A stranger walks up to her. I bet you’re a dirty fuck. Her face stills. He winks and walks away. She takes another sip of her blood orange margarita. The chunky grains of salt lining the rim stick to her lips.
Later she studies herself, something raw dances in her eyes. She has a suspicion he is correct, but she doesn’t the stranger on the subway to know this. She doesn’t want him licking his lips as she crosses and uncrosses her legs. She wants it revealed at her choosing, in dimly lit rooms as curtains are closed, as bras slip off.
Her friend consoles her. It’s a line he read, a shock tactic to pick her up. Some magazine has a feature on it, eighteen tips on getting what you want in bed. Number 4: make her feel like a dirty bitch and she’ll turn into one.
At school she was taught the safest form of contraception was the word no. She was taught that her virginity was a gift, a cookie that mustn’t be given away, crumb by crumb, because her husband was waiting to give her his entire cookie on their wedding night. She must rise above wanton behavior, above the filth and destruction men would lay at her door. If she obeyed these rules St. Paul would greet her at the gates of heaven with open arms. And a monstrous erection? Her friend wrote on her pad with a smirk.
He’s peppering her face with kisses. She’s overwhelmed by the maintained eye contact, by being whispered to adoringly. It feels, she decides, like a corny Nicholas Cage movie from the ‘90s. A saxophone should be playing in the background. The camera pans to shadows dancing on the wall. Next shot: ambers burning in the fireplace.
Can’t you just fuck me?
He stops and stares. It’s a look of judgment. Filthy bitch.
She’s groggy, hungover. Her dress is on but her underwear isn’t. A male body lies next to her. She feels dry which makes her think no, they didn’t. His eyes flicker open. He knows her name. He uses it immediately, repeatedly. He tells her he was tested recently, that it’s fine. But I always use them. I have a drawer of them right there. He looks nervous.
There’s a song by LCD Soundsystem that builds slowly, perfectly to the chorus. She loves the notion that you can absolve yourself, that you can dance yourself clean. Except this time she can’t. She hesitates to use certain words, ones loaded with consequence. It’s a classic case of he said, she said, except she doesn’t remember so her voice is silenced forever.
She begins to unravel.
They meet by accident at a party and she asks what happened.
“You were drunk so I walked you home safe.”
“So I was too drunk to get home alone safe, but not too drunk to fuck?”
“I’m sorry. I lacked judgment. If there’s anything I can do.”
It’s an empty gesture. What could he possibly do to make her feel better, she thinks bitterly.
She beckons for her friend Liz and Liz’s boyfriend, Steve, to join them.
Outside, she orders him to kneel. She turns to Steve. “Unzip your trousers and piss on him.” Steve laughs nervously. “What?”
“You heard me. Piss on him. If I had a dick I’d do it.” Liz prods Steve. What’s weird is how it trickles softly. Then the pressure builds and Steve gets into it.
“Aim your dick at his hair and face.”
From his kneeled position he watches with pleading eyes. Steve has been drinking beers for hours. The kneeling figure is drenched. Please, he croaks.
At the convent she attended the pupils took turns reciting Bible passages. She was assigned Proverbs 5.
For the lips of a loose woman drip honey,
And her speech is smoother than oil;
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword.
She grew nervous standing in front of the school. She skipped a verse. Miraculously the nuns didn’t notice. They smiled and nodded their heads. Without intending to her lips have parted. She’s reciting the verses again, as though she learned them the night before and barely slept from nerves. Liz looks petrified. The kneeling man watches her strangely.
And at the end of your life you will groan,
When your flesh and body are consumed,
And you will say, “Oh, how I hated discipline,
And my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
Or incline my ear to instructors.
Now I am at the point of utter ruin in the public assembly.
He is shivering and whimpering, pleading and sobbing. Yellow beads trickle down his forehead. His eyes are stinging. The more sodden he grows, the more cleansed she becomes. She chants dramatically. Her heart sings. She closes her eyes and imagines the wearied, abused souls of thousands of women before her, damaged, wronged, scorned women from eons past.
The polarizing begins at school, she realizes with searing clarity. Are you Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary? Neither option is palatable. In this moment she is rewriting history, undoing every slur, every injustice. She senses the collective burden of women lifted, transferred onto this kneeling figure. They will never be victims again.
Drink water from your own cistern,
Flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
Streams of water in the streets?
By now the stench of piss is everywhere. He’s retching, wave after nauseous wave. And still she recites until every last droplet is released, until every ounce of humiliation and shame has attached itself to him.
Now what could be sweeter than that?