[short story, by Sha’Tara – part 2]
“Mark, my Editor”
The hours to Edmonton passed quickly. At every stop I got off the bus to stretch and use the facilities. In the eating places I met new passengers and sat with different people each time. I listened a lot, asked a lot of questions. I’d never been anywhere and what I knew of the world all came from books, from school, from hearsay and from stolen moments reading dad’s old newspapers and magazines. I found this learning from people’s experiences a truly amazing process. So much easier to visualize, to remember.
It was in the last leg of the journey that I got the idea I’d like to be a reporter. To gather stories from people and publish them, in my own words. My Own Words. Something I could call mine. That’s when I realized I’d never actually owned anything; that everything I’d ever had was stuff bought for me, or handed down to me and any of it could be taken from me and replaced with whatever someone else thought suitable, or good enough.
Edmonton. For the time being I lived on a borrowed name, Helene (pronounced “Elennay” but of course pronounced “Helen” by Canadians) Kristofson and used money given to me but which I hoped some day soon to be able to repay. I decided then that I would keep my new identity and earn my place in the world. Edmonton would give me my beginning. And it did. I found a magazine to work for. It dealt mainly with agricultural issues and farmers’ concerns. I was well versed in those: they’d been my bread and butter since I’d stopped suckling. I made a good interviewer. The novelty of a young, pretty and knowledgeable reporter was a great asset. And I could write. In my tiny basement apartment I created a working office space, bought a portable typewriter and drove myself to type ever faster.
Helene Kristofson had her name in print and her first stories were read and commented on. HK avoided political and religious issues and stuck to the middle of the road and the issues she wrote about. HK was loaned an old Pontiac flat top six to drive around. HK also paid back the money she’d received from the Hendersons. Buying her freedom: my freedom.
Months followed in quick succession. September. Golden colours, dried grasses and stubbled fields. Mark, my editor invited me to his place to discuss my latest piece on wheat pricing and quotas and the plight of small farmers. “A bit on the radical side, Helen. Needs looking at before I can push for publication.” I drove to his home, a small bungalow near the North Saskatchewan River. When I rang the bell he came to the door… with only a pair of shorts on. I hesitated but he explained I’d caught him exercising. With my head filled with my story I went in and sat at the kitchen table while he went to get dressed. I spread my notes out and prepared to defend my piece.
Mark returned, having added a shirt to his ensemble and holding a bottle of scotch and two glasses. “May as well get started properly. With or without ice, Helen?”
“Sorry, I don’t drink Mark. I thought I made that clear already?”
“Well yeah, on business. But this is both business and pleasure. And you don’t have to worry about driving back – you can sleep here tonight. Got a couple of friends coming over with their dates so we can have a bit of a party and they’re bringing the shit. You need a party, Helen. You need to relax and enjoy yourself. A pretty girl like you needs a life.”
A dozen bells started chiming in my head. He’d set me up. This wasn’t about my work, this was about sex. Until now I’d managed OK. The men I interacted with were conservative farmers with a sense of propriety. And the young guys, though quick to make verbal advances had kept their hands to themselves. I’d felt safe in my new life. Now the whole thing came tumbling down and I was back in that blood-filled bed and a trusted man turned into a rapist. I felt myself shaking in both, fear and anger. I felt like a cornered beast again. I could feel my face changing countenance. I wanted to be old and gray and wrinkled. At the same time I wanted to be an avenging she-bear.
I wasn’t dressed seductively, just casually. Jeans and closed neck sweater and sneakers. Nothing sexual about that. My very dark hair as usual just tied back – in short, I was dressed for work. But it doesn’t matter, does it. He was undressing me with his eyes and he had that predatory look I knew too well. I knew he would not let me leave freely: he’d grab me, hold me and try to talk me into the sex and if that didn’t happen, he’d just force it on me then try to laugh about it and offer me a couple of stiff drinks to smooth things over. Then he’d say, well now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at your notes, have a few more cocktails and you can sleep over.
I knew all this in a split second. So I stared back at him and asked,
“Where’s your wife, Mark?”
“She’s gone to see her mother in Grand Prairie. It’s her mother’s birthday this weekend and she’s spending a couple of weeks vacationing with her parents – Banff, that sort of thing.”
“So why didn’t you go with her?”
“That’s the whole point, isn’t it. Well, I wanted to have some time with you, babe. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I like the idea of you and me. Maybe a whole lot of you and me. There’s a promotion in there somewhere for you too.”
I’m sixteen but he thinks I’m eighteen, so part of this is my fault. In his eyes I’m an adult, and I’m legal. He can have me and he’d be pretty safe on any rape charges if I squealed. He’d divorce his wife and claim that he’d asked me to marry him and I’d accepted. That, in his eyes, and those of the courts, would make the whole transaction quite moral and normal.
C’mon girl play ball, don’t be a stick in the mud; don’t pretend to be a sore looser, you know you want it and you know it’s how it works. Words came pouring out of my mouth, words I must have heard somewhere, or read; words I’d never use or thought I ever could use.
“Fuck you Mark! Fuck you and the horse you rode in on! You make me sick!” And I spun around to the counter, slipped a long-blade knife from the block and held it to him.
“Come near me and I skewer you. Don’t try me on this. See this shaking? That’s not fear of you Mark, that’s me trying to control myself from going for you. I’m on a coiled spring right now and if you move any closer to me, that’s going to let go. I don’t care what happens to me after but you won’t be around to see it. Just let me gather my stuff and leave.”
“What are you, a fucking dyke? Wow, I sure misjudged you. I thought you were a team player. You cold bitch, you’re fired!”
“You can’t fire me, I quit. I quit the moment you opened that door and stood there practically naked with your bulge out. Animals, you’re all fucking animals and I’m not afraid of gutting an animal. I was raised on a homestead.” I noticed that I wasn’t yelling, just loud, but firm.
The knife felt smooth and balanced in my left hand. At that crazy crossing I wanted him to move towards me, to lunge, and to shut up so we could settle it with action, not words. I’m sick of words, I heard myself thinking, I want action.
On impulse, I stuck the knife point down into the beautiful finished wood surface of the table, turned my gaze from him, collected my notes and stuffed them in my leather briefcase on the chair beside me. Then I stared him down, pulled the knife out and backed out to the door with the knife held for action.
“I’ll throw this out when I’m leaving the driveway. And for your sake, think this: ‘this never happened’ and for me, it didn’t.”
[end part 2: Mark, my editor]