet words that set her teeth so on edge they fizzled. We’ll be right, he kept saying. At least you’re alive. Are you still sure you don’t want to tell the police?
And after a few drinks: That bastard. If I ever find out who did that to you I’ll kill him. White fists, his face the red of wrath and frustration. He stamped back and forth, punching the wall, kicking the sofa. Not realising that those sounds scared her almost as much as the attacker’s grunts.
He’s not as volatile now. But he still won’t accept that she can’t report the crime, not to the police, not to anyone. Only him. That she is striving so hard to forget that night her veins jut like violet creeks. At least he’s trying to treat her as normal – well, as normal as he did prior to the rape.
Though sometimes – when they argue, or she catches him watching her coldly in a way he never did before – she wishes he still felt sorry for her.
Tonight they’d quarrelled about what holiday to take. Majorca, he’d said, Let’s just go lie in the sun. It’ll be good for you.
Visions of tiny bikinis, bulging bathing trunks, overtanned tourists marching like clattering armies onto the hectic, dirty beach crowded her forehead.
It’ll be too hot, too busy, she said.
Okay, he said slowly, dangerously. Where do you want to go?
I don’t know. I don’t care.
Well Christ, if you don’t care –
But he’d stopped there, bitten off the sentence, swallowed his tone. Nevertheless she snapped.
All right, we’ll go to fucking Majorca.
In silence they fiddle with plates of fried rice and honey chicken in front of the television. He doesn’t offer her a drink when he goes to the fridge. It’s his fifth beer tonight.
She’d told him she was at work at the publishing house today editing a difficult manuscript, but she lied. Instead she wandered around Fitzrovia, unable to bear another raft of demanding authors, another stressful meeting with sales and publicity people as she defended the latest book she’d commissioned. When she called her boss Fiona this morning the publisher had tutted loudly.
Ada, this is your third day off this month. You want to tell me what’s going on?
I’m waiting to hear from the doctor, she said. More lies.
Fiona’s voice subsided immediately. She backed off, and the gnarl of guilt in Ada’s chest was strangely untroubled – oddly she felt relieved.
On the BBC they watch a show about Auschwitz. She tries to tell herself that people have suffered much, much more than she has, that she has no right – compared to others – to this level of self-pity. But her heart will not accept it. I don’t give a fuck about anyone else, she thinks furiously. I don’t have to give a fuck. I suffered too.
Immediately she’s awash with shame. With guilt. A word that has plagued her since early childhood. Where does it come from? Her Irish-Catholic grandparents? The evil nun in scripture lessons who smacked any students unable to recite the seven deadly sins? Guilt and pride – they’d always been at war in her personal battleground. Until now – now it’s guilt and fear.
Had she led the rapist on? Provoked him?
I’m drowning, she spurts at Ethan.
His fork halts at his open mouth. What? he says.
You know that I’m drowning.
He puts his fork onto the tiny coffee table gently. Perhaps it’s time you saw a therapist. A psychiatrist.
I don’t want to tell anyone, she snarls.
He throws his hands in the air, almost knocking the meal from his lap. I don’t know what to say, Ada. You’re drowning but you don’t want a lifesaver. You won’t tell the police that you were – about what happened. You won’t let me help you. God – if only you’d see a doctor.
On the screen a pile of naked, torn bodies are being pushed by a Soviet tractor into a mass grave. One body, a woman with long hair in a thick, gold plait, rolls surprisingly gracefully then is lost under the pile of thin-skinned bones. Ada’s mind turns again: how can I compare? Her despair is luminous, the shame incandescent. Her face is inflamed, wet. Filled with mud and blood.
A doctor, she says. Lays down her untouched plate. Her spine aches, her eyes smart in the lounge room’s overbright light. She again wishes they could have afforded dimmers.
It’s finally time, she tells herself. Time to talk. Sucking in a deep breath she mumbles, I saw a doctor yesterday.
Ethan nods tentatively. A therapist?
What sort, then?
Why is she telling him? Why can’t she keep this so very private information a secret? Just stay within her own ragged cocoon, alone and safe and deaf to all.
Maybe it’s the aloneness that’s so raw.
I saw a gynaecologist, she says.
Ethan frowns, looks away. Nervously cracks his hairy knuckles, clears his throat and says, You saw a gynaecologist…Is everything all right?
His eyes distend into round globes. He’s expecting the worst.
It’s not what you think, she says quickly. Everything down there is okay. She smiles gloomily. No STDs.
He bites his lip, fiddles with his knuckles.
I haven’t felt well recently, so I went to the GP, and she told me to see the gyno, and…
Ada shrugs, exhausted.
The tv pauses, the room is inert. Even the feathery curtains have hesitated, the twilight breeze holding its breath. The room, the street below the open window, are silent. Has the show ceased? Is the evening over? Or just suspended?
Ethan rises abruptly. Facing the blank blue wall above the screen he rubs his jaw, rests his fists on his hips.
Well, he says. Well.
I know what you want to ask, she says, and clasps her face in her hands.
Well? he asks again. She glances up: his eyes are slits, wary and cautious.
I don’t know.
He swears softly. She prays he’ll kneel down, cuddle her, but he hovers, on a brink.
It’s about eight weeks old, she says. Conceived about the same time as…
So I’m thinking, she whispers, maybe it’s best to – get rid of it.
What? he says. Abortion?
She winces, nods.
But you and I, the night before, we had sex. Didn’t we? After Brent’s party.
So it could be mine.
The discomfort stretches her skin, she wants to tear at her legs and cheeks with her nails. Punch herself in the stomach. Draw blood, pay.
I don’t want it, she says. They watch each other, neither moving. He says something, but she doesn’t hear it properly.
What? she says.
I don’t believe you, he breathes. He sits beside her, grabs her hands. It’s probably mine, not his. We’ve wanted a baby for so long, have been trying for years. You’ve been craving for this day – we’ve tried IVF, everything. Now it’s here – and you don’t want it?
Not if it’s not yours. Not if it’s his.
We can always do a DNA check. I think.
She draws her hands from his, curls into an uncomfortable but shielding foetal ball. She still doesn’t want his touch, even after all these weeks. She doesn’t want to be touched by anyone ever, ever again.
But having a baby – now – would be a reminder, she snarls. Forever. It would just keep taking me back there. I want to start afresh, not have his germs lingering all over it.
Ethan’s lips bristle.
Don’t kill my baby, he finally says, softly.
She lashes at him. The coffee table tumbles, dishes clatter and smash on the polished oak floor. She doesn’t care, continues to punch and slap. Eventually he grabs her hands and she screams, the scream she should have made when that – that pig – attacked her. But he’d pushed his paw over her mouth, and she’d choked on her terror. Now her distress transmutes into noise and fury, and shrieking is such a relief she can’t stop.
Until Ethan shoves her onto the sofa. You’re as bad as he was, she spits. The rage drains from his face. He jolts back, palms in the air, his face a red sweat.
Ada, baby, I’m so sorry, you know I’d never hurt you. His words are blurred as moth’s wings.
You’re all the same, she yells. I’m never having a baby!
Her liberation at such a decision stuns her. She can tell from his agitation he’s shocked.
Tilting towards her, he spreads his fingers and hands palm-up in submission.
Get out of my life, she says.
I don’t understand you, he whimpers.
She says it again. It’s so relieving to offend him.
He’s crying as he slowly closes the front door. It occurs to her that she’s never seen him so distraught. Not even eight weeks ago.
All afternoon, before she hears the knock on the door, she’s tortured by her last words to Ethan. Savage, too savage, she groans. But she said the truth. They’d never spoken like that before. His inability to comprehend her anguish is so riling she’s devoid of regret. How could he be so selfish?
Get out of my life, she’d said to him. The cruellest words she’d ever uttered. But as the afternoon shifts towards twilight and she hears sirens screeching – many more than the usual London alarm-filled day – an icy fear eclipses her mood. Loneliness gnaws again. She wants him back, needs him beside her. Get out of my life. How could she say that? Had he taken it seriously? She believed the sentence unquestionably when she delivered it – no doubt he did too. But they were just words, words bellowed in the heat of the moment. She wonders uneasily, Could words be as damaging as actions?
Her world totters as the knot of guilt looms against her ribs.
She has a miscarriage the week after the police knock on her door. They stood in riot gear, almost hidden behind layers of armour – she thought they were here to catch her rapist. Then they told her that Ethan had been on the bus that was blown up on Tavistock Square. The number 30. She wouldn’t believe them, not until after she’d seen the bombing on every tv channel, in every newspaper, after London shut down and the universe went on hold, after Ethan failed to ring her, to return her calls – only after they forced her to identify his body did she believe it.
She’s never found out why he was on that bus, where he was heading. Whether he was leaving her or simply searching for answers. All she knows is that it was her words that got him on the bus.
In the morning before the funeral she finds blood in her pants. The rain pelts hard that day. She wears her raincoat again. Like the song said – everything, even the sun, has a price.