She counts the touches. A stilted choreography: the cupping of her elbow, the palm between her shoulder blades, the passing brush against her hip—a layer of air between each one, as if he has forgotten how to, now there are cameras.
Lenses scrutinize without blinking and she wants to tell him to stop trying to be normal but it is her face they focus on; her rictus smile. The flight in her tempered eyes. No fight left. Frozen between a line of suits and her husband, she clutches her children with nothing but purpose. No forgotten touches for her. She clamps her son to her side; holds her daughter in front of her like a shield, as far away from her husband as possible, away from the crowd of men who have enabled the easy shrugging off of what she has been repeatedly briefed on calling “the allegations.”
Photographs are over but the video cameras still roll. They are waiting to catch the inevitable slip. The flinch. They ask her if she is pleased with the ruling. If she is relieved. He speaks for her, says we are all looking forward to getting back to normal life as a family. Emphasis on the we, on the family, on the normal.
They nod, don’t even bother to write it down, turn back to her. Is she pleased, they ask, now that he has been exonerated of all charges? Did she always know he was innocent? And what would she like to say to the woman who made such shocking claims against him?
She has thought about this a lot, what she would say to his accuser—also known, in some publications, as his “victim.” For the first three hours in the courtroom she only saw the back of the woman’s head. Her husband sat in the box. He never looked at either of them.
She knows what his-accuser-his-victim-the-woman looks like because some journalist broke the anonymity request and now her graduation photo features in every article and segment about what a government representative allegedly did to her when they were in college.
He steps in again, saying we’re all very tired and will be releasing official statements at a later date.
We are just glad it’s all over, he says, his hand hovering at her lower back. She can feel the heat of it there. Not quite touching. She forgets to breathe out, smiles with her teeth, smooths an invisible wrinkle out of her daughter’s collar.
It was a long time ago, he told her, when they first got the call from his lawyer. I can’t remember. I don’t even know who she is. She’s nobody.
And he seemed so sincere she let herself be relieved until she realized not remembering wasn’t the same as not doing it.
She didn’t know him back then, she says in her statement. His college days. But all boys are a little wild at that age, especially when there’s alcohol involved. Fraternity escapades and all of that. She doesn’t say “boys will be boys” but it’s already sliding over the producers’ tongues like ice. She told them she didn’t need an autocue and they have been sweating ever since.
She exhales into the mic and the sound engineers wince. She can feel him watching her from behind the camera, his face turned monochrome beneath the lights.
She says she didn’t know him then and laughs, says perhaps she wouldn’t have given him the time of day if she had. The producers nod. A little humour is good.
No, she met him later, as a professional man—emphasis on the professional—early in his career, in an ill-fitting suit even though he could afford a tailor, because his father said a certain roughness would help him look humble. Relatable. Get the most expensive off-the-rack three piece you can find but stay grounded. Wear sneakers. Loosen your tie. Hey buddy, I’m just like you. A self-made, highly financed man. The kind of young man her parents approved of. Actively encouraged her to date, actually. They knew who his parents were. Knew where he was heading. Where things flowed.
She didn’t know him back then, but she knew boys just like him at college, of course. Boys who pressed her against walls and breathed their stale beer breath right into her pores. Boys who pushed their tongues into her mouth without asking. If you can even ask for such a thing. Boys with persistent hands. It’s not like she’d never been in that situation, but she didn’t go telling everyone about it.
And her husband, he’s never been that way with her. He’s never held her down, one hand around her throat, the other over her mouth, his body crushing hers. She doesn’t think he’d do that even if she wanted him to. She has gazed over his shoulder enough times and wished he wasn’t inside her but that isn’t the same. Not feeling like it but doing it anyway isn’t the same. Saying not tonight but then letting silence become yes in the face of perseverance to avoid the bad mood that inevitably follows a hard no isn’t the same. She’s almost sure of that.
He has a temper, sure, but she’s never met a man whose anger didn’t live just beneath his skin.
He has a coldness, yes, but she always thought that was just his work ethic. A kind of dogged determination. To get what he wants.
And she thinks that might be the only thing she’s sure of. That he will always get what he wants.
Jo Gatford writes flash disguised as poetry, poetry disguised as flash, and sometimes things that are even longer than a page. Some of them win prizes, which is nice. Her first novel, White Lies, was published by Legend Press in 2014. She is one half of Writers’ HQ and tweets about weird 17th century mermaid tiles at @jmgatford. She feels very strongly about puns and Shakespeare.