“Wait a bit before coming out,” he instructs, pulling the hollow door closed with practiced precision.
A soundless exit save the final soft click, which clangs in your head like iron bars. You stand where he left you, palms planted on vanity countertop. Old Spice like shackles smothers your Baby Soft scented wrists. Paralyzed by the imprint of his stalky outline backing out on tiptoes, you close your eyes and push the ugly truth back. Back. Back.
And think. The clock tick-tocks as you rewind the scene. Replay. Rewind.
Face to the floor, bent over in front of the toilet where he sat, where he pulled you back onto his lap and panted: “Remember—never—do this—with anyone—else.”
His words squeezed the slip-knot around your neck.
Your mother told him you started menstruating. She knew it was imperative he know. You were twelve the first time he warned you: You’re a woman now. He sat on the edge of his bed, you stood immobilized in front of him. Almost eye level. But not equal. His thin lips spread into an impish grin that plunged your attention to the shag carpet hugging two sets of bare toes.
You stare at the porcelain basin, study the drying water droplets like a tea leaf reader: Have you waited long enough? You close your eyes, cock your head toward the door and listen, remembering the time that you stepped into the hallway and your little sister’s voice like fingernails on chalkboard asked what you were doing in there for so long. That night you gouged a dull double-edge razor blade into your arm until blood bubbled into a beaded scourge.
You play hot potato with the door handle. Touch. Recoil. Try again. You can’t do it; decide to wait a little longer.
Every time, the rush of uncertainty, like the whorl of the flush, spins faster and faster. You grip the sink’s solid edge. Cold fingers, and feet that press into the speckled tiles you watched him cut, peel and lay onto a raised plywood platform. He taught you the physics of gravity that day. What it takes to push waste from here in this basement bathroom, up and out to septic tank. You consider what it would take to push other things out of this room. Push him out, push the memories out, push the humiliation of the past hour out.
Your gaze flits around the small room dropping numbered placards next to polaroids.
- Manspreading on porcelain-white toilet, Levis pooled at his ankles, gesturing with a jerk of his head and crooked smile.
- A black-capped drain pipe, for a future shower. Ragged rough-cut tiles surround the four-inch plastic tunnel, like it busted through from Wonderland. A thirteen-year-old girl, soft brown curls cascading over her face, is falling into it.
- Thick arm reaching to the tiled floor, wad of toilet paper pinched, readied, going in for the kill, but it’s not a spider.
- Rough, hairy hands in hot water-filled basin. Dial soap slathering away evidence.
- A medicine chest. A reflection. A split-second eye-lock. A sheepish head tilt and almost imperceptible eyebrow raise as the man slides behind the girl; his buttoned shirt brushes against her back as he slithers toward the exit.
Your insides threaten to come out, so you shift your attention to the brushed silver push-and-twist lock that has never kept him out. It doesn’t matter how long you wait, whether five minutes, ten or thirty, the same shame and fear drops your gaze to the ground, assaults your skin like a thousand smashed mirror shards. Dad and daughter. Dad and daughter. Dad and daughter.
Shirley Harshenin writes from her home in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. She believes in angels, caffeine, and the human spirit’s extraordinary resilience. Her work has been published in Canadian Writer’s Journal, Room Magazine, Contrary Magazine, was longlisted in Room Magazine’s 2018 Short Forms Contest, and is forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.