Public Key (Lxxxviii)

I awoke, again, to an empty tent. It was something I was growing used to. But I knew something wasn’t right, and I swung my head sleepily back and forth looking for it.

It was still dark outside.

I heard the noise again. It sounded rough. It sounded like scraping and rolling. Like a… struggle…

I threw my cloak off and sat up. The door to the tent was unfastened. I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled forward, dragging my cloak behind me. Before me I saw nothing but the night.

We were camped by the side of a stream, up in the mountains, high in the night sky. Anything could be making noise. What was-

I heard it again. It sounded muffled. It sounded like a muffled voice. Insistent. Scared? Where was Hannah?

I climbed out of the tent, a bad taste in my mouth and a dry burning in my throat. The noise kept coming now, a repeated sound like an animal might make with its jaws held shut. I was still on all fours when I turned my head and saw.

Hannah was lying on the ground, upside-down on the ground, her face pressed down on the ground. There was a man over her. I couldn’t see much of him in the darkness, though he was only some ten paces away. He had one hand over her mouth and his knees were on her upper arms, pinning them in place. Her pants were down around her knees. He was using his free hand to try to take down his zipper.

He was grunting. She was trying to cry out, but couldn’t. Her face was pressed into the ground but her eyes were towards me. Her nostrils flared open and shut like they were being pumped by a foundry bellows. Her eyes were so wide I thought they would break.

Her eyes met mine, and I just can’t describe.

The man growled something in a language I didn’t know. I found that I had gotten to my feet. Hannah started kicking, squealing, trying to buck him off. It was no use. He let go of his zipper and grabbed her hair, picked up her head and slammed it into the ground. I found that the distance between us was shrinking. I found I was walking forward. I found I was running.

Hannah started flailing, making more noise. He barked at her, and hit her on the back of the head. I was coming up on them almost from behind. I could no longer see her face, nor she mine.

There was a pounding noise like a heavy drum. I thought it was my footfalls. I thought he would hear me, turn on me, and God knows what I would do. It took me an ancient moment to realize the sound was the beating of my own heart.

He had his head down over hers. So focused was he, and so much noise they were making, that he didn’t know I was there.

I didn’t think. I didn’t need to. I took out my knife from its sheath and closed on them. With my left hand I grabbed his hair, which I remember was golden. I pulled it back to expose his skin, which was white. I reached around with the knife, which was silver in the light of the waning moon. I pressed hard and pulled across, and his blood was red.

Blood spurted from his neck. It poured down the front of his shirt, onto the back of Hannah’s shirt, onto her neck, onto her hair.

He jumped back. His head hit me in my chest. The knife went spinning out of my hands. I fell backwards onto my tailbone and rolled back and to the side. He tried to scream, but it came out as more of a gurgle. I could see his hands flailing. I saw something rise and move. I tried to get my feet underneath me, found I was shaking too badly to do it well. I rolled onto my back and looked down my body and there past my feet was the man I’d killed.

Now he was running, now stumbling, now tripping and falling, his hands pressed to his throat, blood pouring from between his fingertips, his breath rasping and blood gurgling and his lifeblood pumping in red waves down his body, now running, now stumbling, now dashing back and forth into the night, now turning to stumble towards me, now taking a hand away from his throat to break his fall. Now trying to get up. Now moving forward with two legs and one hand like a broken wheelbarrow. Now kicking in the dust. Now rolling. Now being still.

I can remember every second of it. Every second as if it were a minute, every minute an hour, every hour a year.

I doubt it lasted a minute, and he was dead.

I did a double-take and then scrambled to my feet. Suddenly I heard the noises of the night. There was splashing, that was the most immediate. I turned my head sharply to find the source of it. There in the river was a shape bobbing up and down. Hannah? Just Hannah? Was she alright? Was that someone else in there with her? Another attacker? Was she alright? Was she alright? What was she doing? Drowning herself? Running, mad? What was she doing? I begged God to let her be alright

I put my head down and went to her at a dead run. I was going to go into the water with her, but she came up, then, water flying back from her head, and she looked at me and she shouted: NO! I tried to stop myself, my feet skidding through the cold rocky soil. I tripped and fell and rolled down the bank. My legs ended up in the water. I pulled them out and pulled myself up, rolled around and turned to look at her.

She had stripped off her shirt and her pants and I saw them floating downstream. The water around her was dull and muddy. I knew that in the sunlight it would have been red with blood. She closed her eyes and held her nose and went under again, pushing herself upstream, following the current. She came up, wiped the water from her face, took a deep breath, and did it again.

It was like watching a dolphin bounding up and down in the wake of a ship, but slow and loud and rough and dirty and I was too scared to tell.

She did this a dozen times. Then she looked at her arms, her body, ran her fingers through her hair and looked at them. Then she looked up at me, and though there was fear in her eyes it was off in the corners, keeping them wide. In the center was alertness, determination. She was Hannah again.

Is there blood on me? she commanded.

No.

She sloshed forward until she was near the bank. Come here, she said. Stay out of the water.

I got up and ran up to her, careful to keep my balance. She stood, waist-deep in the water, only a few feet away.

Look at me, she said. Is there blood on me?

I looked her over from the line of her panties up to her hair.

No.

She turned to the side. Now?

No.

She showed me her back.

No.

Her other side.

No.

Her front again.

Hannah-

I’m not going to get AIDS, she shouted. Not from that pig!

The blood, I said, my voice shaking. It was on your shirt. In your hair.

What?

Nothing got on you. On your skin.

Are you sure?

Hannah-

Are you sure, she repeated, fighting for control of her voice.

Yes, Hannah, I said. I’m sure.

She stared at me for a minute. Then walked out of the water.

Let me see you, she said.

I stood up. She examined me all over. There was a smudge of red on my shirt, here and there. She made me take it off and throw it in the stream. Then she had be strip down and bathe, head to toe, going up and down in the water with my eyes shut and my nose pinched, moving ever upstream, just as she had done.

Finally I stopped. I’m clean, I said. Nothing got on me.

You have to be sure, she said.

I’m sure.

You have to be-

Hannah-

She sat down on the bank, and started crying.

I walked out of the water and sat down next to her. She jumped at first, moved away from me, then put her head in her hands and started crying harder. I got closer to her, slowly, and put my arm around her. She leaned into me. We were both starting to shiver. She wrapped her arms around me, and mine around her, and we held each other.

At length we pulled ourselves together. We were shivering now, our wet flesh exposed to the cold mountain air, and we all but ran back to our tent. My mouth tasted bitter and I still jumped at every sound. Fortunately there were few sounds to jump at. I looked around, but all I could see was night?

We climbed into the tent. We wiped ourselves off on her blanket, unzipped her sleeping bag and climbed into it. We were both in our underwear. We held each other tightly, each in each other’s arms. I realized in passing that I was in love with her. But I had other things to think about.

She took a breath, then looked into my eyes. I mustered all the courage I could.

What happened? I asked.

She needed no further prompting. He came out of the night, she said. I was relieving myself. My pants were down. He came from behind me. He put his hand over my mouth. He threw me to the ground. He told me to be quiet.

In what language?

English. His accent was Afrikaans. He said to be quiet. He asked, Where is he? I shook my head, I didn’t know what he meant. He repeated the question. He didn’t take his hands off my mouth. I started to scream. Nothing came out. He repeated the question. He asked for some name. I shook my head, I didn’t know it. Then he started raping me.

Then it was her turn to hold me, and comfort me, while I went into the blackness.

I can’t describe it any better than that. I’m told people are supposed to see red when they’re mad. Maybe I’m different. Or maybe I was beyond mad. All I know is, I saw black. I trembled and shook and hated, and she held me.

It was my name that he had said. He’d been looking for me.

I don’t know how long I was there. It felt like a very long time.

When I came back I pulled back my head and I looked her in the eyes. You know I love you no matter what, I said, saying the words without hesitation. I have to ask, did he-

He didn’t penetrate me, she said. He couldn’t even get his pants off. And, you, you got to him first.

I killed him, I said.

We stayed there in silence, holding each other close.

Did I have any blood on me? she asked.

No.

Because even a drop-

Hannah-

I can’t get sick. I can’t get you-

Hannah, I don’t give-

I love you, she said. I can’t-

Hannah-

I CAN’T DO THAT TO YOU, she shouted, then buried her face in my neck, and her body shook as she was wracked by tears.

I held her, and joined her, and loved her.

When she pulled her face back, her face wet, her eyes red, her mouth trying tremblingly to smile, I knew that all I had to do was kiss her and the world would be as good as it could ever be.

I couldn’t. Not yet.

Listen, I said. There’s something I need to tell you.

 

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~ by davekov on 14 March 2011.

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