I sat on the sofa, my back propped against paisley pillows, and my legs crossed at the ankles. My camel-colored clogs, the ones with the wooden heels that knock on the floorboards when I walk, hung from my feet over the square cushion’s corner.
You, Anonymous A, sat across the room from me in your favorite leather chair, high-backed and black, legs in your usual beige polyester pants crossed at the knees. I wonder now if you were doodling more than documenting on that clipboard you had propped on your lap.
You swiveled when you spoke to me about the possibilities of my placement, about your willingness to protect me from the pernicious, about your family’s enthusiasm to meet me. You failed to mention my expected duties. The reason for the temporary arrangement, you wrote in my file, “Intolerable conditions within the home.” Tolerance, I suppose, is subjective.
That social studies teacher whom I loved so well sent me to your office initially. She had noticed my sadness and thought you could help. She, too, apparently didn’t know the price of lodging at your place.
I liked that you signed me out of class. What you had planned was far more important than algebraic equations. You didn’t bother with bogus excuses. You didn’t need to. You were the Dean of Students.
I was seventeen.
You pulled me close in the front seat of your classic Caprice, chestnut, like your wife’s hair, while she lay alone in a hospital bed with a heart broken from what no surgeon could repair.
Only the dog was there to greet us.
You told me, “Come,” with a crook of your finger. You walked me down the basement steps to that subterranean chamber you had made into my bedroom. There, sound was muffled. The rug was orange and brown, oval and braided. The single window was small, high, and covered. The paneling was musty and buckled, perhaps from the dampness of too many tears.
“You have to please me,” you said, so I did while you leaned against the spindled banister. I didn’t know no was an option.
Do you remember, as I do, that first time? “I love you,” you whispered with your eyes closed and your head bent back. I reciprocated the sentiment because the echo made me feel special.
I emerged from your fire all consumed, ash and smoldering. You didn’t seem to notice. Neither did your wife when she returned.
It was a very long year.
We no longer sat. Our legs, they were no longer crossed. We would kneel. We would lie.
You gave me bus fare to get to the mall so I could earn money to pay you rent. Sometimes, I ironed your shirts, starched your collars, chose your ties. A charade you had created, a dollhouse of blind characters. From the outside, it looked so pretty.
Your sons at the movie, your wife at Waldbaum’s, your head in my lap—a typical Saturday afternoon. Up close, I could see the hairs of your nose and ears—the parts of old men that grow long while their other parts shrivel. You handed me tweezers. “Do you mind?” you asked. “Of course not.”
You mirrored me and imprisoned me with your desire to be coddled and your need to be cared for, though you were fifty-one.
Christmas Eve. The silver was polished, the soup was served, your sons sat close. Guests, too, had gathered. No one noticed you gaze at me above the glass you held high as your foot reached mine beneath the red tablecloth. “Smile,” your eyes insisted. I did.
Our secret did not deter your political ambitions. How brazen you were! The public, unsuspecting, voted you in. Trustee. “A pillar of the community,” the newspaper said of you. I retched when I read it.
Prom night. You stood next to me with your arm around my waist and a smile on your face, posing, not only for the camera—so suave, so innocent, so deceptive. I waved goodbye and stepped into the black limousine in my white gown. You waited up late for me to return so you could taste afresh what I might have been up to without you.
I recognized the scent of such secrets emanating from the chick who worked behind the counter at Dunkin’ Donuts. There you often sat on a stool, swiveling, drinking morning coffee before classes began.
You were good at grooming young girls. You had, more than a decade before, done the same to the woman who wed you. The one with the chestnut hair who used to be your student, whose mother was your peer.
Graduation day. I packed my bags, according to plan, and moved to university housing on a campus far away.
For several years, I remained silent. I carried your lies as if they were my own bundle of shame.
Then, someone guessed the truth, someone, who wanted that part of me you had seized. She insisted I tell. I caved. She coerced me to the DA’s office.
“Suck this,” you said so many times. Well, you suck this! Suck these secrets from my lips until they sting your tongue. Then, let’s see if you can swallow!
I sat in a straight-back chair of grey metal; nervous perspiration made its vinyl seat feel moist beneath me. Officials wanted to know every sordid detail. I didn’t know where to begin.
Where did we begin?
I sat on the sofa, my back propped against paisley pillows, and my legs crossed at the ankles.