Lying in Wait

In the instant she heard the crash, Sophie woke to a certainty that someone was downstairs. She searched the empty sheets and raged silently at Dinah for being away at a conference. If only Sophie had gone too, or at least asked Dinah to stay. But they couldn’t be together all the time, and sooner or later Dinah was going to need some space. Something downstairs shuffled and thudded, and Sophie fought hard against the images of her past attack.

Her heart slammed against her finger, outlining the scar on her breast. She could still see the blade glinting in the moonlight, feel it sting her flesh as the men held her down. Her other arm twisted through her flannel pajamas to reach for the phone. Just a burglar, she told herself, probably doesn’t think anyone is home. He’d grab the TV or the silverware and leave. She could just hide in the bedroom and call for help, but she couldn’t remember for sure if she had locked the bedroom door.

She felt safe with Dinah and didn’t mind dropping some of her defenses. But she reverted to her old ways when left alone, like keeping their firewood axe by the bed and obsessively locking and relocking the doors and windows. The axe was in the corner, but the door? The image of an intruder storming in as she spoke on the phone prodded her into action. She picked up the letter opener on the night stand, slipped out of bed, and padded softly to the door.

Her fingers gripped the ends of her sleeves. She could almost feel the men clutching her wrists again—no! She couldn’t think about that now. She dabbed away a tear with her clenched sleeve.

Closer to the door, a floor board creaked beneath her gait. She stopped cold, cursing the old Victorian. The downstairs fell silent.

A long moment passed before the noises resumed, the loud, solid noises of men. Sophie gripped the door knob with shacking hands, slipped the letter opener into the keyhole, and forced the stubborn mechanism. Tears wet her cheeks as she crept along the wall back to the bed and tried to think of Dinah, to block out all other thoughts and dwell like a mantra on the strength she felt when she was with Dinah.

Even now, she felt the disapproving looks of her friends and family. That’s all they thought the relationship was, a coping mechanism, a masculinity-free safe zone after her “traumatic event.” So what if Sophie couldn’t say whether she was in love with Dinah? Did it matter? It was true that she still felt uneasy around men and couldn’t bear to be touched by one, but Dinah was more than just another woman. Dinah never hurled down pity or advice from her privileged place of health. Sophie needed Dinah. She needed her now.

As she crawled across the bed to reach the phone, she imagined her lover, still practicing for the conference, expounding on the ideas that placed her at the fringe of Women’s Studies. Sophie tried to draw strength from the mimicry of Dinah’s voice. “All sexual desire is for the female body,” Sophie recited as she picked up the phone. “…whether through exploration or emulation…” She placed a pillow on the receiver to muffle the beep. “…through investigation or self-discovery…” She placed the phone to her ear. “…sexual desire with all its captivation is born in the female body.” The line had been cut.

Her first instinct was to scream, even run downstairs. She’d rather do anything than sit there waiting for the inevitable. Were the sounds closer now? Were they working their way down the bedrooms? She thought of hiding but couldn’t move. Sliding down the wall, she stared at the bedroom door.

A thud came from the next room. She pulled her knees to her chest. Unwelcome images flooded her mind again. She was powerless to stop them, as she was powerless to stop what would happen to her now. She whispered, “Dinah, Dinah, Dinah” as though conjuring her protector.

Dinah’s words returned to her as an undercurrent to the images, and soon Sophie felt her body moving to their cadence. “All sexual desire is for the female body…” She rose to her feet and unbuttoned her top. “…whether through exploration or emulation…” She felt the night air sting her breasts. “…through investigation or self-discovery…” She slid her pants down over her hips. “…sexual desire with all its captivation…” She picked up the axe and held it behind her back. “…is born in the female body.”

She stood naked with one leg bent behind the other, like a lioness ready to crouch, her body glinting in the moonlight, as the footsteps continued down the hall.

About Michael Critzer

Michael Critzer’s short stories have appeared or are forthcoming on,, and in publications from Insomnious Press, Firebringer Press, and Short Scary Tales Publications. He teaches writing in central Virginia and is currently working on his first novel.

>> Michael Critzer's author page

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