A Wednesday like any day: Up, coffee with a little something, comfortable yet professional, flat shoes. The news says a woman was raped behind a garbage bin; a man jumped off a bridge but failed to die; there is a low pressure system making the grey weather hang on interminably. Unlock the apartment door, 8F, lock it behind. The hallway is as blank and narrow as a hotel’s. Only two exits: the stairwell, the elevator. The sky hangs too early over the trees as if trying to smother them.
Someone has broken into her car. The driver’s side window violated. The door handle sprinkled with diamonds of glass, tads of it still hanging in the frame, littered on the seat, the floorboards, the ground. A crime scene, maybe she shouldn’t disturb it, but who would care? The center console and glove box are hanging open like empty mailboxes. The useless ashtray is pulled out. There must be fingerprints, but even so it would lead to nothing. They probably found a few forgotten coins, that was all.
She calls her insurance company. Such a pity, they say. They can come and replace the glass at her work site as well as home. They will call when they arrive, and she can go out and face them. She gets her hand vac, which does a poor job but good enough for her to drive. Stopped at a light, she pulls a shard from beneath her right hip. A minivan next to her, a woman driving, two children in back singing and wiggling out a dance in their seats as if vibrated by the radio. The woman holds up a phone aimed at the back, recording. She flicks the glass stub, small as an eraser, making a satisfying plink against their window, though no one notices.
She is already in her cubicle when she thinks of the gun. A friend had come to the apartment with her toddler, days ago, maybe a week, someone she knew from AA when she used to go. The friend wanted to leave the toddler for her to watch. Something had come up, the friend said. She had taken the gun out of her nightstand and locked it in the car for safety and never fetched it back. There was the gun and the bottle of vodka. The friend insisted that she wasn’t drinking, it was just that something had come up that she couldn’t get out of, an emergency with her boyfriend. She was doing well. Her life was zipping along in a straight line. She was hunky dory, as opposed to some people she could name. The friend left, and she and the toddler had piled up a fortress of pillows then sat inside it watching TV.
She bought the gun at Walmart after the mugging, on a whim really, there to buy toilet paper, bananas, a new phone. A man had accosted her on a street that wasn’t even empty, wasn’t even dark. He was walking toward her and stopped in front of her and pulled a gun out of his jacket pocket as if he had something trivial to show her- a picture of his grandmother. The gun had caught as he withdrew it, and he had to wrench it free. She was afraid he might insist she follow him into the alley, gesturing at her with his barrel. When she was a teen, men had jeered and hey babied her, grabbing at their crotches, come get some of this, staring at her in the grocery store when she was only trying to buy the hotdog buns for her mother. It was frightening. Why don’t you make yourself more attractive? her mother wanted to know. You were such a pretty child. The mugger was no prince – strung out, red-eyed, desperate. Give it to me, he said and clawed at the purse still over her shoulder. When he’d got hold of it, he dug one dirty hand inside for the cash – twenty-two dollars – and her phone, throwing her credit cards back at her with contempt, dropping the purse on the ground, all the while pointing the gun vaguely at her.
She is finishing the last email when she thinks that maybe the car burglar was someone stalking her, targeting her to get the gun or the vodka or her body. Maybe he knew she had gone out to the parking lot yesterday and taken a little slug of vodka, practically lying down on the passenger side so no one would see her. The stalker is going to come to her office and shoot her in the head while she’s at her desk with an Excel sheet still open on the screen, or drag her out holding her own gun to her head and rape her in the bushes.
She flees her cubicle for the bathroom, hides in a stall, her heart small and hard in her chest. Someone comes in, the rainfall of pee, the shuffling of feet rearranging clothes, the flush, the water running in the sink. They don’t know she is there, or don’t care. She pulls her feet up before someone else can come, leans against the flat box of the motion sensor, which makes the toilet flush and flush again. She must be very still, must hug her knees, must be small, a tiny still point of nothingness.
The phone in her pocket rings a country song of lost love from years ago. Unidentified caller. She has to unfold herself to answer it. The toilet roars back to life. Detective Blank. She had reported a car break in? Nothing stolen? Did she perhaps keep a 38 revolver there, serial number ending in 834, registered to her? Oh, my God, she says. I don’t know. Yes. Maybe. It’s been recovered, he says. There’s been an incident and you should come down to the station to identify the weapon. The gun, she says. The gun. The gun. Ma’am, Detective Blank says. Oh, my God, she says. The gun.
She hangs up on him; she leaves the stall; she washes her hands like everything is A-OK. In the mirror is her hair, boy short, her cheeks a shameful red, her eyes black beads. She has forgotten makeup again. She grimaces at herself as if she is checking her teeth for bits of toast. Nothing there. She can’t manage the tri-fold paper towel, her hands flutter as if someone has grabbed her from behind, shaking her by the elbows.
The vodka is definitely gone. The only thing under the seat is a single, crumpled movie ticket and a shard that pricks her finger. She starts the engine, drives home, leaving dots of blood on the wheel. If they call from work, she plans to say she succumbed to sudden fever and vomiting and weakness, too sick to speak.
There is the handle lock and the deadbolt, the peephole already taped over. She turns off the phone, shuts down her computer, makes her favorite, a Mind Eraser: Kahlua, vodka, soda, no ice. She drinks in bed, the comforter heavy as a radiation shield.
She hasn’t been out since, balcony curtains drawn tight, an extra layer of old, green blanket pinned over, making the light inside grassy as a forest floor. Sometimes she silently watches TV, the captions on, but nothing about crime or the downtrodden. Once there is a ringing and knocking at the door, but she freezes in the kitchen, glass in one hand, bag of chips in the other, still as death until they go away.