when her washer breaks, it takes weeks of hand washing underwear & dress pants & frilly shirts with borax in the bathtub before little-nothing calls her landlord. tips & tricks from google fail them both, so after a series of phone calls to 1-800-GE-CARES (which is a lie, the landlord said, because i’m pretty sure they don’t), she schedules an appointment for someone from the company to look at it.
she hopes the technician will be a motorcycle-riding woman in her mid-fifties with long silver hair, a broad-shouldered walk, & an accent that rolls southern-slow over words like dirt & grits, but gender schemas allow her to intuit that the technician will be a man. the week before the appointment, little-nothing fixates on that: you will be alone, in the one place that finally feels safe to you, with a man capable of hurting you. she sketches out a mental list of each person she could ask to be present for the appointment: the landlord who works as a welder & is married to a woman who sends monthly checks to christian organizations that give charity to children in third-world countries with cleft palettes; the ex-boyfriend who has not, will not, return the call little-nothing made in tears one week earlier while wishing she’d been able to tell her dead granddad, poppa is hurting me; the friend who plays video games late, sleeps till one in the afternoon, & only leaves her apartment to hang pizza coupons on people’s doorknobs in nice neighborhoods; the trio of professors who taught her to nurture her sentences & sat with her, one by one, to sponge up words like child & father & sexaul assault as she breathed them, aloud, into the air.
she tells herself to be brave. she doesn’t call anyone.
the morning of the appointment, she thinks of telling the neighbors downstairs, if you hear my screams, please call the police, or asking them to putz around out in the yard. again, she tells herself to be brave. she doesn’t knock; she doesn’t request; she doesn’t ask. she busies herself with her appearance: a too-big sweatshirt & work pants that suggest vulnerability, victim, & mess; a loose t-shirt that shows her bra lines & suggests ready, easy, & mess; a plain lavender polo shirt that says strictly professional. she worries about makeup & whether to wear it–if she doesn’t, he will think she is ugly & rarely approached by men, making her an easy target; if she does & he hurts her anyway, maybe the police will take her more seriously if she presents her most attractive face, her bounciest curls–but maybe they won’t. she doesn’t know, so she pencils on her eyeliner. there is no time for the mascara when he calls to tell little-nothing he has arrived.
the technician, who is tall, thin, & has an easy laugh, arrives a little after ten o’clock. he calls from down the street, says he’s knocking at the door. she walks into the road, says, turn around; do you see me? i’m wearing a purple shirt, & waves her arm high in the air. once he’s at the right house & in the bathroom, pressing buttons on & latching & unlatching the door of the washing machine, she can’t find the place in the room to pin her body. she hovers at the kitchen sink, clearing crumbs from the counter. if he comes into the kitchen & sees that it is clean, he will know she is good; she will be desirable in her cleanliness but untouchable. she stands at the edge of the living room very still, holding her breath for as long as she can. if she moves & he hears her, it means she wants him to come look for her; if she is so quiet & so still, he will forget she is even here. she shuts the bedroom door, because if it’s open, he will see the unmade bed, the pile of folded clothes waiting to be put away, & think opportunity. then she perches at the edge of a cushion on the couch, alice sebold’s lucky open in her lap. if he sees her reading, he will recognize the title; he will know the words inside, & he will have to decide whether she will fight him off or melt, boneless, into a soup of arteries & sinew.
nothing happens, her washer can’t be fixed, & little-nothing walks him out through the front gate. the neighbors are in the yard; they look her in the eyes, glance at the technician, say hello. her eyes settle on the ground, a lump forming in her throat, & she wonders if they think it’s all a farce–the toolbox he carries, the nametag he wears–& suspect that little-nothing lured him out of his clothes, lured his body into her body.
alone in her apartment, little-nothing wishes to fold her body in on itself. her mind lets go, drifts into the air. she spends the rest of the day disoriented, confused, the sound of her voice an echo from yards away.