'Grip' by Mark Devis
LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Official Selection, Short Story, 'Grip' by Mark Devis
Grip by Mark Devis
Content warning: Trauma related to sexual assault
The muffled world is slowly waking up around me. My feet shuffle forwards in time to my music, and the traffic noise drowns out the metronome of my footsteps. I love walking to work; it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. The fresh morning air blows away any leftover fog from dreams, and while the world around me grows more chaotic with the start of rush hour, I can remain still and calm. Walking helps me to emerge from the womb of sleep slowly, wrapped up in my autumn coat with my headphones on.
My phone is buzzing in my pocket. I don’t need to glance down to know that it’s Mum again. It’s been five years, but every October it’s the same. The texts, the calls, the encouragement. Dad says that she’s only trying to help, in her way. Her annual interventions are her way of supporting me, even if all they do is serve as an unpleasant reminder that she still sees me as a victim. She will never see me as anything more than what happened on that day.
“Hi, Mum!” I clear my throat so that I can put on my most sparkly voice. “How are you doing today?”
“Anna, sweetheart. I’m fine. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine, Mum, totally fine. Just heading to work.” I fail to resist the urge to roll my eyes.
“Good, good. How is Leeds this morning? The weather’s very mild at home; your father’s already out with the dogs.”
A bus honks its horn at a cyclist across the road, I press the phone to my ear and bury my head into my coat in a vain attempt to keep the noise out. The cobwebs from sleep are brushed aside as an inevitable shouting match starts.
“Sorry, Mum, it’s really noisy here, and I have to get to work. Can I call you later?”
“Sure, Anna, sure… talk soon. Love you.”
I can hear the disappointment in her voice. “I’ll call you straight after work, OK, Mum? Love you too.”
I hang up before she can guilt trip me into any more conversation. When did I start having to manage my mother? Probably sometime between being a girl and becoming a woman. Somewhere in that adolescent phase I learned that my Mum wasn’t Wonder Woman. She was another human being, with all her flaws—some of which I’ve probably inherited.
The cyclist and bus driver are continuing to yell at each other as I wait to cross the road. I’m careful not to make eye contact, yet I can’t help but occasionally glance at the animated scene unfolding in front of me. Both men are spewing bile and venom at each other, their faces contorting in vehement rage. Somewhere in my stomach, I feel the flutter of anxiety. I turn my head to look either side of the road for a gap in the traffic; cars continue to stream past. The fluttering is more noticeable now, like a butterfly beating its wings against a cage. My throat feels tighter, and my hands are starting to go numb. It’s just the cold, I tell myself, as I bury them into my pockets.
Headlights flash to the side of me. Someone has slowed down. Someone has stopped and taken notice. I look up to make eye contact with a middle-aged man in a white van who smiles back at me and gestures with his hand. There’s a warmth to his eyes that I respond to, and with a smile of my own, I cross the road, taking care to keep a wide berth between myself and the cyclist.
I put my headphones back on, and the music resumes. The beating of drums stills the wings of the butterfly, and my step falls in sync with the music. There is a comfort in music that my waking brain can find rest in; the patterns, the predictability of it. It makes me feel connected to my unconscious self in a way that my conscious self can’t quite understand. A sudden desire to dance in the street fills me, and I smile to no one in particular. Maybe dancing in the morning is better suited to a Friday, as some preparation for the weekend.
The sun is low in the sky as beams of orange light stream through the bare trees that line the road. On autopilot, I turn into the park entrance. Soon the mornings will be too dark for me to do this, and some green at the start of the day goes a long way before a tough shift. Only, it’s not green anymore. Auburn leaves are scattered across the path, creating a crunchy carpet for my Converse sneakers. The carpet feels odd under my feet, like something else is beneath the leaves. It’s not concrete anymore; it’s something different.
And then I fall through the floor.
The headphones are off my head, and I am flying. Closing my eyes, I try to scream, but nothing comes out of my mouth. The air is moving so quickly that I can’t catch my breath. My face feels like it’s vibrating as my wild hair billows against it. It’s not just my face; my entire body is shaking as the wind buffets me. A vice tightens against my ankle, and I hear the cracking of bone. This time I can scream.
I open my eyes, and I’m spiralling. A storm of red, gold and brown leaves billows around me like I am in the centre of a tornado. I am descending fast into whatever hell this is, and my ankle is in agony. I look down.
Clinging onto me with one hand is him—the hooded man. I can’t see his face, but instinctively I start thrashing my other leg at him, trying as hard as I can to get him to loosen his grip on me. He’s moving his head around quickly, but with a dull thud, one of my kicks connects with his hooded head. It must have hurt him, but he doesn’t respond. I kick him again with as much power I can muster, and the hood falls away. The cyclist stares up at me with hatred in his eyes and his mouth twisted into a sickening grin—the same grin from five years ago. The hooded man has borrowed the cyclist’s face today.
With catlike reflexes, my tormentor grabs my other leg and pulls down, his clawed hand tearing into my flesh. I can’t help but scream. I scream as loud as I can for as long as I can, hoping that beyond this cyclone, my shrieking wails are audible. Someone. Anyone. Please help me. I yell the words telepathically, hoping that my message will make it out of the vortex.
His weight is incredible and only increasing our descent. In one swift movement, he wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me into a twisted embrace. Balling my hands into fists, I smash both of them into his face, feeling his nose give way and watching the blood pour out over his lips, and onto his exposed teeth. Unbaling my fists, I use my nails to scratch at his eyes with all the ferociousness of a lioness. If I can just get my hands on his face, then I can try and scrape his eyeballs out. My throat is sore from screaming.
In one swift movement, he pulls himself onto my back and wraps his arms around me, placing his clawed hand beneath my throat. My screaming stops, and with it, the vortex stills around us. Delicately, he runs his serrated fingers across my neck, enough to scratch away a thin layer of skin. The implication is clear, and my body goes rigid. I can smell the tobacco on his breath as he whispers into my ear, as he says those words that I have heard over and over again in my nightmares.
I bury my head into the leaves and stiffen my body as much as I can. I silently cry, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of making any noise. My heart thunders in my chest, and my hands feel numb.
When he starts, I am no longer Anna. I am someone else, and I am somewhere else, somewhere far away, with music and dancing.
The phone feels like a block of ice as my numb fingers press it against my ear; it only takes two rings before I get an answer.
“Hi Anna, are you OK?”
“Yea Mum, I just… I just wanted to call you back.”
“Is everything OK?”
“Yea, I just…. It happened again. I had another flashback.”
“Oh, Anna. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Will you talk with me for a little while, and tell me about your day?”