You Have The Right To Remain Silent
by Patricia Jones


It’s hovering just around 60 degrees tonight. The moon is full on a plum-colored horizon. I can see it glowing through the thick fronds of palm, their dark green, secret undersides exposed by hidden landscape lighting. The lead singer of UB-40, milking the radio waves, begs not to be left alone. Right now, I’m anything but alone, evident from the steamy haze congealing in the corners of the car’s small windows.

A handsome man with dark brown hair and hazy green eyes is making love to my youthful sensibilities. His breath is hot, his lips soft against the lobe of my ear. I can smell his cologne, a masculine, musky scent that reminds me I’m not with a boy. He’s dressed in casual blue jeans and a polo top of soft, white cotton. He looks good in these, and he knows it.

I catch occasional glimpses of myself in the rear-view mirror as we twist around in the front bucket seats, trying not to get poked by the gear shift jutting up between them. I’m wearing a white sweater dress and a set of silver and turquoise jewelry mother gave me for my sweet-sixteen.

“Oh, God. You’re so beautiful tonight.”

I start to answer him, but language fails me. His eager hand is sliding under the hem of my dress. The strangled sound that startles me out of a response is my own voice, something between a guttural moan and a whimper of defeat. I put my hand over his, pressing down to slow his approach. He seizes me more forcefully. Bile rises to the back of my throat, and I start to struggle. The front seat of an orange VW bug is no place to lose my virginity.

When he clutches hard at my hip I yell, “Stop!”

* * *

The word takes me back nine years. I’m standing in my aunt and uncle’s kitchen. It hasn’t been redecorated since the place was built in the early forties. Lime green cabinets grow out of a black-and-white checkerboard. The floor is cold and dirty under my naked feet. I can feel the gummy residue of spilled pop and grains of malt-o-meal sticking to my toes. I’m 7 years old, and a boy twice my age is groping my breast as he tries to pull my shirt off.

“Stop!”

I slap at his hands and claw at his chest, tearing the small hole in his shirt wide open. I’m going to hurt him, and then I’m going to tell. My cousin hisses at me and pushes one of the big kitchen knives against my throat.

“Shut up and be good, Patty-Cake.”

It hurts and I start to cry, but I stop fighting back.

“That’s a good girl,” he crows, “Don’t make anymore noise.”

My cousin lowers the knife and slices through the collar of my favorite pink Strawberry Shortcake shirt. His friend tears it open. I look at the clock. It’s 8:45 in the morning. By 9:15 it’s over, and Barbie and I hide under the back porch for the rest of the day. I stuff the ruined shirt behind a loose block in the foundation and talk to her in whispers.

“We can keep a secret,” I say, because I’m so ashamed.

* * *

“Shhh. Shhh…. It’s OK, baby.”

In the front seat of the orange beetle, he strokes my red curls from my face. His strong hand slides down my cheek to cup my chin and bring my face back to his for a kiss. While his lips are devouring mine, his hand slides lower to stroke my throat above the collar, then just under it. His fingers are softer than the steel blade.
“I’m sorry.” I tell my first real boyfriend through sobs, “I’m sorry, I’m just not ready yet.”

“That’s okay, baby.”

He likes to call me “baby.” I like it, too. He murmurs nonsense in my ear that sounds reassuring, as I’m wedged slowly against the passenger door. He’s soft with me. He treats me as if I am fragile. I like that even more. After a little while, he eases the seat back.

“We’ll just rest here for a bit,” he promises.

“Okay,” I whisper.

I trust him more than any man I have ever been alone with. I like how it feels when he kisses me. I like feeling wanted. I’m not afraid of desire. I’m terrified of sex.

“Maybe when you come back from deployment,” I say.

His fingers curl harshly into the soft hair at the nape of my neck.

“I was thinking more like later tonight.”

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I stammer, but I don’t squirm much this time.

Headlights have just swept through the windows above me, and I don’t want to cause a scene.

“We’ve been dating for three weeks already!” He’s never been angry with me before. I’m surprised by the tone of his voice, but I’m even more surprised when he rolls over and pins me into the lumpy seat, one of his legs between mine. “You owe me.”

“I owe you?” I stutter. I haven’t stuttered in at least five years, not since I had speech therapy in Junior High School.

* * *

I’m in seventh grade, standing in a cramped cubicle that doubles as both a storage space for old files and the counselor’s office. The walls are institutional grey and decorated with a single calendar.

“You owe it to him. Show me.”

The woman behind the desk is speaking to me. Her short, tightly-permed curls give her a severe look. Retro horn-rimmed glasses and a starched blue shirt don’t help. A tall, good-looking boy with close-cropped, black hair and dark brown eyes is staring at me with his arms crossed over his chest. Smirking, he leans against one wall.

“I just want to go home,” I plead with the counselor. “Please, I feel sort of sick.”

She lowers her glasses down the bridge of her hook-billed nose and peers at me through eyes as grey as her hair.

“You made a serious accusation. Now, either apologize for blowing something innocent out of proportion, or….” She pauses and looks between us before resuming in a tone of absolute authority. “…show me how he inappropriately touched you.”

I feel like I am going to hurl. I don’t want to touch myself. I look back at my classmate and see he’s still leering at me. I point at his torso instead, “there.” Then motioning towards his hips and loins I say, “there and there.”

My cheeks feel like a grimy patch of concrete baking in the summer heat and I choke back bile. The boy laughs and says something about my mother in Spanish. The counselor pretends she doesn’t hear a thing because we’re both white and he’s not. In our school, the complaint department doesn’t operate in this direction.

“You’re not giving me any evidence. No proof. He has three.”

“Quattro – four,” he interrupts.

“He has four witnesses that say he was with them after school.”

I feel hot tears on my cheeks before I realize I’m crying. “Please, I want to go home.
I’m really sick.”

“You owe him an apology first.” She dismisses me with a back-handed wave and crumples up the note from my teacher before throwing it in the waste basket.

“I’m sorry,” I choke out before I bolt through the door.

Later, he presses me up against the lockers in the dimly lit hallway. He roughly grips the back of my neck as he whispers, “I’ll make you real sorry.”

I carry a knife to class with me for the rest of the school year.

* * *

“I don’t owe you anything!” I shove against the man who is trying to make out with me in the orange bug.

“Fine, then get out.”

He hisses the words in my ear as I feel the door give, then I’m falling. It’s only a short distance to the asphalt, but it feels like I’ve just been thrown off a cliff. He slams the car door. After a moment, the steamed-up window rolls down, and I think he’s going to apologize. Instead, he throws my white high heel at me. It finds its mark, leaving a deep scratch on my cheek.

I take the other one off and get to my feet as he drives away. I stand alone in the dark. When I can no longer see the tail-lights of his car I limp to the well lit hotel a quarter mile down the bay.

* * *

It will be another seven years before I am walking alone in the dark again. I am leaving a movie screening at a summer arts festival. On my way to the car, I pass under the watchful eyes of a half dozen security cameras. I wave goodnight to two separate safety patrols. I do not fear the full moon or the tall palm tree, nor do I think about the low landscape lighting hidden under tufts of exotic plants. I will reconsider them later, in an interrogation room that reminds me of the counselor’s space.

I walk through an abandoned palazzo near the parking lots, and around the large, tiled fountain that has been my favorite since I was a little girl. When I turn the corner of the Aero-Space Museum, I feel the bite of panic before the blade itself. I instantly recognize the sensation of sharp steel against my throat. A pale man wearing black is holding the knife.

“You’re not gonna get hurt – if you do exactly what I say, baby.”

Something inside me snaps. I will not do what I am told. I spin around with a fist full of car keys. His weapon nicks my flesh and he claws my breast. I tear flesh from his face and scream loudly into the night. I am swallowed by a primal urge a counselor will later call latent hostility.

He drops the blade, and it bounces off the sidewalk with a clang I do not hear. I drive him to the ground. My fingers wrap tightly in his hair, pull up on his head only to better slam the hard shell of his skull into the concrete pavement, until I am the only one left screaming.

The next day, I am treated like a criminal by the men who wear uniforms.

“What were you thinking? “

“You didn’t have to take it that far.”

“You have the right to remain silent...”

I think I understand them as I watch the grainy tapes in shades of grey and black, failing to recognize myself in the moving portrait of rage. I have no words in my own defense but I feel no guilt or shame.

Two days later the men in uniform apologize. The man they called my victim they now call my assailant.

“…wanted on murder charges,”

He had raped two other women before he cut their throats.

“…also a suspect in Arizona,”

That young lady was left for dead in a ditch beside the road.

“...get you a cup of coffee, Ma’am? We’re real sorry for the misunderstanding.”

* * *

When I get to the hotel on the bay and stumble through the doors to the hotel restaurant and bar, the man standing behind the counter gives me a concerned smile.

“Are you okay, darlin’?”

“I’m fine.” It’s my answer, even though I’m pretty certain I will never be okay again.

On the loud speaker, Red Red Wine is playing once more. I borrow 35 cents to make a phone call and wait in a booth by myself for my best friend’s sister to come get me. The bartender makes me a cherry cola for free. It stays on the table untouched. Outside, an orange Volkswagen Beetle cruises back into the parking lot and laps it twice before driving off.

At sixteen, I think I’m a coward for not running out there to tell him I’m sorry.

Someday, that will change.
 

 


Patricia Jones
is studying Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Missouri while raising three children with her husband of 17 years. Her poetry and non-fiction prose have been published in the United States and Canada. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2006, for a poem addressing an accident in which she and her husband both nearly lost their lives, and she lost the ability to read and write. She attributes finding the voice she didn’t know she had until she lost it to the support of her family, and the faculty at Stephens College of Columbia MO, where she earned her BFA in Creative Writing.