As Alice stepped out onto her familiar dock, with the dawn behind her and the early morning symphony of birds’ songs tapering away, she dug her toes into the old wood and took long, desperate breaths of the moist, dewy air. But it didn’t fix her the way she’d hoped. She’d been silly, she thought, to believe that grounding herself in this place of childhood innocence would somehow magically dissolve the heavy, invisible chains coiled around the inside of her chest. Realizing this calmed her down a little, and she walked past her father’s small boat to the end of the dock. Sitting down, she delicately anointed each little toe so as not to scare away the fish. But there weren’t any fish this morning. The rhythmic breaking of tide against rock, and the gentle thump her father’s boat made each time it knocked up against the dock made her heart go quiet, and as she stared at herself in the silt stained water, Alice reflected.
Between studying for midterms and the nursing home, her sleep had come in shifts. Return home at 9, have a bite to eat, fall asleep on the couch with everything on: TV, lights, clothes. Then wake up 3 or 4 hours later feeling groggy and dirty because she’d been too tired to brush her teeth. So Alice would brush, and remove her makeup, and comb her hair, and get ready to really go to bed. But by then it was already 1 or 2 in the morning, and even though the sleep hadn’t been good, she was still too awake to climb under the covers. So she would study, but that usually wouldn’t last long, and she’d switch the TV back on and eventually fall back to sleep for another 2 hours until it was time to get up and start everything all over again.
Last night had been a lot like that. She’d made a small steak for dinner. Alice always had red meat when she was feeling particularly angry. Usually when one of her patients hit on her she’d dismiss them with good natured humor. Oh, you’re just like my grandpa, he flirts with everyone he sees… Of course I will, but I want a honeymoon in Paris… But Mr. Crowley wasn’t cute in that dirty old man kind of way, he couldn’t be disarmed with some sweet patronization, he was just… dirty. He was constantly grabbing her ass and touching her and telling her dirty stories about how many women he’d slept with and how she wouldn’t be able to say no once she’d had him. Somehow, it would’ve made her feel better if he was like this with everyone, but it was just her. And tonight near the end of a 10 hour shift as she was putting him to bed, he’d removed $136 from his sweaty, disgusting underpants and told her “this is all yours if you take off your shirt and come here under the quilt with me. We can fuck all night.” Now, sitting alone on the dock with her feet in the cool, soothing water, Alice remembered the slanted, toothless grin and the wrinkled wink he’d flashed at her and she just felt sorry for him, but when it had happened she’d felt violated. However, that night as she fell asleep in front of the TV, those feelings of vulnerability and anger and a little bit of loneliness had mixed restlessly together in her head.
She recalled the confusion as she woke. The clock on the cable box read 12:37. The loud infomercials usually responsible for rousing her began at 1, so it must’ve been something else. Alice rubbed her eyes, and as the disorientation of sleep faded away, she heard it again, the noise that had woken her: rustling coming from her bedroom. Fighting the urge to freeze and listen, Alice turned slowly to see that her apartment door was open just a crack. Panic and adrenaline rushed through her as she hastily grabbed the steak knife from the plate in front of her and walked slowly on the balls of her toes towards the bedroom. But as she turned the corner of the couch, her raised leg knocked up against an open book, which moved the plate, and sent her fork clattering down against the hardwood floor of her apartment. The rustling came to an abrupt stop, replaced by loud, heavy footsteps. Alice gripped the steak knife in both shaking hands, closed her eyes as she felt the vibrations of the intruder coming closer and screamed.
She tried to make herself sound as threatening and fearsome as possible, but the wavering tension in her voice was audible.
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”
She felt the knife in her hand connect and run smoothly through with very little resistance. It wasn’t what she’d expected. And then she heard gurgling, and a thud, and more gurgling. Alice slowly opened both eyes. Gazing up at her from the ground was just a frightened little boy, no more than 13. He gasped for air, but his throat was too full of blood. Alice stood there, shocked and horrified. She dropped the knife and frantically searched the mess of papers and books on the table for her phone. But as she dialed 9-1-1 the boy had already begun to stop moving.
“911 Emergency Services, what is your emergency?”
His head rolled over and she could see the light in his eyes fading.
“I need an ambulance right now!”
“Miss, what happened?” “I fucking stabbed someone, I NEED A GODDAMN AMBULANCE!”
The police arrived with an ambulance within 5 minutes, but it could’ve been an hour; she knew it was already too late. They asked her questions, and she answered them dumbly. They said the boy had been in trouble before, and they’d need to take a statement, but that charges probably wouldn’t be filed. She nodded.
The detective she spoke with was very nice. He offered her coffee and told her it wasn’t her fault, and after about an hour he asked if there was anywhere she could go, and meekly she replied, “My parents’ house upstate.” Then the nice detective asked if she was okay to drive, and Alice said she was.
The drive was silent except for the bumpy, gravel road that led up to the cabin. Her dad was standing on the porch waiting for her, but she could only give him a limp hug. Her mom made bacon and pancakes for breakfast, but she wasn’t hungry. They talked a little bit, but didn’t push, and she didn’t want them to. Alice just wanted to see the lake.