At first it’s terrifying, then it’s scary, and finally, it doesn’t matter. But the space between terrifying and scary, well, it can be an inch or it can be miles, thousands and thousands of miles. And just because time has passed, perhaps even a great deal of time, it doesn’t mean that you have travelled any of those miles. In fact, it’s possible you have been moving in the opposite direction.
In the opposite direction of what? Your fear of course. The fear that it will happen again, that he will magically appear in line at your till, that you will have to scan his Foldgers coffee, his rye bread, and his Brut aftershave while he smiles proudly at your trembling hands because he is pleased by a job well done. Or would you walk off the job that fast? Would you let him have your job too?
These are the things you have given up: Painting, dancing, church, school, God. In that order.
Before you stopped going to church, one of the ladies from the choir was kind enough to give you a bookmark inscribed with the Footprints narrative. She brought you a casserole too. You divided the casserole between your roommate and your German shepherd—you also gave her the bookmark.
Looking into the window at Tim Horton’s, you see his reflection staring back at you, but when you turn, he’s just another construction worker wearing a green hoodie over Carhartt bib overalls. Solid build. Average height. Dark hair, tan skin, and a nose that has been broken too many times. No mustache. He could shave it off, no? But he wouldn’t stand with his hands in his pockets. When you look again, he’s gone.
This is what you have learned: Life does not stop whether you travel in miles or inches. The conveyer belt is kinder; it moves ahead when you press a button, stops when you let go.
You watch the lives of other people inch toward you an item at a time: Organic carrots, vitamin D, flax seeds, Oreos. Oreos? It keeps you focused; each beep of the scanner announcing another day that has passed in your life, another day unharmed, a day you can cross off on your calendar when you get home.
“Uh, can I get my change?”
“My change. I gave you a twenty.”
“Oh. Right. Here; sorry.”
You have lost weight and sleep and friends. Friends who had the kindness to tell you what you should have done … It’s comforting to know you are the victim of your inadequate self-defense. Didn’t Oprah tell you to grab his crotch?
Everyone recommends karate. You fail to see how an increase in black belts will reduce the number of assholes. But then assholes aren’t your problem. Not knowing karate is.
Probably you should have taken it lying down (weren’t you?). At least then you would stand a chance in court.
His next appearance is scheduled on June 4. June 26. July 22. August 15. September 1.
On the first, he pleads guilty—to a charge for mischief. Unfortunate that he had to break a window.
Note to self: Always destroy something of value prior to assault.
He receives a fine for the damages and must agree to seek anger management counseling.
Your taxes will pay for his breathing techniques.
You are angry, so angry you would pour that Jack Daniels down his throat until he choked, then you would smash the bottle across his nose as many times as it would take for it to break—his nose, not the bottle—and you would pour the rest of the alcohol on the wound and leave him to retch on his own blood.
Angry. But not worthy of counseling.
“Do you ever look at people when you take their money?”
“You have blue eyes.”
“Hmm. They look blue to me.”
Seasons change. The heat that made you toss and turn between twisted sheets dissipates, transforming into crisp, nose-pinching air. The apples come and go unnoticed, fall and rot on the grass. The day before Halloween, you shovel them into a rusted wheelbarrow and dump them on the garden. You doubt they have much to offer in terms of renewal. If they did, you would eat one.
A friend—one who did not recommend karate—takes the trouble of setting you up on a blind date. You concede that it is time, if not too late.
Applying mascara for the first time in six months gives you a small to medium-large panic attack. When the heart palpitations subside and the blood has stopped rushing in your ears, you apply mineral oil to a cotton pad, wipe your eyes, and begin again.
You check the weather network before dressing. Minus eight. You pull a turtleneck from the drawer, considering the benefits of not showing. No chance of frostbite. Strong likelihood of lavender scented bubble bath and chamomile tea. But you have committed yourself, and in turn you have been assured that he is safe, safe as Mr. Rogers, and not at all into cardigans.
It’s just what you need. Everyone tells you. And you never know, they say, he could turn out to be the Sultan of Brunei.
What would you do with a sultan? What could a sultan possibly offer? Self-respect? Empowerment? Red-Bull?
You do not need a sultan. You need a harem. Victims. Concubines.
“Do you ever smile?”
“Have you ever asked a man that question?”
“Does she ever smile?”
“See, I bet you didn’t know you could.”
He is sultanesque in appearance; he behaves in a sultan-like manner. He asks questions and listens attentively to your answers. You cannot focus when he speaks. He has dark hair and tan skin. Average height. Solid build.
You talk for a long time. He seems kind and funny. You are surprised and uncomfortable.
He wants to see you again.
“What does it say?”
“Oh. Well-behaved women rarely make history.”
“Are you well-behaved?”
“Do you like it when women behave?”
“I think I prefer history.”
You see the Sultan three times, each time enjoying yourself more than the last until you arrive at your door and experience the terror that accompanies the fall from an elevator shaft. You don’t scream, or call.
“How was your weekend?”
“Really? What happened?”
“Let’s see. I woke up, ate half a pink grapefruit, went for a run, perspired, showered, made eggs benny and shared it with my dog, did laundry, phoned my sister, finished a crossword, had a beer with my nieghbour, burnt some fish—”
“So you stayed in.”
“Your total is $29.46.”
With the Sultan of Brunei off your mind, you are free to think of other terrifying things: Your future without a degree, the state of democracy, your friend’s upcoming wedding. She has asked you to be the maid of honour. You do not feel honored. Polluted, jealous, yes. Honored, no. But there is an obligation, if not to this friend, then to the other friends who are all but panting with excitement for your return to normal.
You want to ask them what they expect from their Wonder bread after it’s been blackened in the toaster. Instead, you go dress shopping.
“Tell me a story.”
“Once upon a time, there was a legitimately empowered liberal feminist called Snow White. She had a lover—not a husband—who liked to drink, and sometimes when he drank he did shitty things. He called her a witch and threw a pot of coffee at her, and then one day after the burns on her arm had healed, he was getting drunk again and she took the bottle from his hand. He lunged for it, but she held it away; so he grabbed her instead, and she hit him with the bottle and she didn’t stop hitting him until he was dead.”
“Show me your arms.”
These are the positives: It’s not brown. It’s not a tutu. It’s not a brown tutu. Your friend has selected a royal blue corset style gown that flattens your breasts into two perfect orbs of oppression thrust up to your chin. You shove a fist into your mouth and bite down hard as the bridal assistant tightens the laces. You can feel the corset digging into your ribs, squeezing like his knees. The tiny Philippine assistant circles you like a hornet, fussing with the hem and raving about your beauty with Sham Wow gusto.
You can’t breathe.
You come to in front of a three way mirror, your friend at your side, the hornet hovering nearby. Your friend wants to know if you are going to be ok with this.
Ok with panic attacks?
Ok with passing out in a bridal shop?
Ok with wearing a dress that makes you feel victimized?
Ok with the idea of a very awkward first dance with the best man if he isn’t allowed to touch your back, your sides, and especially not your arms?
Or just with royal blue and the corset?
The wedding day finally arrives. The ceremony unfolds smoothly: The groom is on time, no one forgets their vows, and both mothers sob uncontrollably. The reception is modest, a community centre affair with the food catered by the bride’s cousin and a cake made by her mother. The music is supplied by a local band.
You are too busy helping the bride with her dress each time she has to pee and obsessing over your speech to worry about what will come after. The band startles you when they begin to play. You hadn’t expected this moment to come so soon.
You stare at the familiar outstretched hand, only now it isn’t reaching for a quart of milk in the shopping cart; it’s reaching for you. You place your hand in this rough carpenter one, ready to take it back at any moment.
“You look different without the name tag and the apron.”
“I almost didn’t recognize you without the pencil behind your ear.”
“I know; it’s my best feature.”
“No, that would be the scar on your chin.”
“Not many people notice that.”
“I’ve had time to look.”
“I thought you didn’t look at people when you take their money.”
Your mouth curves into a smile as you step under the strobe lights.
“Tell me how you got it.”
During her distinguished career as a pirate, Lynda Schroeders has crafted innumerable ransom notes and buried many treasures; she has yet to walk the plank. This story is dedicated with love and gratitude to Heather Connell. "Miles to Inches" was the honourable mention in Room's 2012 poetry contest.