By Leanna McLennan
The Southwest Rapist parks his brown van in the Canadian Tire parking lot between me and the school.
“It’s my birthday today,” he says, leaning out the window. “Can I have a kiss?” He isn’t bad looking, just kind of weird. Dirty blonde hair dangles beside his dimpled chin. He reminds me of my friend’s older brother.
“Why don’t you come back at lunch?” I say, smiling up at him. In Sex Ed., we were taught that it’s better to get rid of people like this without offending them. As I walk away, my body feels electric. A tingle travels down my spine, flashes hot between my legs. I’m afraid he’ll try to run me over, but he just sits there watching my bum.
I know he’s the rapist. He raped Mandy’s mother and sister in their basement. Mandy wasn’t home that day. Her father was, but he couldn’t do anything because he’s in a wheelchair. Mum called us into the kitchen to show us the picture of Mandy crying on the front page of the newspaper. “Grief stricken,” the caption read. I imagined my picture there, and Lisa and Mum lying helpless on our living room floor, covered in blood. Mum said not to say anything to Mandy because it would just make her feel worse. No one did.
I rush down the lane, hoping he doesn’t follow. When I get to the school, Cody is standing by the head doors, smoking.
“Hey T. H.” Cody lurches at me. At first he called me Tetra Hydra, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, and said that just looking at me got him high. Later, when I wouldn’t sleep with him, he changed it to Tight Hole, then T. H., his own stupid private joke because I’m a virgin. Fifteen is kind of old to still be one. Lana, Kelly and I have a contest to see who’ll be the last. I was almost the last to get a bra in junior high but I got Mum to take me to K-Mart to buy a training bra before Kelly got hers.
When I get to class, Mrs. Enns gives me this really stupid look and says, “Late.” She puts a gigantic “L” beside my name. Her face looks like she had acne when she was young and her hair is sprayed into a bizarre helmet.
“Repeat after me,” she says. “Je vais, tu vas, il va, elle va…” I look out the window. There he is. Mrs. Enns’s voice fades. My throat constricts. I shift so that the window frame will block his view. When he turns around, it’s just a guy from grade 12 who has the same hair and was taken in for questioning last month when the cops interviewed four hundred guys who fit the rapist’s description. The guy’s parents had reported him as a suspect because they knew he was into drugs and wanted to make sure he wasn’t in any other trouble. He turns beet red whenever anyone mentions it, so we remind him every chance we get.
“Catherine a dix ans.” Mrs. Enns clicks the button to the next slide. My desk is too small. I don’t open it because the guys have started chewing tobacco and they spit it in the desks, leaving behind brown slime with a rancid mossy smell. The slide shows Catherine’s birthday party in washed out colours. Sometimes the accompanying tape slows down and pulls the French into a Texas drawl. Mrs. Enns bends down to pick up her notes. She definitely passes what Lana calls the Dictionary Test: if she bends down to pick up a dictionary you can’t see her underwear, not like our math teacher Mrs. DeRoot, who wears miniskirts, and blouses so low you can see her boobs. The guys love math class. We’re not allowed to wear short skirts or cut-offs since Lana came to school with shorts that showed her bum and they made a rule against it. Mum says you should always bend your knees when you pick something up because of what it does to men. Mrs. Enns pauses the tape.
“Da-vid,” she says with a French accent. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” She snatches his paper. It’s a drawing of the new Led Zeppelin album cover with the Druid on a mountain. Dave’s a total stoner but he’s a great artist.
“C’est une papier,” he says in a really bad accent. Everyone laughs.
Now we have to do dictée. The room is filled with the sound of paper being torn from notebooks.
“Ecrivez: numéro un. Paul et Catherine vivent dans la rue de la Gare.”
We have to write ten sentences. When Mrs. Enns collects the dictées, I look outside. I’m afraid he’ll blindfold me, force me into the van, take me to Edworthy Park, rape me and leave me there, alone. Last month, he did that to a nine-year-old girl who got separated from her mum in the mall. The girl walked all the way home. When I was nine, I walked home alone all the time. If I tell Mrs. Enns I told him to come back, she’ll think it’s my fault because I told him to and because I’m wearing my tight jeans that Mum says make me look cheap. At least I don’t have to lie down to do them up, like Lana does. Everyone thinks she’s a slut, but I like her. Once I went to her house and there was a frying pan turned upside down on the floor with bits of hamburger and spaghetti all over.
“I’m not bloody cleaning it up,” her mum said. “It’s your father’s mess and he can damn well clean it up himself.” After that, we mostly went to my house.
Lana, Kelly and I usually go to my house after school because Mum is never home. Sometimes we hear noises in the backyard and peek out the basement window to make sure no one is there. The rapist has been breaking into single women’s homes. He blindfolds them with their own clothes before he rapes them. The police won’t say how because they’re afraid someone will imitate him. It said in the paper that he sent one victim roses after he raped her and asked her for another date. After that, Mum put nails above the windows so they don’t open wide enough for someone to get in.
After school, Lana, Kelly and I watch TV or take turns standing against the wall while everyone says what they like and don’t like:
“Your bum sticks out too much.”
“But you have really nice eyes.”
“You should wear lighter blue eye shadow.”
“Grow your hair longer.”
“Get it more feathered.”
“Your hands are like a guy’s.”
“Your legs are short for your body.”
Sometimes we pretend we’re different teachers. Lana does a great impression of Mrs. DeRoot. My specialty is Mr. Bateman, who we call Master Bate. His favorite line is, “I’m the principal. That’s a mixture of prince and pal. I’m your princey-pal.” Kelly does a hilarious Mrs. Enns, commanding “dictée, dictée, dictée.”
Mrs. Enns starts to give us the same instructions she gives every week. Outside, the rapist is walking past the Ponderosa Steak House. Maybe it’s a different blonde guy. I can’t tell. I wish Mum was home so I could call her to come and get me. I don’t want to call her at work because she hates that.
“Stop daydreaming, Katie,” Mrs. Enns snaps. “You don’t get a grade just for turning up.”
When the lunch bell rings, I go to my locker. Mandy walks past. I want to tell her about the guy outside, to warn her. But I can’t say anything. I don’t know what to say.
“You know you’re not allowed in the halls at lunch.” Mr. McDowell puts his hands on his hips. Someone said he used to be in the army. “Watch out,” we say when we see him, “McDowell on the prowl.”
McDowell asks me what I’m doing.
“Nothing,” I say.
“Well then, get going, young lady.”
“Sorry,” I say. I have to go home anyway because I have to make lunch for Lisa because Mum doesn’t have time to come home. It isn’t fair. Lisa’s only three years younger and I have to do all the work. “Nothing’s fair,” Mum says. This morning she left a can of Campbell’s Chunky Beef Soup and a loaf of 60-percent whole wheat bread on the counter. We used to eat white bread until she went on the Scarsdale diet. Now all she has for breakfast is one piece of dry toast and half a grapefruit.
I press the cold metal bar and slowly open the heavy blue door. No one. I run through the Canadian Tire parking lot and up the hill before I stop to catch my breath. Three blocks to go. I look carefully into the back alley before I pass it. No sign of the van. I hope he doesn’t know where I live. I hope he’s not waiting for me in the alley with a blindfold.
I’m out of breath, but I keep running past the green mailbox where the postman picks up our mail. I hate mailboxes because when I was eleven, a guy tried to pull me behind one. Every night I went on a bike ride to the end of our street and watched the sun set behind the racetrack. One night, as I cycled past, some teenagers called me over to the long row of green mailboxes in front of the trees by the playground. The short cute guy, who looked like Paul Williams in Phantom of the Paradise, which was my favorite movie, said he could open the mailboxes from behind.
“Yeah right,” I said.
“No really. I can. What’s your name?”
“George,” I lied.
“Sure, George,” he said, and his friends laughed. “It’s really cool.”
The guy’s friends stayed out front and I was worried that they might steal my bike. Then the cute guy grabbed me, pulled me to the ground, and tried to kiss me. I pushed his face away and ran out front. Some kids were walking on the other side of the street.
“Hello,” I called, pretending I knew them. I grabbed my bike.
“Have fun, George?” the cute guy shouted as I rode away. I didn’t stop at the racetrack that night or hardly ever after that. I didn’t go to Pinkie’s for a 10-cent kid’s ice-cream cone. Instead, I rode home as fast as I could, to get away from the guys who stood laughing in front of those mailboxes.
The rapist’s shadow hovers behind the mailbox I have to pass now and the shadow slowly moves towards me. When the shadow emerges from around the corner, it’s a guy from down the street. He smiles at me as I race past.
When I get home, I check every room to make sure no one is there. I’m in the laundry room when the back doorknob rattles. I peek around the corner, up the stairs. It’s Lisa.
“How come you’re so late,” I shout.
“None of your business,” she says.
“I’m telling Mum.”
“So. She won’t believe you anyway.” Lisa goes to her room.
I go to the counter to make the Chunky Beef Soup, which is more like stew so you don’t have to add water. It falls into the pan in a single glob. There are no more crackers, so I write crackers on the grocery list on the fridge.
“It’s ready,” I yell. No answer. “It’s ready.”
“I heard you the first time,” Lisa says as she sits at her place.
“How was your morning?” I ask.
“What do you care?”
“I’m just asking,” I say, reaching for the butter. “Don’t have a fit.”
I hear a noise in the backyard and freeze.
“Beetle,” Lisa calls. She opens the milk chute to let the cat in.
I clear the dishes, rinse them and stack them for when Mum gets home. Then I go to the bathroom, plug in my curling iron and wait for the red dot in the centre to turn brown so I know it’s hot. I shift the mirrors so I can see the back of my head. It looks okay. I think people should spend more time looking at the backs of their heads because sometimes the rest of their hair looks fine but the back is disgusting. I curl the front so it feathers right. Then I climb up on the counter so I can see my bum. Once Mum caught me and said I was being vain.
“You’re So Vain” used to be my favorite song and Carly Simon was my favorite singer. Now I prefer Cat Stevens. I go to the living room and put Mona Bone Jakon on our bubble stereo. I place the plastic dome lid on the blue shag carpet. Beetle jumps into it and starts purring. I spin her around and she gets out. Trouble. Oh, Trouble, set me free.
“Do you have to play that again?” Lisa shouts.
“Are you ready?” I shout back. She slams her bedroom door and goes to put on her shoes.
“Nice jeans,” she says sarcastically.
“Like you’d know,” I retort.
I look outside to make sure the rapist isn’t waiting. I don’t tell Lisa about him because she’d just tell Mum and I’d get in trouble for not calling her even though we’re not supposed to call her at work unless it’s an emergency. The brown van isn’t there, or in the Canadian Tire parking lot, or by the school. I watch Lisa as she crosses over the field to the junior high.
When I get to the front door, Jake and Cody are there.
“Hey, Tetra Hydra,” Cody says. Jake laughs.
“Shut up,” I say.
“What’s the matter with you?” Cody says, “Can’t take a joke?”
This afternoon we have a rehearsal in drama. Mrs. McFadden always makes me play some stupid part. This time I have to be Laura in The Glass Menagerie. I try to forget about the rapist outside waiting for me to kiss him, and gaze at the small glass unicorn. In the middle of the play, Clive, who plays Jim, leans forward to kiss me. He’s such a geek. Lana and I burst out laughing. Mrs. McFadden bawls us out but she says we can leave out the kiss. I don’t like the way Clive looks at me. I think he likes me.
When the bell goes, I wait for Lisa to come out of the junior high on the other side of the field. I usually walk home alone, making up songs, but I don’t want to now. I can’t stop thinking about the rapist’s face and how he grinned when he said, “It’s my birthday. How about a kiss?”
Mum would be mad if she knew that I talked to him. She’d call the police and everyone would see them drive up. I don’t want anyone to know that he talked to me, that he was cute. There was something about his grin that scared me. I look around to make sure he’s not there.
When Lisa gets out of school, she’s in a good mood for a change. She’s in grade seven and keeps bursting into tears and having a fit about everything. When we get home, we sit on the couch under the old pink blanket eating popcorn and watch Gilligan’s Island until Mum gets home.
“How was your day?” she asks us.
“Fine,” we say and keep watching TV.
Leanna McLennan is a Maritime-born, Toronto-based poet and writer. She has a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from Concordia University. She teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design.