Eleanor’s siren hair streamed like moon rivers on her shoulders, livened by the bluish hue emanating from the television. Simon lay on the couch, stretching his nape just enough to kiss the glass on his chest. The lime-green light on the baby monitor remained still. And I, as usual, didn’t pay attention to the movie.
Except I heard the groan escaping the girl’s mouth. She was facing away from the king’s embrace; his fist pulled her nightgown off-shoulder, his face scratched her young white skin with his beard and his appetite. Nothing but resignation filtered through her pixeled eyes.
Eleanor turned to us. (Her eyes said concern, and disgust.)
“What’s he doing to her?”
Nothing in Simon’s body moved. (Except for his pupils shifting in my direction.)
“He’s just hugging her” I said.
“Just watch the movie”.
Eleanor’s frown turned back to the screen where flying arrows had already swept the mere moment (a flash within something else -something more important- that was unfolding) but I knew it had left an impression.
I had a carpet too. And a little plate with crumbs beside me when I sat to watch daytime movies. The slave-girl, the peasant, the secretary; always speeding up the stairs, looking behind in the alleyway.
I saw her back hit the wall, pressed between concrete and a man’s body. I saw her shoe on the tarmac, his forearm scooping her off land, taking her away on a galloping horse. I saw her grapple in the back seat, his rolled-up sleeve digging with muscle under her circle skirt.
Sometimes she coped in mute reluctance. Sometimes she called for help. But her pleas already understood they lost the battle and usually faded into acceptance.
Sometimes she slapped men’s faces.
“How dare you!”
“I’m not that kind of girl!”
But she never wanted whatever happened when the car door shut.
I felt a tingle between my legs when I saw such scenes. I didn’t know why; I just knew it felt good. But it also felt especially good having a secret: women didn’t want it (whatever happened off-screen), but I did. Right there in the warmth where I sat, at 7 years old, I knew I had different desires, different ideas to other little girls. Those differences made me.
Eleanor’s abundant hair cascaded onto the carpet. She collected the mass of hair, twisting it into bun at the top of her head. She sat up straight, returning her eyes to the screen, and her hand to the little plate.
I couldn’t see the orange flames reflecting onto her baby pink pyjamas, nor the cracker crushing inside her mouth as she harboured a feeling; something that made her Eleanor; something that felt like solitude, or happiness, or fear; I didn’t know.
Did she lie when I asked how her day was and she said “fine”?
Did she care about the pink stains on her shower curtain or did they mean something to her -something about me-, mute but powerful like my family photographs?
Did she feel it when I wanted to push her away from me when she came for a hug?
She turned to me.
“I love you”.
“I love you too”, she said.
A hollow descended to my chest. That exchange had fallen short of the hug I wanted to give her.
(She drifted away on her little carpet, her little seat of Eleanor, wherever it began, wherever it ended, surrounded by a sea of fists, hands sliding out in the bluish hue flickering, of my uncertainty).
Simon’s hand hovered blindly over the carpet, searching for the bottle. He gripped it, lifting it high enough that he saw the final drop of whiskey on the bottom, without lifting his head from the cushion (and I saw the rectangle of light stretching across the glass).
“Babe, can you get me what’s left of that bourbon —- in the kitchen?”
The lime-green light stayed round and still on the baby monitor.
“Amelia’s due to wake up any minute”, I said.
“She should settle herself by now”.
Why don’t you get your own fucking Bourbon.
This time he did lift his head, turning stiffly to look at me. He waited for my eyes, even if the veins on his neck gave away his struggle holding this position, until the beam of my pupils finally touched his, and he turned back to the television, letting his head come to rest.
My heart beat slowly, each thump isolated. I just wished I always looked at Eleanor with joy. But I must always frown. Like baby Amelia opens her mouth after I open mine, and I insert the spoon. I bet I didn’t have the right face on when we saw that scene.
I liked my old family photographs. I felt a self-awareness as I descended to the corridor, following the curve of the stairway with the wide wooden banister flowing in the opposite direction under my little palm. The collection of old family portraits appeared below the upstairs landing, on the wall in the lower floor, as I carried my little self slowly to better see them. Sometimes I stopped altogether and sat on a step to contemplate them; go through that thing they evoked separating me from the rest of the world, and that I carried like a secret.
Out of all pictured I only knew my grandmother. She appeared wrapped in a blanket in the arms of an aunt, devoid of any character whatsoever but for our distinct furrowing of the brows. They all sat in the same old corner, photo after photo, in the same arrangement, each bearing the same altruist expression, the same posture. No emotion brought those faces to life; no action revealed any aspect of anyone’s personality; just like the black and white photographs hanging proudly in the school entrance – “kids just like you!” – said the teachers (but they weren’t just like me), or pictures of authors and historical figures -people we aspired to become-, whose language I didn’t understand. Photographs meaning to depict worthiness and elicit respect. But everything else, all the feelings I was made of that nobody ever talked about (knowing you are still lovely when girls gather in small circles in the playground; knowing you would like it if somebody touched you there; the desolation when “ever this day be at my side” weighed like death on your butterfly pillow), all those feelings, everything that shaped me, nobody put in a frame.
My cousin Will and I built a den out of cardboard boxes. We only rode with adult supervision, so after lunch, while our older siblings spent time with the horses and our parents stayed for hours at the table, we played by ourselves.
I crawled out through the tunnel once, stopping to look at the plastic legs poking out of my toy basket. Will lay behind me on his stomach, looking up at me from inside the den. I wanted him to go. I had an urge to play with my dolls; something I only did properly by myself. And I felt it. It must have been his eyes stroking that place. That thing I felt when Ken touched Barbie on her hard plastic breasts, and she slapped his face. That thing I went through when I felt separate to everything.
I told him I faint if someone pushes me.
“What?” He asked, but he’d heard what I’d said.
“If you push me —- I’ll faint”.
The curtain billowed ever so slightly in the summer breeze.
He hopped to his feet, sticking his head out the window, listening for the chatter of grownups tied around their dregs of wine.
“You need to blow on my face to wake me up”.
Barbie’s hair was tangled in a big knot, so separating it into three sections for plaiting demanded attention; not once did I lift my eyes from the task at hand. Not when I skipped my way to the bed. Not when I heard his steps approaching on the floorboards, walking past me to check for adults from the doorway; my calves bouncing nervously on the mattress.
I let myself fall on my back. My legs slightly apart, completely relaxed under my summer skirt. Will sat on his knees, lifting it for a quick peep. Then he stretched high enough that he saw I was still unconscious before pushing it up my thighs, hooking the elastic between my legs. His other hand opened my exposed flesh, but a breeze hit the window and he let go abruptly.
I always just lay there, unresponsive. He rubbed, he pulled; he did the same every time. And every time I “slept” throughout, waking up at the infallible touch on my face of his warm puff of breath. He always played along and disappeared into the den, or behind the hay bales in the stables, or up a tree, so I took my time fluttering my eyelashes innocently, bringing the world around me to focus.
Or… Was he really emulating the cowboys’ behaviour in the movies, same as every other boy that chased us in the playground for a kiss? (I let myself get caught a few times. Except they ran past me, chasing after the pretty girls.)
Simon’s empty glass breathed slowly on his stomach.
“Thanks” he said, receiving from my hand what was left of the Bourbon.
He twisted the lid open; the stream of amber liquor hit the glass.
“I’m worried about Eleanor”, I said.
“I don’t know”.
But I knew. I didn’t know if I was a good example.
“You need to go back to work. You overthink things”.
“Don’t be ridiculous. People are crippled by your way of thinking.”
It still wasn’t the norm to be me.
Marilyn Monroe appeared on the screen. She was sticking her ass out, smiling triumphantly as the back of Simon’s hand landed gently on the back of my knee; like her silk dress.
I went to check on Eleanor. She had her hair in a towel like a turban, and another wrapped around her chest, like she had breasts. Her foot on the toilet seat as she applied a fruity scented lotion, humming a tune with a whimsy inclination of the voice replicating the exact sound of a top-forty artist. Everything about it was vain and self-conscious; like she was doing it for the camera.
“Do you need anything?” I asked her, with my hand on the doorknob.
“No thanks” she said aloofly.
I lingered, thinking of something to say. Do I bring up the “rape” scene?
(Eleanor, that’s not what love is.)
(Eleanor, men are stronger.)
(Eleanor, what you saw earlier… Is abuse.)
Simon came to my rescue; his palm landing lovingly on my shoulder.
“Good girl” he said to her, because she’d had a shower. But he gave me a pat on the back too. A pat that faded as he placed himself between me and the door.
“This bathroom is disgusting”, he said. “That can’t be good for her.”
Eleanor followed his eyes to the shower curtain.
“What do you mean?” She asked us.
I shook my head. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s mould”, said Simon.
“What do you mean bad for me?”
“It’s not your fault” said Simon.
Eleanor removed the towel from her hair and dropped it on the floor. She wiped off the steam on the mirror in front of her, shaking her hair free as she pouted a smirk inside the small smear of clearness; the same tune emanating from her and I wished everything that happens did too; that it passed through her (unremarkably), like steam.
“Are you coming to bed?” Simon asked me, peeping in from the doorway. (I was lying on the sofa, where he’d lounged earlier.)
“I’m just waiting for Amelia to wake up”.
“Are you going to wait all night?”
The lime-green light stared mute.
“Just a little longer.”
He raised his eyebrows. His tired heavy hand waved goodnight, hanging defeatedly as he left.
My little self eventually experienced what happened behind the car door. I said no like I was supposed to (I was awake this time); my boyfriend ignored it like I wanted him to. But unprecedented fear stomped with its elephant weight on my end-of-scene expectation, when I realised there was no car door to shield me, no horizon for the horse to disappear in.
My boyfriend -I finally had one!-, raped me many times. But I never kicked and screamed; I never made it a rape situation. I only ever made it a natural situation, by facing away from his kiss; by allowing my wrists to be cuffed by his hands as I told him, time and time again, I didn’t want to do it.
It hurt when he forced himself into me. It hurt more that he didn’t listen. It hurt more that I didn’t put up a fight, not because I really wanted it, as he kept telling me, but because I lacked the courage. It hurt that the battle was always lost.
The green light stayed still, but I needed to sleep even if only for an hour before Amelia called. I tiptoed to the bedroom, but as soon as my cheek sank into the coolness of my pillow, I heard Simon’s wakefulness beside me. I ignored it. I lay as far from him as possible, but our breathing gave us away, that we both knew we were awake.
His toe began caressing my ankle. I didn’t react so his toe began poking me playfully. Then he shuffled his body against my ass. But I remained quiet. Still, like Amelia’s light.
I wanted to tell him he could do what he wanted. That my ass wanted it even if I didn’t -couldn’t- make love to him just then (because he didn’t understand, because he didn’t know), but I didn’t. I didn’t let him know he always had a green light. I didn’t let him know I’d even like him to go ahead (I wanted him to know it already!), if he allowed me to just “sleep”. So he didn’t have to look into the shame in my eyes, nor I into the judgement, disappointment, in his.
He turns the other way with a longing. And the gap lies unbearably tense between us, so I have no choice but to turn around and seek him. I have no choice but to instigate sex despite my humiliation.
I ignore it because I have lost the battle. Because the subtle smell of whisky emanating from the warm expanse of his chest is comforting, and I need some rest.
Amelia slept. I tempted fate by brushing her fine new hair with the back of my hand, but she didn’t stir. I watched her breathe, my heart wrapped in love, feeling fulfilled every time the little white blanket mounted under the dim starlight beside her, and the knowledge that, up until then, I’d done everything right for her.
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