Story Fragment: SHADOW IN THE SHEETS

Part of a larger story, exploring a woman’s trauma after a sexual encounter leads to terrifying cosmic revelations – and her attempts to forget what she learned at all costs. 

Jules interviewed Naomi after the date, as she insisted upon since their sophomore year of college, though Naomi thought these questions were more precise. They had lived with each other long enough that something small, the rhythm of their steps or ferocity of a sigh, could hint at mood; so the inquiries burrowed close. “Was it okay?” she asked. “She seemed cute, and smart, but…”

Naomi paused and hitched a breath, which almost ruined her composure and spilled the truth through her teeth. But she managed, “It was fine. Great in the moment, when I was drunk, but not so special the next morning. You know how it goes.”

It gnawed at her, that only two people would ever know what had happened in her bed. She shuddered to realize that such an impossibility would go on as just that, a dream. In the end, this assurance is what kept her silent, even if it terrified her. Jules did not need to know what had occurred so close to her sleeping body. Naomi would have paid steep prices for a similar ignorance. She felt nostalgia for a time when her bed had been an escape; to melt into the worn sheets, the years-old mattress pad, was to forget the complexities of the world. Her comforter, once a prized possession because of its sheer size, now lay at the base of a dumpster several blocks away. She had tried to sleep in the sheets that next day, but could not bring herself to peel them back, in case some sign remained under them. She closed her eyes as she donned the purple rubber gloves from her bathroom and ripped them from the mattress, stuffed them into a garbage bag. It occurred to her what she must have looked like when she rushed down the street, eyes bulging and toting the soft package – realizing that she was just another crazy person on the street, a true New Yorker, kept her from screaming every time the bag bumped against her leg. Sometimes she wondered if it was still in the dumpster after all; perhaps it had slunk away on its own.

These details scuttled through her mind as she answered Jules’s questions – “What did you do? Where’d you go? Was she a good kisser?” She overcompensated in her answers, since she so vaguely skipped through the first one. She described for Jules the candle-flickering speakeasy where they had begun; Alex ordered pungent Negronis for them and grinned over hers, prepared to initiate Naomi into a dark, secret world. “This city has so many places to hide,” she whispered after the second round; “all these corridors and spaces where no one wants to go, and no one will. Imagine what’s sitting there? Who’s using those places to escape? So many stories. You look at these windows, all quiet and dark, and the heavy doors – what’s happening in there? What has happened? What will?” Had Naomi not been a little drunk, this would have bored her. It was the gloom, the aromatic gin, and most of all Alex – her voice edged with a practiced rasp, and her eyes… they glimmered with candlelight and promised, “I have seen these secret places.” Later on, she couldn’t remember what had actually been special about them. If she could have placed their draw through the gin, she might have avoided the rest of the night, and what came after. Their speckles of green seemed to spiral deep into pools of shade, and Naomi wanted to go inside, where it was cool and unknown wonders crept. Alex promised to lead her down.

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