Eyes of the Tiger

Saturday night at Le Tigre and a fight is coming on. Harlem is hot again and this is a good local restaurant. Modern French bistro near 116th, just off the main strip so not as much foot traffic as on Eighth Avenue, but still a nice place with great drinks and food, nice people. We have our regulars, a few birthdays, and the first-timers who just happened in. I rarely work Saturday nights but our weekends are typically low-key. Not tonight. The energy is charged, which is optimal for business, but it’s strange to see this much commotion over a fight. Two muscular men prancing around topless in shiny shorts and sneaker boots, pounding their fellow man to pieces? I can understand the allure back in the day, before satellites, before cable. Back when there was only one movie theatre in town, during the Golden Age of radio, but now? I only pretend to care because it’s hospitable, that’s what bartenders do.

“Welcome to Le Tigre.” Keep a warm smile, make eye contact. “My name is Rose, yes, yes…ha, ha…just like the wine, but not quite…Named after my grandmother…Yes, it is perfectly French.” Keep smiling, place menus lightly and pour water. Add lemon, straws. “Here’s a list of our cocktails. I always recommend the Monseigneur, bourbon with an herbaceous twist or the Piaf, champagne with hints of grapefruit and elderflower.” Two of our most popular drinks and the simplest, therefore fastest, of the seven house cocktails to make. The others require muddling, rendering pulp with herbs. Look—a full bar and nearly the entire restaurant—almost fifty people here and everyone’s drinking. Those cosmopolitans, mojitos, margaritas, vodka tonics and martinis are my responsibility. Rum and coke? But what type of rum? We have several varieties.

Offer but don’t push. People are more agreeable when they have choices. Smile through the exhaustion.

Been on my feet all day, since boozy, bottomless brunch and the dinner rush is steadily approaching. Marco, the only other bartender called out, via text, forty-five minutes before his shift started. Nice. I was supposed to go home but I need the cash. Rent’s due and my college roommate, Kamara, is finally getting married. Her bachelorette weekend’s in Vegas next month and airfare’s a stretch, much less bridesmaid duties.

Francois, the owner, acts like I barely know what I’m doing but he practically begged me to stay, rather than cover the shift himself. I watched him sweat while I debated, as if the money wasn’t worth working an unplanned double. He offered me dinner from the menu instead of family meal and priority on next week’s schedule. After tonight, I’m actually off for two days. First consecutive days in weeks.

“Merci beaucoup! Thank you! You’re the best. La vie en Rose!” Oui, oui. Je sais.
I savored every bite of the hanger steak and pommes frites while the rest of the waitstaff tried not to look envious as they pushed around gargantuan roasted duck wings in a soupy red sauce over rice.

Stop and stretch. That twenty minute break was the only time I’ve sat down since brunch. My back burns and so do the balls of my feet after standing for hours, tedious despite wearing sneakers to cushion the lugging; carrying heavy crates of bottles and supplies along with cases of champagne up from the basement closet and walk-in fridge. Up and down rickety stairs, up and down behind the bar. Clearing plates, grabbing glassware and flipping bottle caps. Squeezing lemons and limes, slicing. Bending, squatting, pouring and shaking. Straining, topping and tasting, concocting Bloody Mary mix, batches of sangria and four kinds of mimosas. I’m approaching ten hours, with four, maybe five more to go with this fight. Twenty bucks an hour in tips is not enough and the hourly wages scarcely cover taxes, but I can walk to work. How many New Yorkers can do that? Sometimes the work feels repetitive but the atmosphere is always changing, besides Francois lets us drink during the shift, within reason.

Generally steady, Le Tigre’s moderate pulse is manageable, but when the rush happens: Showtime! Energy spikes—fractions and digits, seconds to greet, ounces poured, pounds served— right down to the cent. Although the pressure can be crushing, a Jefferson never quits. Except when it comes to bartending, according to my parents: “We didn’t pay for four years of college so that our thirty-five year old daughter could work somewhere that doesn’t require a high school diploma.” I come from a long line of hardy individuals, traceable through slaves and sharecroppers, maids and bellhops, to soldiers, seamstresses, and now an executive and accountant. Before bartending I was corporate, most recently three miserably stagnant years at Willes, Inc., a “top notch” boutique agency where my ideas were constantly stolen and regurgitated by others who were rewarded for my labor. When my HR complaints were deemed “inconclusive,” I left that world behind. Besides, we’re not meant to spend the majority of our lives sitting under artificial lights in poorly recycled air. The Jefferson family sigil is a man struggling up a steep mountain, dwarfed by a colossal pack and shoeless, but head held high, looking up toward the glistening summit. I’m simply continuing the tradition.

“J’adore Le Tigre! C’est parfait!” A charmed customer remarks. “Curry mussels, s’il vous plait.” She’s adventurous, this one.

Clean white walls against exposed red bricks and chunky wood are comforting, the reclaimed zinc bar in vogue. Contemporary graffiti artwork hangs with gilded mirrors and traditional French cinema posters. An Eiffel tower wine rack assembled for good measure, subway tile in the bathroom. Black and white faces all around, dissolving into cafe au lait and pastis, brown and lighter brown, paler by candlelight. Bleached, starched napkins splayed on country wood. The scene is pastoral, for Harlem’s resurgent gentry.

There are so many couples in here tonight. Date night, in all its iterations, keeps us afloat. It’s been eight months since my last date, certainly far too long for my age. Love should be in motion by now. I’m no supermodel but my skin’s smooth, I have a great smile and pretty eyes. On top of being educated, I can cook and take care of myself, no roommates. I shouldn’t be out here still looking.

Kamara and her man were together for four years after seeing each other off and on for nearly a decade. Blending lives takes time and there aren’t even any prospects. Come July, I’ll be attending another wedding by myself.

After the last two floundering internet dates, I’ve sworn off virtual connections. My friends think bartending is the perfect way to increase my romantic options, meanwhile my mother thinks I’ll be pegged as an easy girl, potentially an alcoholic. So far, most of the men I meet here are already involved or drink too much and ask creepy personal questions, turning sad and then belligerent, or vice versa. Behind the bar, the delicate balance between being personable and getting too personal is difficult to maintain. Speaking French can lead to intense discussions about my being African-American vs. African-African. Six white customers have tried touching my hair. Seat one-fourteen is glaring at me murderously, a lion to an impala, gnawing on her bread as she might my femur or bicep. Pre-empt the standoff with remorse. “I’m sorry that your appetizers are taking this long. I’ll check on them right now.” Refill their glasses liberally, “These are on the house.” The woman’s pale face is drawn tight into a frown. It hasn’t been that long but I deliver an apologetic half smile that indicates genuine empathy and embarrassment at the delay, without any trace of irony or sarcasm.

Since I’m alone, leaving the bar is dangerous and costly. Jean-Marc, the runner, bursts through wooden country doors. The slatted panels swing back and forth from his force. Francois is red-cheeked and sweaty in the steamy kitchen, now its own giant oven. Pots clang, oven doors open and slam. He yells in French and the chefs are focused, flying. Cramped in small quarters, I doubt his fervor is helping, but this is what he does. His nose is bright red, as if he’s been punched in the face. He might actually be drunk from brunch.

“Don’t go in there,” says Jean-Marc. He’s from Cote D’Ivoire like several of the staff and knows exactly what Francois is saying.

Luckily he has my dishes in hand so I can avoid the mêlée. Anticipate, anticipate, “Thanks,” I say. “And more bread for the bar, seat one-fourteen, when you have a chance?”

“Okay,” he says, the food runner’s accent sharp and lovely.

Present the plates proudly, luxuriant pâte platter to the left, luminescent herb-dusted tuna over avocado on the right. Precisely prepared and executed, the dishes should be worth the wait. “My apologies again. Cracked pepper? Enjoy.”

After their first bites the customers relax into their seats. Smiles crease the corners of their lips, We are winning, their faces flash and reflect. Now they resemble the couple at one-ten who are definitely on a date: two handsome men, details bespoke; sharing laughter, toasting their vibrancy and enjoying each other’s company. Fresh ginger and rum with a splash of soda and lime, absolutely complimentary I think.

Making my way down the bar again, there’s a trio of good-looking brothers in the corner. Animated, the new arrivals are thrilled to have found a spot at the bar before the spectacle begins. Lightweight jackets and sweaters come off, revealing solids and plaids, sturdy physiques, defined chests and biceps, a golden flash. My heartbeat quickens.

“Besides track and field, this is the most classic of sports,” says the handsomest one, as I place menus before them. His eyes are striking.

Classically barbaric,” I retort. “The Greeks and Romans have a pretty sordid history.”

He laughs. “Didn’t your father teach you about boxing?” His left eyebrow is raised and for an instant I’m caught in the kaleidoscope of his iris, flecks of emerald and beryl glinting against the dimmed lights. Scrunching my face to indicate that he should know better he laughs again. “You’re funny…and smart. I’m Claude,” his hand crosses the invisible plane between us.

Setting steaming glassware out to dry, I use a scratchy white towel before touching him. “Rose,” I say, returning the firm shake.

“Like the flower.” He’s still holding my hand. Slightly moist palms, the pads are calloused and I wonder how they became so thick, no rings. I’ve seen him, at Le Tigre and randomly at other Harlem spots. He’s the Red Rooster, Corner Social type; always well-dressed and enjoying himself, attractive companions nearby. Claude and crew are the best- looking and hopefully unattached men in the room and I am not the only one who notices. “This is Luke, and this is Omar.” His friends sound like Harlem, their greetings confidant, demeanor suggestive. They look like Harlem, Washington Heights, the Bronx, at ease in crisp short- sleeves, designer tees and dark denim, coordinated kicks. Claude’s light eyes and walnut tone, combined with his friends’ medium complexions and curls point south, to the Caribbean. Maintain composure, witty banter. Pour their twelve-year scotch neat, walk away.

“How’s my makeup?” I ask Sophie. “Haven’t been to the bathroom in hours.”

She smiles approvingly and I’m grateful. Sophie’s mid-western, a bi-racial beauty with a killer downtown aesthetic and though she’s younger, she’s an avid reader and audiophile, into modern art as much as trap and the blues, so I trust her judgment.

“Homeboy over there is all about you. Watch out now!” She nudges me in the shoulder and hands over several orders, which are quickly piling up as the fight is about to begin.

“Girl please,” I reply. “He just wants free drinks.”

Sophie sucks her teeth. “I think he wants some rosé,” she says, before excusing herself through the crowd with a tray of drinks and water pitcher, the pepper mill tucked beneath her arm.

Smiles all day and all night. Even when people are rude, like this man in the back, frantically waving his champagne flute. I smile in acknowledgement, hoping he will stop flapping as if he were flagging down a tow-truck or rescue aircraft. Mid-bite, a heavy-set bald man in front of me asks, “Is the fight gonna be on tonight? Should we stick around?” Apparently he couldn’t read the chalkboard outside. Reply emphatically so the customer knows that Le Tigre can meet all of their needs.

When I was little, my father and I used to watch boxing together. My back against the black couch, I sat on the shaggy carpet in the same position as when my mother would braid my hair, minus the comb being yanked through knots and medicinal green grease applied to my scalp. He’d drink whiskey or beer and I would have grape juice, sometimes in a glass mug like his. We’d eat nuts, bowls of them. Cracking pistachios open, using our teeth to break the smooth pale joints, then the flesh. Crunching on potato chips, a salty treat for a Saturday. He told me all about the glory of Muhammad Ali and Foreman, Sugar Ray Robinson and Smokin’ Joe Frazier. We watched Sugar Ray Leonard, Holyfield, and Tyson, world champions who showed everyone the undeniable power of black men.

“Look at their stamina, the prowess,” my dad would say, admiring their strength and ability to do what so many others could not: beat the White Man down, take back their manhood, then swagger victoriously. Never mind the blood, the missing teeth, the concussions, or the fact that they often fought one another instead. The heavyweight damage done to the fighters’ bodies and minds always seemed worth the money, the praise, the heft of the garish golden belt nearly too heavy to hold above their heads at the end of the battle.

I enjoyed spending the time with my dad, seeing his joy and excitement. For once, not feeling sorry that I was his only daughter instead of a son. But as I grew older, all the aggression, the vicious tension between blows became disturbing. Crowds roaring and jumping up from their stadium seats, peering down into the arena pit. Spectators taut like rubber bands, as if they were the ones delivering the punches, ready at any moment to turn to their neighbor and deliver a right jab to the face, a left hook to the chin. Knockout. Television made this type of violence acceptable, celebrated even.

Clear those plates at 101. More water at that two-top in the middle. Smile. Smile. “Another cocktail?” Turn on the dishwasher. Lemons are running low, and limes too. “I’ll be right back with your check… Your entrees should be out any minute. Something else to drink in the meantime? Please don’t ma’am…let me put those olives on a plate for you, it’s more sanitary.” Lights flicker, candles. Cue Stevie Wonder. There’s a birthday, clap, clap.

Peter, the Maitre’D is talking to a party of four that just entered, hoping to be seated tout suite. Reservations must be full because he’s sending them towards the bar, where standing room is extremely limited. Complimentary glasses of champagne on the way, my duty as well. Ladies first, grasping clutches they switch sleek purses beneath the weaker arm so as not to spill, shift their weight and accept the drinks. “To Saturday!” Clink. Light toss of long straight hair, pursed lips, a sip. We are winning, they beam. Creamy, sun-kissed shoulders held effortlessly straight, looking like late July when it is only May. The men lag behind, oblivious to the servers trying to pass by. They toast and immediately look up at the flat screen, now playing pay-per-view, then back at each other. “It’s the fight of the century!”

At the other end of the bar I can feel Claude, his eyes on my body as I rush to complete these tickets. I am at work. I am on display. I am a professional. Measurements just so, but the jiggers are cumbersome and I have to keep rinsing the tiny metallic tools. A click of the wrist, recently incorporated double shakes along with the music that has changed from stomping Motown oldies to the pulsating thump of house. Muddling is unavoidable—mojitos, mojitos, mojitos.

In the background, fervor builds as commentators trade facts, point out flaws and weaknesses in the contenders, wax nostalgic about previous battles. Le Tigre is jamming and the room is buzzing, the men especially, laughing loudly and pounding each other on the back. A glass shatters, briefly puncturing the din then levity resumes.

Sangria and beer need replenishing, soon I will have to go downstairs. The door might be locked. Where’s Francois? At the circular table in the back, by the bay window, drinking with his friends. He’s cracked the door with the wrought-iron handle and bars, but the air cannot reach me. He kisses his fiancé Melina. She pushes him away. He laughs, he drinks and returns to the kitchen.

“Mayweather,— right?” A unanimous decision amongst Claude et al, but his tone suggests a test, questioning my blackness.

“Of course” I reply, stacking the old-fashion and collins glasses in the least precarious of possible formations. Pints and martini glasses set to chill. It’s true, I want the brother to win, but the matchup bothers me, what their bodies represent. Black versus Filipino, dark versus light, “exotic” prize fighters facing off in a cage, on an American stage.

“That’s my girl,” says Claude, raising his glass. But I am not his. His laughter rings deep and his smiles last, posture straight and assured, comfortable with his stature and the attention. Even the black woman in front of me with a fine man by her side, to whom I was invisible, is sneaking glances while she scrolls through her phone. In a different world, I would be on the other side. I would laugh at Claude’s jokes and break out all my meaningless sports trivia to impress him and his friends. Only now is not the hour of fantasies, it is time for more shakers and ice.

Bells clang and the mêlée has begun. All attention shifts towards the screens suspended in opposite corners of the wall behind me. There’s no time to watch, not even to analyze our crowd based on which contender they root for, to examine the implications. The scene is frantic, a blur of cupped fists, blocking or augmenting outbursts, brand labels on the bottles I handle and the caps flipped to the floor, measurements and mixtures, garnishes. My movements are non-stop, nearly automated as I complete tickets, tend to the guests in front of me, enter orders and close checks, trying my best not to be rude or slow. Everyone is waiting for something or someone, and that person feels like me. Isn’t this fun?

***

After several rounds, groans and yelps punctuate the crowd at Le Tigre and there in Vegas. Eyes glitter, so many lights sparking eagerly in the night, Claude’s included. He winces and oohs along with the others as Mayweather lands several heavy blows to the forehead, temple, chin while Pacquiao retaliates with a flurry, connecting with belly, skull, ribs. The room explodes but soon the cheers dissipate as frustration builds. Perched on their seats, the people want more action, more food and drink, complain that nothing is happening. Demanding blood or a knockout, their cravings will be satiated, somehow. The fighters’ rage is dispersed throughout the room and voices are raised, a couple argues in the corner. Hopefully there won’t be any brawls.

“Is the kitchen still open?” The tickets do not stop. Recipes rush down from my brain into cups. I pour and ice and shake, nearly cut myself twice. Finally there is a lull in the orders.

“Quit all that dancing and knock him out!” someone yells, and the room is full of laughter and accord. Sophie taps her fluorescent watch and nods toward the door. My first break in hours.

Outside is my only escape and I can finally relax. The weather is nice, slightly crisp and refreshing. I cannot remember how many drinks made, corks popped, checks presented. People seem happy and are tipping well, I have worked hard and we have nearly made it through. We are winning. Soon we will tally the score.

There’s applause while I’m outside and when I return, the fight is over. Bruised, both fighters look stunned until announcements are made and Mayweather struts to the corner of the ring, climbing the ropes to elevate his stature and pose with certitude, arms crossed and daring dissent. Remaining undefeated he is crowned the undisputed world champion, two enormous and detailed belts drape his shoulders. In Le Tigre, the mood is deflated and folks are complaining about the judges’ point-based decision. There was so little blood, no biting, no knockout, no overwhelming defeat.

“Mayweather played around too much. That wasn’t really a fight,” says Claude.

“It’s all about that paper. Why risk serious injury?” says Omar. “It’s about being the best,” says Luke. “They should fight again.”

“I could’ve danced around like that for two hours. Pay me one hundred eighty-million dollars. I got your Mayweather. Pow!” Claude two-steps with balled fists, punching Luke’s shoulder.

“You can’t be doing too badly,” I add, gesturing towards the heavy black and gold watch on Claude’s wrist. He laughs, raises his glass and we toast, Johnny Walker vs. Crown and Coke.

“Last call, last call,” I shout. I can officially break down the bar.

Nearly done cleaning, I drain the rubber mats in the sink and toss them in the scratched gray bin alongside the other dirty, sticky implements. Francois approaches, exuberant and flushed. “What a great night, ladies and gentlemen! Thanks to you,” he shouts, clapping loudly. “La vie en Rose! Let’s have shots! And this guy, Ricard. You are the man!” He pounds the head chef, young Algerian guy, several times on his back. Ricard looks beat but proud.

Claude and Omar are two of the few remaining customers and the only ones at the bar. “Drinks for these guys too! Welcome to Le Tigre,” Francois says, giving them dap. I set out ten shot glasses and hold up bottles of vodka or whiskey for those whose preference is unknown. Claude smiles at me while Francois proclaims, “To Fight Night!” We echo and drink.

The money is good, very good. More than I’ve ever made at Le Tigre and my daily total is well over five hundred dollars. Stuffing this cash into my bulging wallet feels triumphant, better than a digital, direct deposit paycheck. I earned this money with my mind, my smiles, my sweat and aching muscles. The crew carries the same blend of exhausted accomplishment. A sense of power and endurance, like running a marathon together. We are winning. Now we celebrate.

Sophie, Arianna, Jean-Marc, Christoph the busser, plus Ricard and a few of the chefs are going out. How could I refuse the gang? Not after such a long day. Thirteen hours flew by and I could definitely use another drink. Les Tigres fits us perfectly as we stroll down Eighth in a pack, loud and bubbly ourselves, though as one of the oldest, I hate to think of myself as on the prowl.

Claude and Omar are not far behind us when Sophie squeezes my arm whispering, “He’s definitely interested. I’m actually feeling his friend—Omar, right?”

I nod and we smile, trying to play it cool. Peter, the maitre d’ yells for us to slow down and no one can believe he’s coming. We cheer loudly as he joins us. “Pedro, Pedro!”

At Silvana’s, they greet us with high fives, hugs and handshakes. Industry folks take care of industry folks. “First round’s on me!” I hear but can’t see the voice. There’s confusion at the packed bar and Claude moves closer.

“What are you drinking? It’s my turn to take care of you.” For a second I’m overwhelmed and unresponsive, feeling his firm chest against my back though we’re barely touching. Smoky birch and dusty incense waft around me as I turn, looking into his burning eyes.

“Two Jamie’s and ginger,” he tells Amil, the bartender, before I reply. Amil tilts his head slightly, expecting my usual Crown Royal order but I don’t want to embarrass Claude. Men hate to be corrected.

Now standing directly beside me, I try not to stare at his impressive profile, to get caught up in his height and how good it feels to be this close to such a gorgeous man. In sneakers, the top of my head is just below his chin and there’s no straining to speak, even in this noisy place.

“Keep it open,” he tells Amil, handing over a credit card and passing me the drink. I thank him and he raises his glass, “To the finer things.” We toast and our eyes linger.

Claude makes way for us through the crowd and finds two seats on the wooden benches in the back. We sit and I push my bushy twist-out away from my face. The curls are shrinking in this humidity.

“I love your hair by the way,” he says. Hookah smoke swirls and congregates on the ceiling above tapestries and handmade chandeliers. The mosaic of patterns and throws, people and sounds, seems as if we are somewhere across the Atlantic, closer to the equator than a few blocks north of 110th Street.

“So, how did a beautiful and intelligent woman like you end up behind a bar?”

This isn’t happening, but it is. He’s attentive as I give him the abridged, comedic version of La Vie en Rose: college in California, internship to entry-level position at the third largest ad agency in North America, back to New York, several smaller boutique firms like Willes, Inc., considering wider possibilities, like moving abroad. Women in revealing clothes and hooker heels stare us down while dancing nearby but Claude ignores them. Only once does he look away, checking on Omar, who’s dancing with another woman, unfortunately not Sophie. His focus is on me and the intensity is returned, I can’t look away either.

He is Guyanese, first-generation. Owns his own apartment, a pre- war hardwood that he refurbished himself. College-educated and well-read, he speaks English, Patois, and Spanish, knows how to build walls and tear them down, respects people who use their hands, good clean work.

Between drinks, we dance along with the Le Tigre crew. Christoph is hilarious with his ridiculous moves in the middle of our group’s circle, and we are laughing, spinning, drinking. Claude looks me in the eye as a seductive song slows the mood, taking my hands and pulling me in. “I’m having such a good time with you.”

I smile and enjoy the music, being close and feeling safe in his arms. When the song changes, he turns me around and pulls me tight, whispering, “I bet you do this all the time.”

I stop moving and turn to face him. “I’ve never been this close to a customer.”

“Well then, I must be special,” he says. “You are.”

***

It is a little after three a.m. He lives north of me so we share a cab uptown. I am beyond tired, but buzzing from the alcohol, the cash, the night, from Claude. We kiss in the cab and his lips are soft but firm, his tongue is sweet. At my stop, he pays the driver. “I’ll walk you to your door.” he says. When I hesitate he squeezes my hand, “I’m a perfect gentleman.”

The driver pulls off and I shiver, as the air is colder now. Claude wraps his arm around my shoulder for warmth. Just a little wobbly, but not drunk, I know what I’m doing even if he does come up. We’re adults and he’s not a stranger, we actually have a few friends in common.

Searching for my keys, he stops me again to kiss. When I open the door, he’s right behind me. Shy, we wait for the elevator in silence but in the hallway he tells a funny story about locking himself in a client’s bathroom. Inside my apartment he is complimentary, impressed by the color scheme and my paint job, the furniture. On the couch, he looks so good, arms and legs spread sitting back in a place no man has been in some time.

“Let me rub your shoulders,” he beckons. “You were killing it behind the bar tonight…you deserve a massage.” He kneads slowly, then firmly and again, his large hands on my shoulders are wide and encompassing. I melt into the warmth beneath the pressure. He pulls me toward him, his forearm tight against my chest and I quake. We kiss and before I know it my bra snaps undone and I am lying down while he hovers above, leaning on one arm for support.

He pauses after a while, leans back. “This is uncomfortable,” he says. Standing, he leads me down the hallway to my room. On the bed, I place my hands against his bare chest, “Let’s take it slow tonight.”

He smiles. “We will,” he says, kissing my face.

It is dark and his breath is warm, ringed with coconut hookah and whiskey. Light kisses down to my navel. He unbuttons my jeans and I flinch.

“Don’t worry, he says. “I know what I’m doing.” Soon I’m floating, bobbing, weaving, lost in the waves. Then he is on top of me, above me. “Sit up,” he says, grabbing the back of my head and clenching my hair in a fist. He thrusts himself in my mouth and I gag. He pushes harder and harder, his grip tightening and I think he will rip out my

hair. I choke and cough. He pulls away. “I knew you’d like it rough.” My eyes are wide open but I can barely see him through the tears. 

Whimpering, the words scratch against my raw throat. “Stop, stop. Just go.”

Grabbing me by the neck, he lifts and tosses my body to the side, like a doll. I try to grab the edge of the bed but he pulls my hand away. “Don’t fight. You know you want it.” He pounces on top of me and covers my mouth. I bang at him with my hands but he’s a frozen mound of steel. “You didn’t say please, you dirty slut.”

My tears stream into the sheets and I wish they would swallow me instead, swallow me whole. I can barely move, he weighs so much that shifting makes the pain worse. He pushes down harder and I shudder, clenched and shrinking inside of myself.

“Stop,” I plead.

He growls obscenities and pounds me into oblivion. Numb, rigid and frozen in place, I feel nothing, not even his hate.

Eventually he pushes off and wipes himself on my sheet. Coins fall from his pockets as he grabs his jeans, clinking to the floor. “Thanks for the drinks,” he says while buttoning up his shirt. He laughs sharply and walks out, knowing I’m too weak to hold him there while I call the police. To scream bloody murder. The front door opens and shuts. Then he is gone. It is the middle of the night and who can I call? What would I tell them? Was his name even Claude?

“Officer help me. I’ve been robbed.”

But he didn’t take my money. Sore, I bury my head deep in the pillow muffling strangled sobs, wishing I could rip off my skin while tears drench cotton, sting my face. The idling bus on the corner departs and a siren wails in the distance.


Image Credits: Pexels