Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Excerpt from my Finished and (Theoretically) Polished Novel

I'm not a huge fan of just slapping down a selection from the middle of a completed manuscript (this is from pages 313-318, in fact), but this is one of the main characters telling a story to another character. It is a very personal piece to me, and as such, it's hard for me to be objective. Please let me know what you think.

And while I'm in such a grateful mood, I'd like to thank everyone who reads and comments here. I'm very self-conscious in terms of sharing my writing, and I feel like I've finally found a place where constructive criticism reigns.

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On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Josh would drive to Boston with the distributor from Maine. His name was Dean, and he was originally from L.A. He took great pride in this, referring to “Cali” as often as possible. I often wonder how he managed to avoid detection as long as he did; Emerson is close enough to Massachusetts where he wouldn’t have been a complete freakshow, but he must have stuck out like a sore thumb in his small town in northern Maine. Dean was around Josh’s age, but there was a sensation to him that was like fingernails on metal. Fingernails on a chalkboard are annoying, but fingernails on metal … that’s frightening. Dean scared the crap out of me.

Every Tuesday and Friday nights, Dean would come down and spend the night on the living room couch. He and Josh would leave around the same time I left for the bus stop in the morning, always in Josh’s car, always with Josh driving. Josh had a police record, yeah, but there was humanity in his eyes where Dean’s were like black pits. If a cop pulled Dean over, he would likely get bad vibes and search the car. Josh always drove.

Because Dean gave me the creeps, I made myself scarce the nights he stayed. To give Josh credit, I don’t think he liked Dean any more than I did, but something had changed in my brother. He’d once been a ragtag kid dealing weed, small potatoes in the great scheme of things. He drank Pabst, wore his hair in dreadlocks, and slummed around in jeans, thermal tops under tie-dyed t-shirts, and sneakers. It was Dean who got Josh’s foot in the door, so to speak. After Dean came into the picture, Josh got a haircut and started wearing outfits that cost more than his entire weekly paycheck from Dunkin’ Donuts. With Dean came the Volkswagen Jetta and the spacious apartment. The exchange, of course, was Josh’s ability to transport huge quantities of drugs across state lines without getting caught. In his Gap ensembles and college-boy car, Josh looked perfectly innocuous. Dean was a biweekly irritation that Josh had to put up with to reap the benefits of the life he’d chosen.

One July night when I was thirteen, the door to my bedroom opened, awakening me. I didn’t think too much of it at first; although we never spoke of it, there were a lot of nights that Josh came into my room and crashed on the floor. I didn’t mention the tears I heard him cry on those nights, and he didn’t mention the vomit I cleaned off the floor the following mornings. The fact that the dribs and drabs of Josh’s nocturnal visits were now Glenlivet instead of cheap beer didn’t change their frequency, nor did it lessen the ferocity of the secret tears that he could only seem to cry near me.

When my single sheet was yanked away, I opened my mouth to cry out, but a hand mashed down over my lips and Dean’s voice said, “If you make a sound, I’ll kill you.”

Rape is just a word. It’s defined in the dictionary as The unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse and by Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as Carnal knowledge of a female without her consent. Boiling it down to that one word, that tiny little four-letter verb, cheapens what happened, almost makes light of it, takes away the physical agony, the emotional trauma, the ultimate horror of the situation.

But there it is. I was raped.

When he stood up after it was over, I saw blood that I knew was mine matting dark hair that he quickly pulled briefs over. I felt blood sticky on my thighs, and I felt a far more sinister wetness between my legs. The metallic taste and rush of saliva that precedes vomiting rose in my mouth, and I tried to stand but he pushed me back onto the bed. My stomach lurched and I dry-heaved, but nothing would come up, and he sat watching, laughing as I finally succeeded in regurgitating bile onto the front of the nightgown that he hadn’t bothered to remove.

“If you ever tell, I’ll kill you,” he said in a low voice. “You and your brother both.” He looked at me for a long time. “I’ll always own a part of you.” Then he left.

I didn’t move all night. I could smell vomit and blood and sweat and pain and fear. I didn’t get up, even to go to the bathroom, until I heard the front door close. I stumbled to the window and watched the black Jetta move down the street, Dean in the passenger seat. Alone, I stood in the shower until it ran cold, washing every inch of my body, reducing an almost-new bar of soap down to a little nub.

I was bleeding, so I stuck a maxi pad in my underwear and tried to tell myself that it was just my period. I threw away the nightgown that I’d worn the night before and the sheets that were on my bed. I took an aspirin because it hurt terribly to walk. I wanted to sit on the couch and watch television and not think about anything, but of course the couch was where Dean had slept. I flipped the cushions over and sprayed the entire couch with Formula 409, not caring if it ruined the fabric. Twice I picked up the telephone to call the police, and twice I returned it to its cradle. Before I told the police, I needed to tell Josh. I didn’t care what Dean had threatened, I honestly believed that Josh would be so angry that he would literally kill Dean.

I hid in my room when they returned that evening. I’d managed to take a small nap, but every sound seemed to be the bedroom door opening again. I listened to their small talk, held my breath when Dean walked by my bedroom to get to the bathroom, then let it out in relief when he passed by without making his presence known in a more forthcoming way. When the sky was completely dark, they walked outside to quickly and efficiently carry in boxes, divide them, then carry Dean’s share out to his clich├ęd dusty Maine pickup truck, where they fit neatly behind the seat.

When Dean had been gone for over an hour, I finally ventured downstairs. Josh was on the couch in front of the television set, a bottle of Sam Adams in his hand. “Hey,” he said, muting the TV with the remote control. “Where you been?”

“Josh,” I said. “Dean raped me last night.”

His hand tightened around the bottle, but otherwise he showed no emotion. He said nothing.

“Did you hear what I said?” I asked.

He nodded slightly and turned the sound back on.

“Josh!”

He turned the television off completely and snapped his head around. “There’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it, Susy, okay?”

I sat down, stunned. “I thought … the police …”

He laughed bitterly. “The police? And you’re supposed to be so smart.”

Five minutes passed. I watched the minute hand circle the clock on the wall. I said nothing. Josh said nothing. We didn’t look at each other.

“So that’s it, then,” I finally said.

“Yeah,” he replied shortly, standing up and heading toward his bedroom. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

Josh wouldn’t go to the police because it would be the same as announcing, “Hey, guys, I’m a drug dealer.” Money and power were more important to him than me. I considered running away, but there was really nowhere to go. I finally came up with three courses of action that I followed grimly until my brother and several of his associates, including Dean, were busted and tried and sentenced to jail terms that basically took away their lives.

First, I went to the hardware store and bought a top-of-the-line deadbolt. The old man working behind the counter showed me how to install it. He was very friendly and made silly jokes about my little sister reading my diary. I didn’t bother to correct him, but I did thank him profusely for his assistance. If it wasn’t a deterrent, it was a message, to Josh as well as to Dean: you come into my space again, I’m calling the police.

One of the good things about Emerson is that there’s a pretty good public bus system, mostly because of the town’s proximity to the university in Durham. That made my next stop that much easier, especially since the clinic was less than a quarter mile from where the bus dropped me off; walking was still pretty painful. A nurse gave me a gown to change into, and soon enough a doctor, thankfully female, came in. I stared at the wall the entire time that she looked and poked and swabbed. She informed me that the swabs were for the purpose of testing for the presence of any STDs. She gave me a prescription for a powerful antibiotic, just in case, then sent me to the lab to get blood drawn for an HIV test. She told me to make sure I set up an appointment in three months for a repeat HIV test, again just in case. She asked about my last menstruation, but what thirteen-year-old keeps track of that? She did tell me to return for a pregnancy test if I wasn’t menstruating in a month. I refused their repeated requests that I speak with a rape counselor. I made the three-month lab appointment on the way out. My period started the next week, and all of the tests came back negative, including the three-month HIV test. That was that.

And that was really my third course of action. I’d been raped. That was that. I hadn’t suffered any permanent physical damage, I hadn’t contracted any diseases, and I wasn’t pregnant.

That was that.