Everything Was Okay
*Trigger warning: the following story may be upsetting to survivors of / those sensitive to descriptions of sexual assault*
Eve is a palindrome. Reverse the order of letters, and the word remains the same. You’d never notice anything wrong with a backwards eve.
Eve is a marketing consultant. She lives in a narrow townhouse in Seattle. Her cat, Charcoal, roams the metal stairs and hardwood floors. In her living room, a whiteboard of scribbles rests on the black sofa. On the kitchen counter, a stack of invoices bears coffee stains. This is her office, where the computer is always on. Every morning, she comes downstairs and shakes the mouse, and the monitor casts a glow upon her face. The sky is just beginning to brighten as she types out her first round of emails. Then she looks over website templates and paper pamphlets. Soon, she’s on the phone with a client. She doesn't really listen, but she knows when to say “yes” and “right” because it’s always the same conversation as the day before. Long shadows traverse glacially across the room, as Eve performs her day.
Eve has many friends, and sees them often. They meet for coffee, go to dinner, see movies, go to bars. They text each other’s phones and decide: Mexican or Thai, caffeine or alcohol, drama or comedy. They’re women with modern jobs and modern wardrobes. They read newspapers online, fashion magazines in print. They chat and laugh. Some have boyfriends.
Eve is single. She's not “in the market” for a date right now. She first used this expression three weeks ago, and people laughed. So she’s been using it ever since. It makes things less awkward; she doesn’t have any explaining to do.
Eve feeds Charcoal before she goes out at night. She fills a dish of water and a dish of cat food. Then she takes the dishes to the bathroom next to the living room, and sets them on the floor. Charcoal is always very hungry, and runs right over to eat. Then Eve closes the door, leaving the cat in the bathroom before she goes out. She doesn’t like it when Charcoal surprises her at night.
Eve has a niece named Lily. Every weekday, Eve drives her black sedan to the elementary school. Lily is usually one of the last few children waiting, and she comes down to the car in pink rain boots, her face beaming. Eve smiles back, and drives her niece back to the townhouse. She lets Lily watch TV with a plate of apples and cheese, and checks her email to the sound of cartoons and laughter. Right on the hour, a car horn blares in the driveway. Eve kisses Lily and sends her clanging down the metal stairs in her boots, to meet Eve’s sister, Holly, waiting in the driveway.
Eve goes to the gym. She bought a membership three weeks ago. Before that, she’d put on her bright green spandex and drive to the arboretum. She’d sit in the parking lot, making a playlist on her iPod. Then she’d jog beneath the canopies with an ambient beat pulsing in her earbuds, improvising a path through the international flora. But now she goes on the elliptical. She doesn’t have her iPod anymore, so she just listens to the machine, its belts and wheels churning within, and its handholds swinging back and forth.
Eve sees Holly now and then, when Holly parks the car and comes up the metal stairs, her heels sounding on each step. The sisters talk as they smile at Lily, who smiles at the cartoons. The sisters lower their voices for adult subjects. Sometimes, they proceed out to the porch, giving Lily time for another cartoon. They talk about about Lily’s father, who is not Holly’s husband. Or they talk about mom and dad, who are also unmarried. There are difficult things that they can’t say to friends, to lovers, to relatives, to Lily. What they can’t say to each other, they can say to no one. So when Holly takes her daughter downstairs, Eve stays on the porch, silent. When Holly’s car is out of sight, a cigarette lights in the fading daylight, and Eve inhales deeply. The sunset reflects in her eyes, but Eve sees something else.
Eve used to give Lily a snack in the car. She kept a box of granola bars sitting behind the passenger seat, and she would give one to Lily whenever she picked her up from school. But she doesn’t do that anymore. She hasn’t given Lily a snack in the car for the past three weeks. It was hard for Eve, when Lily asked if there were any granola bars that day. Eve looked into Lily’s eyes and said she was so sorry, that she didn’t have any today but she’d give Lily a snack at home. She didn’t tell Lily that the box of snack bars had been damaged. Crushed, by something filthy, like a shoe, crumpling the shiny snack wrappers, smearing them with dark soil. The leaf of a Japanese maple had been tucked deep among the wrappers. There’s still some dirt on the headrest, the one behind the driver’s seat—a thumbprint. But Eve doesn’t mention any of this to Lily. One day: “Auntie?” “Yes?” “What do you do for your job?” “Well, let me see... I guess, I have clients. And I help my clients sell things.” “How?” “Well, I help my clients develop a sort of image. I mean, I put together things like ads, in the newspaper. And business cards, and ads online, and I help them make a website. And it all has to look nice, and professional, and it has to sort of catch people’s attention. And it’s really important that it all looks consistent. All those things have to have the same shapes, and colors, and words. And all of those materials will only say the very best things about the client. They wouldn’t mention any bad things.” “Do you try to trick people?” “Oh Lily, I’m sorry. I’m not explaining this very well at all….”
Eve still laughs with her friends, but not as much. Over dinner, her friends fill a dark booth, each holding a wine glass at the stem. They gossip about men, lowering their voices to share a scandalous misadventure from the previous night. Eve doesn’t lean forward quite as far as the others. Nobody would ever notice. But when her friends talk sex—the new positions, toys, lamps knocked over—a video plays behind Eve’s eyelids. Eve keeps this to herself; this isn’t the time or place to talk about it. Her friends don’t notice anything different about her. Eve is as pretty as ever, sweet as ever, smart as hell. But:
Eve’s face slams against the window behind the driver’s seat. Her cheek slips down the steamed glass and her cheekbone strikes the door handle. She tries to bite down but the ball of cloth in her mouth keeps her jaw wrenched open to its limit. She squeezes her eyelids shut (tries to do the same with her legs) so she doesn’t see what’s happening to her (doesn’t let it happen to her) but she can hear his foot, crushing the box of granola bars to push himself forward and she can. Feel. Everything.
Eve got anxious when she saw her friend, Heather, at the gym. Heather came over to the Eve’s elliptical, and wondered out loud, how Eve could work out without good music? And Eve explained that she could do without music. And Heather asked again how Eve could do without good music, instead of the awful nineties hits that they played in the gym. And that was the first time Eve had ever noticed that music (because the elliptical’s handholds swung back and forth and the footholds cycled over and over) but she didn’t mention any of that to Heather. She just got more anxious. While she talked, the machine’s console displayed between 90 and 130 cycles per minute, Eve struggling to control her pace as she stuttered, stuttered saying she didn’t use, you see, she didn’t use her, her iPod anymore because, well because she dropped it.
Eve has gone to all the websites: Survivor’s Network, Women’s Recovery Clinic, Group Onward. She procrastinates by judging their content, layout, color scheme. None of them practice Eve’s mantra of web design: “Don’t state your professionalism, show it.” The support groups can go on about their experience and success, but people don’t listen to that. Online, people listen to color, fonts, pictures and drop-down menus. These groups favor lavender, yellow, baby blue. Gentle colors. Herbal remedies and TLC. Useless. Eve wants caustic chemicals and DDT. To scrub behind her eyelids.
Eve’s shriek is halted by the black cotton shirt jammed in her mouth so it’s just the sound of panting and flesh smacking again, again. The sweating fiend rips once, twice and the sports bra lands on the dashboard. Eve fought to control the steering wheel, when Lily asked about the spot on the dashboard. Just the day before she’d been scrubbing it, scrubbing it, scrubbing it with bleach. And a neighbor walked by the car and Eve had this reality check. What the fuck am I doing I can’t let people see me like this. Lily can’t see her like this. So Eve stuttered, explained that she’d spilled coffee on the dashboard and had to scrub out the stain. Eve knew it was some sick residue, but she said it was just coffee. She knew it was an imagined stain, but she said it was a real stain. Only she could see where to scrub the dashboard because when she looked at it, the spot lit up like the fluid from a glow stick, like radioactive waste. Nobody else can see it, but Eve can see things that other people can’t. Other people see Eve doing normal, everyday things (while the video throbs behind her eyelids).
Eve leaned forward, peering toward the benches as she pulled the car up toward the school. Lily got up from the bench, came toward the car, and Eve felt others beside her. She felt as though she was just one pair of eyes among hundreds, watching and waiting to get that third grader in the pink rain boots. The car door opened, and she took Lily’s hand, felt that it was smooth and warm, and Lily was okay.
Eve came up the metal stairs, one after another, each step echoed. It was night. She came up into her dark kitchen and she saw: the eyes suspended in the center of the room. She looked away, nearly stumbled backward down the stairs, but grabbed the banister, pulled herself upright. She looked again. The eyes came forward so fast that she looked away, down the stairs, thought she should just let go of the banister but she saw Charcoal pass her, bounding down the stairs. He stopped, turned to show her his eyes once more, then continued down the stairs. She stepped forward and collapsed onto the couch, keeping her eyelids open so she didn’t see what was behind them. Eve feels the cold night air on her head, her hair pulled back, her mouth plugged by the shirt. The leaking acid sprays noisily from her sinuses, the brown fluid all down her lips and chin. With his left hand tangled firmly in her hair, his right hand reaches around and pulls the shirt out of her mouth, to let the stinging pulp pour forth from her esophagus. The sound of the thick cascade smacking the pavement, then her violent choking coughs, her spine bending in spasms. Then, she stops coughing. Eve lets her body relax, the skin of her breasts and stomach surrenders across the backseat, and she lets her head hang out of the car, staring down at her puddle of sick. She’s still attached to it, by a viscous strand of spit hanging from her lower lip. And she feels herself make a soft, voiced sound, a moan. Then the hand grips, tugs her head backward, a popping sound in her neck, her eyes wide. He crams the shirt into her mouth, shoves her face onto the seat, pulls her pelvis up in the air, forces his (ouch) into her (ouch) into her (stop) into her (please) into her.
Eve was saying “yes” and “good” at all the right times, even nodding with the phone to her ear. The client went on, unheard. Eve was reading from the screen of her monitor, a paragraph about dissociative amnesia: inability to recall an important component of an event. Perhaps that could explain the toilet tissue that had clogged her toilet: more red than brown. She had splashed water all over the bathroom plunging, plunging, as if… and Eve remembered, that she was talking to her most important client, who wondered how the hell Eve could be so tactless. Eve said she was so sorry, that she had a lot going on, so much her mind lately. These past three weeks. The client said that he understood.
Eve stuttered when Heather asked whatever happened to that cute little green top? Eve stuttered, because that little green top wasn’t just green anymore; it was also black, mostly black from the dragging, dragging across the grass, then the gravel, then the woodchips, then the pavement. It was lacerated by the thorns, where the garment was tossed. It’s hanging from either sleeve, deep in a patch of barbed foliage. A scarecrow in the woods, only stuffed when a breeze finds its way into the thicket, and a pocket of wind expands and wears the hovering shirt. Eve sat at the edge of the dark booth. Her friends spoke in hushed tones, leaning forward, then a giggle, a subtle gasp from the group. Eve waited, her muscles tense, her finger sore from gripping the edge of the bench. She waited for the gasps to die, then excused herself before another story began. As she walked down the dark hall to the toilet, the door to the men’s room opened. She steadied herself against the wall of the corridor, waited for the shadow to pass. Then she continued down to the ladies’ room, locked the door behind her, a single room with a toilet and sink. She kneeled, reached behind her tongue and shook her fingers, bowed her head forward. Posture and limbs relaxed as she gave her stomach to the toilet. With her elbows on the seat, she held her head above the bowl, looking down. For a minute, everything was okay.
Holly parked outside the townhouse. She came up to the front door and reached for the handle. Locked. She rang the bell, and waited. Staring at the peephole, she wondered when she would make eye contact with her sister. Eve didn’t used to check the peephole; Holly used to hear Eve’s footsteps on the loud metal staircase, keeping pace right until the door opened. Recently, though, the footsteps would hesitate, right behind the door. It was a nuance, but Holly found it odd to knowingly make eye contact with her own sister, through a peephole. The metallic footsteps sounded within, and there was the pause. Holly looked away from the peephole. The door opened. Eve smiled.
“Oh good,” said Eve, “I wasn’t sure how I was going to get your daughter off of that couch. She’s glued down.” “Well, I forgot my crowbar, so I guess we’ll just have to spend time together.” Holly stepped inside. “Oh, shucks,” said Eve. She closed the door, and the sisters smiled at each other as they climbed the stairs. Lily was curled up against armrest as she watched the TV, her dimples showing when she laughed. The sisters stood in the kitchen, talking. “I can’t believe I did that,” said Eve, referring to her misstep during her business call. “Was he angry?” “Yeah, at first. But we’ve worked together for a while. He knows I’m busy.” “Preoccupied?” Eve looked up. “Oh. I don’t know. I suppose.” “Don’t bury yourself in all of this,” Holly motioned to the kitchen counter, the marble concealed by papers and office supplies. Eve smirked. “Says the single mom.” “Ha! Touche.” Holly checked the microwave clock, then the TV: commercials. “We better go. Come on, Lily.” “I need to go pee,” said Lily. “Alright.” Lily jumped up and scampered over to the bathroom door. She pulled it open, and Lily jumped back with a shrill cry; all eyes watched as Charcoal dashed out, ran down the stairs. Nobody said anything. Then Lily gave an animated shrug and proceeded into the bathroom. “How did you manage to leave Charcoal in the bathroom?” asked Holly, still looking toward the bathroom door. After a pause, Holly looked at her sister. Eve stood utterly still, her palm flat against the kitchen counter. She was staring straight forward, at nothing. “Eve?” “Yes?” “What happened?” Eve’s gaze snapped toward Holly. “What did you say?” “What happened?” Eve said nothing. “Eve, are you okay? I was just wondering why Charcoal was in the bathroom.” No response. “Eve, what happened? Are you okay? You’re not saying anything.” Their eyes were aligned, but there was no exchange. “Eve.” “Yes.” “Please speak to me. If something’s wrong, please tell me. Please say something.” The toilet flushed, and the sink hissed. Holly went on. “I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know what to do, but please will you tell me—” The door opened. “—because I’m your sister and I—” “He hurt me,” said Eve. “He hurt me. That’s what happened.” Holly and Lily stood in silence. Eve looked away, said: “Charcoal bit me. He’s been acting up recently, so I put his water and food dishes in the bathroom, and I keep him in there if he’s being aggressive.” Holly kept her eyes on Eve, as she slowly went over to Lily. Then she knelt by her daughter and looked her in the eye. “Are you okay?” she asked. Lily looked confused. “Yeah, I’m fine.” “Alright,” said Holly. “Let’s go.” “I’m so sorry,” said Eve. “Lily, I’m so sorry.” Mother and daughter looked over at Eve, who had her hand pressed against her heart. Her eyes were moist. “Lily,” she said, raising her voice, “I didn’t mean to put you in danger.” “Look,” said Holly, “it’s fine. We’ll see you on Monday.” She went with her daughter down the stairs. The front door closed behind them, and the sound echoed on the metal stairs. Eve kept her eyes fixed upon the blank wall of her kitchen, which began to display subtle patterns. The sound of Holly’s car faded down the street. The next day, Eve took Charcoal to the animal shelter.
Eve pulls into the garage, quickly presses the remote again. The door slides down, grinding, behind her. Silence. From the driver seat, she looks around the garage. She starts to gather her things, and unlocks the car door. She unbuckles her seatbelt. Then the garage light shuts off automatically. Black. The darkness is a substance, oppressing every movement, as if Eve must swim through the air. With her quivering, flaccid arms and fingers she touches and bangs about for the door handle. The darkness is a stage, and the actors go to take their places. In the backseat, a presence, warm. Behind her, she hears lips slide across teeth to grin at her. She pushes the door open and falls out, palms on the concrete floor. She feels something buzzing, droning in the floor. Pushes herself up, up toward the glowing light switch. She feels the warmth of five hundred hands hovering there in the darkness. She swings her hand at the light switch once, twice, can’t aim so she gropes, gropes for the doorknob. And every inch of the door that she touches is touching her back, touching her hard, pressing like the hands press, press her thighs apart.
The video plays in the darkness.
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