There was no evidence of blood.
I considered that a good sign.
In fact, there was no evidence at all that I had come to the right place. I might have made a mistake. Taken the wrong, winding staircase up the wrong close. Arrived at the wrong time, perhaps. No one was around.
I worried at the absence of smells. Surely, every place has its own aroma. I’m susceptible to their detection but I could scent nothing here. I would have expected something, anything, to suggest that due precautions were taken to alleviate pain. Where was that hint of anaesthetic? The vague but overpowering antisceptic sterility? I almost left then. My nose knows when something is off.
But a door opened and he bid me enter. I was, momentarily, rooted to the spot. Incapable of going forward. Incapable of running.
The blood I had been looking for was found.
Every inch of him was doused in someone else’s blood. I imagined his apron had once been pristine. Now, even what little remained of white, was tinted dirty pink. The rest, a scarlet affront. I was glad he did not extend a hand in greeting. I could not have touched his blood-encrusted flesh.
He turned his back on me, without so much as a grunt. Somehow, I moved. Don’t ask me why I went with him. I can only believe, now, that the greater pain of not doing so galvanised my action.
Most of what followed was done with my eyes closed. I did not want to look again upon the room I had entered. Did not want to see the tools of his lurid trade. Could not bear to witness what had to be.
Saliva dribbled from his mouth, in anticipation of his prize, while my tongue, in dry refusal, resisted movement to arrest the oncoming onslaught. In unique betrayal, it would shortly attempt to drown itself, and threaten my survival, by its river-swollen size.
I did then what I had to do. What I always do.
I went inside myself. Found a place there, where the deepest of breaths attempted to calm my soul. His breath upon me, too close for any stranger, stirred my idle scent awareness. He overpowered. I was manhandled. Felt the force of his efforts. Cried inside for the child, in me, who had no one’s hand to hold. No one to rescue me.
As he renewed his efforts, I renewed mine. Green waves, upon a golden shore, shushed my rapid heartbeat. Distant voices called to me. Told me it would soon be over. Promised survival. I accepted their reassurances despite grievous, internal misgivings. They must know better than I. They had seen it all before. Borne witness to every such assault. Knew the outcomes; the gains and the losses.
They were right. They’re always right.
The twenty-something woman I awoke to, instructed me that a check-up, in six months, would be all that was further required. I left, at last, one tooth and twenty-seven pounds lighter. My worst imaginings merely a product of age-old fears and a certain scene from Les Mis.
But, ouch, all the same.