Fiction by Karen Guth
That slice of scarlet. You adjust your scarf, feeling my gaze. I flick my eyes to your face then. So young. We hold hands across the table, mother and daughter, you for once not caring who sees it.
Outside the afternoon fades to dusk. The neon sign in the window flickers off and on, warming up. “Georg’s” it flashes, missing the “e” as it has since this was my hangout too, back when I was about your age. Old George is long gone, but “Georg’s” lives on among the students and professors here. They pour in from the cold, from the unrelenting grip of sub-zero weather that is Iowa in January. It’s happy hour. Steam drifts from wet clothing and voices shout in greeting. “Gay-org!” A young man leans across the bar. “Set ’em up!” You grow anxious as you watch the door, but I squeeze your hands more tightly and tell you it’ll be OK. Just watch for him.
You called me that night, called me from down in a deep dark place that no girl should ever be. Of course I came here as soon as I could, from half a continent away. The campus police had finished their investigation, had found nothing. “What were you wearing?” they asked you. I am incredulous still.
I try not to imagine how it was for you, but I can’t help but imagine what will never be. Those first fleeting glances that grow into lingering looks that develop into whispered exchanges and maybe a first date for coffee, just to see, and then if that seems promising there may be dinner or a movie (do young people still date like that?) and afterward those first awkward, groping touches where the skin feels electrified upon contact and the world falls away and you find yourself in a place you never knew existed. It won’t be. I so wanted that for you. Wouldn’t every mother? Instead you will have fear, may never know love, won’t trust enough for love. My throat tightens with the thought.
I feel your body stiffen across the table, and your hands squeeze mine so tightly it hurts. It hurts. I see him now, too. You would never know. He looks just like any of the other college boys in the bar. How could you have known? He orders a beer and turns around to see who else is there, blowing on his cold hands. Dark has descended outside and the bar is dim. He doesn’t see us.
You and I don’t really have a plan. Did we just need to see him? Just need to put the whole thing in some kind of perspective, with the hope that you could get past it? But seeing him creates a roiling in my gut that begins somewhere deep down and threatens to come up. My head pounds and a small bead of sweat trickles down the back of my neck. You sense my rage. “Don’t,” you say, strangely calm, but I am already on my feet and walking toward the bar. What propels me I can’t say, but it is something outside of myself and conscious thought. It is visceral and primeval and it all happens in a flash, my belt around his neck, pulling, pulling. I am giddy with it, with him feeling your pain.
“Don’t,” you say again and I realize that I am still sitting here with you. It surprises me. It was so real, so disconcertingly real. You speak softly into your phone and then we wait. We wait through happy hour, mostly silent, our hands entwined. The boy is drunk now, and loud, and finally two policemen come in through the back door and you point to him on his barstool and they raise their eyebrows as if to say, “Him? Really?” and you nod. They grasp his arms from behind and twist them behind his back, yanking him off the stool. He stumbles as they half carry, half drag him through the back door to a waiting car. He still doesn’t see us. Your face glows red with the neon in the window. You hold your breath, watching and shrinking back against the wall. Your hand is again at your throat, trembling.