Teresa Sweeney is from county Galway. She was short listed in this year’s Over the Edge New Writer of the Year, 2014. Teresa was also a featured emerging writer reading at Over the Edge in November 2014. She has been published in Roadside Fiction, Number Eleven Magazine, Wordlegs, Boyne Berries and runner up in WOW! Awards 2011. She is studying an MA in Writing in NUIG this year. Teresa’s stories can be read here http://www.teresasweeney.com.
By Teresa Sweeney
I didn’t know the man I was dating was capable of rape.
We met at Lidl. Both of us reaching for the last packaged lasagne. Both getting a meal for one.
The notion that you could actually meet someone, a man, in a shop was utterly ridiculous. This is Ireland. We don’t do chat ups in the middle of the day, sober.
But me and him, that was how we met.
Awkwardly, we both pulled our hands back, and half laughed.
‘Go ahead,’ he said.
‘No. It’s ok. You take it.’
‘Honestly. It’s fine. I had the same one yesterday anyway.’
He smiled at me. A half embarrassed smile. Maybe he was afraid I’d judge him, eating his meal for one.
‘Well, if you are really sure. Ok. Thanks.’
I put the bright green coloured packaged lasagne into the basket swinging off my arm. He smiled again and walked off.
Supermarkets are strange places. It is hard to lose the person who walks the same rows of aisles as you do.
I was right behind him in the long curving queue at the checkout. The boring humdrum of the scanners as the items were rolled over it seemed the only sound for miles.
‘Last chance,’ I said.
He turned and looked at me, confused. I picked up the lasagne and waved it at him. Embarrassed now, that he hadn’t recognised me.
‘It’s alright. The pizza is just as good.’
He tapped the large pizza box that sat on top of his basket before he started to unload the stuff onto the conveyor belt.
‘Yep. I’ve had that one.’
I sounded stupid. An irritation that won’t shut up and disappear.
His shopping was non-perishables. Freezer food. I thought of all the boxes and boxes of fruit and veg behind us. Who bought them? Not people like us. Single people.
Room started to appear after his imitation magnums as the scanner continued it bleeps. I emptied my basket. Relieved to let go of the growing strain it was causing my arm. Lasagne, Greek style yoghurt, crisps, white wine, and a box of grapes I knew would end up growing fur and smelling bad.
I caught him looking at my shopping. Those items must have represented one thing to him: single.
It was only later when I got to my car, my one bag of shopping already in the boot, when I heard a voice from close behind me.
‘How about getting a lasagne for two?’
I thought it was such a romantic story. Like something in a book or a crappy TV film. I loved telling my friends about it. Ever since, they have gotten dressed up and put on make up to do the weekly shop.
‘You are so lucky. To have someone.’
Is that what defines good luck now? Not being on your own? I wish to God that I’d never met him.
I found out about the rape in the paper. Of course, no one had been arrested then. Stories like that are too common to make front page news. It was hiding in the corner of page five.
But we don’t really believe half those stories, do we?
When I would hear about some young one having sex after fifteen vodka and red bulls, then calling it rape, I’d think if you’re too drunk to get up, it’s your own fault.
And when I’d see some girl with her ass literally out the bottom of her shorts, ordering drinks at the bar, I’d think sure what else is she asking for.
This particular rape was described as ‘brutal’, ‘fiendish’, ‘callous’. Seven o’clock in the evening the woman, having gotten off the bus and walking in the direction of her home, was approached from behind. She was dragged behind some bushes and had a knife held to her throat.
It was a believable rape. Rape as we understand rape.
She had a broken jaw from the belt he gave her across the face. Severe bruising to the groin and upper thighs. There was even a slight nip on her neck from where he had held the knife.
There was no doubt. This was a genuine rape.
It had happened not far from the bus stop in town.
However, there was some blame on her part. She had been walking through a dirt lane way where women should know better than to walk alone on a dark evening.
I don’t know why I told Patrick about it. We were in the pub having a few drinks. It was Friday night and his sister was joining us later. They were real close, the two of them.
His face went pale as I said about what I’d read. He picked up his pint and took a long swing out of it. We had been seeing each other, as in having sex and appearing in public together, for a few months now.
With him beside me, I thought I was a better woman. Complete in ways that single people can never be complete.
Even my mother was happy. She thought he was a nice man, good manners.
‘Hold on to him now.’
She thought that because I was reaching thirty five and not married that she would never be a grandmother. Things are different for my generation, I told her, but she didn’t understand that. No man will take you seriously until he sees the dim lights of forty nearing ahead.
But I was afraid. Tomorrow he could decide he was done. He could wake up in the morning, see some good looking woman in her late twenties giving him the eye, and he’d think he still had it.
Then I’d be back single, alone, with my dinners for one.
‘Jesus, do we have to talk about that now? For fuck sake. We just sat down.’
When was a good time to talk about a woman being raped in your own town? But I didn’t push it. I just took another drink of my wine.
When his sister came in he stood up to hug her, so I did too.
I wasn’t into hugging. I was never quite sure where my arms should go, above or below their arms? A feeling of discomfort crawled on my skin as my turn came next.
She had a friend with her. A short, tubby blonde with a personality as big as her double D’s. I knew straight away that Patrick liked her. He was all smiles and chat, asking her how she was.
I wanted her to back off away from him. To stop talking to him with her big fleshy lips. I wanted to lay claim to him.
‘Patrick and I ate in the Italian last night. It was lovely.’
I said it directly to her, then felt embarrassed. I was so obvious.
They had been talking about her new car.
‘Right. Yeah. It’s nice there.’
She didn’t hide the half smirk on her face. In fact she looked at his sister and shared it with her.
Patrick frowned at me.
‘Anyway. Hopefully it will serve you well,’ he said to her.
They clinked glasses and I caught him looking straight at her chest.
When I think back now and try and remember what it was that made me fall for Patrick, well, I couldn’t tell you.
To be honest, I’m not even sure I ever did fall for him. I fell for how my mother and friends were so happy for me that I found someone, anyone. I fell for how I fitted in, all those books and TV films about romance and success were my story now too. I felt socially acceptable.
The Gards arrested him the Sunday of that same weekend. He had been in a right mood with me before that. And I was glad I could go to my own home and close the door to his meanness. The thought of us living together flickered in front of my eyes. It wasn’t a good thought.
I phone call from the Garda station. Some Sergeant Ryan wanted to talk to me.
‘It’s better you come in and we will discuss it here.’
‘Am I in some sort of trouble?’
‘Just come in Miss Brennan. We will talk then.’
My stomach was in knots walking up there. Finally, after waiting for over twenty minutes, they sat me down and explained why I was sitting in an interview room. The knots in my stomach loosened, and I threw up all over the concrete floor.
‘Oh shit. I’m so sorry.’
The Sergeant patted my back and handed me some tissues. Someone else came in with a mop and bucket and a glass of water for me. After a pathetic attempt at cleaning my vomit they left us again. The small room smelled of bleach and sick and dirty water.
‘He says he was with you.’
This was one of those moments you read about in books or see in films where the person makes a life changing decision. In a split second they say something that takes them down one path, and away from another.
My voice isn’t much more than a whisper and I am too ashamed to look the man in the eye, but I see his big hands grasp the edge of the hard table as he pushes back his chair to stand.
As it turned out, it wouldn’t have made much difference what I said. The evidence came back. His semen was on and inside her, his skin under her nails.
The first to coming knocking on my door was the sister. I was staying in my mother’s house, couldn’t face the stale, contaminated air at home.
‘What the fuck happened? How can they accuse Patrick of something like this? They are disgusting. Oh Jesus, poor Patrick. What will we do?’
She was stood on the step outside. It was raining. She had no hat or umbrella, not even a coat. Instead she was swallowed up in an oversized man’s jumper. Patrick’ jumper. Her hair hung in wet clumps and mascara was smudged all around her red, watery eyes. She looked a mess. Her hands were in black woollen gloves, one clenching the other.
I closed the door without ever saying a word to her.
As I walked back up to my bed I could hear her banging on the door, shouting, pressing the doorbell over and over. I thought of the neighbours, my mother, they’d hear all this. But I didn’t care. Not really.
Under the duvet I held my breath. Patrick had never slept in this bed. In the apartment I rented above the Chinese, that was where he often was. There or in the bed at his house. He owned his own house. He was a good catch. I was lucky. Back then.
My mother didn’t say a word at first, it took her a while. We never talked about such things usually. But this was not usual.
‘Did he ever hurt you? Did he?’
I felt a sob escape from the pits of my stomach. It rose up through my chest and ran out my mouth in a wailing cry.
My mother sat down at the table, opposite me. She reached out her hand and put it on mine. This was her kitchen and I hadn’t felt her hand in twenty odd years.
I shook my head, not able to speak.
People would judge me now. Judge me as the one who went out with the rapist Patrick Fagan. Everyone knew. They would see me walking down the street and they would think how could she not have known? They would wonder about our relationship, the sex we had, and think she must have suspected something. They would look at me see only one thing: Patrick.