New Fiction: Letter From Melinda
September 7, 2001
The following story is probably not for the timid. The story contains mature themes and sexual situations that some readers will find offensive. If you are offended by such material, I’d advise you to just back out now, rather than reading it and sending hate mail later.
When I was a kid I didn’t have many friends. Not much has changed now that I’m an adult. My best childhood chum was a girl named Melinda. That isn’t her real name. Her real name isn’t important, at least not to you. Melinda was the all-American tomboy. We ran, jumped, skipped, hopped and played all the other games kids play. We kissed once, beneath the porch stairs of her parents house—the innocent kiss of two children who merely decided to mimic our adult counterparts. As we grew older, Melinda and I grew apart—quite abruptly, in fact, following one particular Memorial Day weekend in the late 1970s. After that, we rarely spoke or saw one another. By high school we’d become strangers; that was twenty-two years ago.
Today, I run a small antiques shop in Philadelphia. It’s one of the shops located in the self-proclaimed Antique Row of the city. My specialty is Tiffany lamps, in case you’re wondering. I received a letter today—a letter from Melinda. And, as I’ve said, Melinda is but an alias. I’ve chosen to maintain her anonymity. Having grown up in a small town, I don’t suspect that after all this time anyone in that town would remember me, or my friend Melinda, so I feel that it is acceptable to share her words here and now. Don’t ask me anything else about the matter because my facts are as limited as what follows. I’ve often wondered what happened that drew us apart—that caused our friendship to cease with such totality and finality. Now, having read her words, I know. But somehow, I kind of wish I didn’t. Melinda, I wish you well wherever you are.
Sorry, I don’t know what else to say besides “Hi.” Pretty unoriginal, huh? I guess you are wondering why I’m writing. I’m not sure myself, really. But I just, I don’t know, needed to explain a few things. I’ll start at the beginning—even though you know that part—but I’ll start at the beginning anyway, in the off-chance that this letter should end up in the hands of someone other than you. I really don’t care if it does. You’ve noticed there is no return address, and I’m not going to sign my last name. So if someone else does read it, perhaps all the better.
I grew up in a small town in the northeastern part of Vermont. It was just the four of us in the house—mom, dad, my brother, and me. Mom had wanted one boy and one girl and she’d gotten her wish. She and I were best friends all through my childhood. Shortly after I turned 9, she had to take a part-time evening job to help with the bills accumulated from some recent home renovations. Dad worked long hours as a civil engineer and money was always a concern, though never a worry.
When I was 13, I was attacked by my older brother (who was 18 at the time). I guess I was naïve. I guess I never saw it coming. I was 13 and my world revolved around tv’s Hardy Boys (Shawn Cassidy and Parker Stephenson), Rick Springfield, and Tiger Beat magazine. I didn’t know he’d been reading my diary. Didn’t know he’d been going through my clothes drawers and touching my undergarments. And when I discovered this, quite by accident on the Memorial Day, 1978, he attacked me. I’ve managed, over the years since then, to repress most of the horrible memories--the pain, the humiliation—of that day. Every so often, however, when I close my eyes, I still see that sick look of sexual depravity upon Vincent’s twisted face, can still feel the pain in my wrists from his tight grasp on me. Not long ago while walking home from work I passed a small dry-cleaning shop. A woman was leaving the shop, her freshly laundered and plastic-protected garments held in her left hand as she pushed open the door with her right. Unknown to her, the garment bag became caught in the door as she started to walk away. Her newly cleaned dress suddenly tore with a loud ripping sound as I walked past her. I fell to the ground and began to shake. The sound of fabric--of clothing--ripping always takes me right back to that awful holiday afternoon.
He said he’d kill me if I made a sound. So I didn’t. He later said he’d kill me if I told mom or dad or anyone else for that matter. He mentioned you by name, actually. So I didn’t tell. Not right away, anyway. Vincent was a big lummox of an adolescent. The kind of person who never outgrew the torture of small insects under a magnifying glass. The kind of person who would laugh as, stumbling to catch it, the bus pulled away from the frail elderly couple who will have to wait another hour in the rain for the next bus. The kind of person who could rape his own sister.
I cannot say I was sorry to learn he’d been killed. Even after all this time. The pain never goes away nor does the anger that accompanies it. He was killed when his truck failed to negotiate a turn at Eagle Creek Road. A toxicology report revealed his blood alcohol level to be well beyond the legal limit. Big surprise! I didn’t attend the funeral. I didn’t want to give him that much satisfaction. He was nothing to me. A nonperson. And I would not sit in a church for one minute—much less one hour—of my life while a priest and congregation he never knew, wasted their valuable time and sincerity praying for his immortal soul. No. I stayed home and toasted to his death. It was a fine toast, actually—that was four years ago. I would pay him my respects, but not on that day.
The hours that followed the afternoon of Memorial Day, 1979, were perhaps the most painful hours of my life—perhaps more painful then had been what he’d done to me. The family was making social in the yard. The charcoal grille smoked heavily as steaks, hot dogs, and hamburgers fried to a crisp. Mom had been calling me for several minutes but I knew better than to cry out. So I stayed silent. “Go clean yourself up. Then tell her you were in the bathroom,” he instructed, after he’d spent his seed upon my belly. So I did. I cried silently as I walked into the bathroom. Cried as I washed his filth from my stomach. Cried as I removed my torn dress and slipped on another that was hanging on the back of the bathroom door. I hadn’t remembered putting it there. Perhaps he had. Perhaps it had been that calculated an act. No. I’d caught him by surprise gratifying himself with my open underwear drawer. His attack was, I believe, spontaneous. I reeled in the tears as I walked downstairs, through the living room and kitchen, and out to the back yard. He was already out there. His eyes—the eyes of a rat that had been spotted by a searchbeam at night--met mine as I closed the kitchen door. The rest of the day was spent in the family circle—eating, playing badminton and horseshoes, and launching poorly made fireworks moments after dusk had arrived. I cringed at each blinding explosion. I felt he was close in proximity to me and I knew he’d be wanting me again.
The following evening I entered his room. He was on his bed, headphones wrapped around his thick skull, listening to Aerosmith. His eyes looked at me cautiously and I crawled onto the bed atop him. The grin he wore was Cheshire and he removed the headset.
“I want to tell you something,” I said.
He looked at me, the sick glean was in his eye.
“I learned a trick. A very interesting trick. Read it in one of those Detective magazines.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, his face becoming a roadway of confusion.
“It went like this: A woman had been raped by a family member. Just like you raped me. She was afraid. She didn’t speak to anyone about it because she was so afraid. But she felt she had to protect herself. So she took a razor blade—you know, the thin, flexible kind that are sharp on both ends—and she dulled one end of it. The other end she kept sharp—‘razor sharp’ as the expression goes.” I moved off of him and stood up and began to walk slowly back and forth across the room.
“So she put the razor blade…inside her. She put he dull end in first so she wouldn’t cut herself. And she kept it there because she thought herself vulnerable. She slept with it there. She bathed with it there. She even went to her office with it inside of her. And sure enough, one evening her brother came in and attacked her. But do you know what happened? Her soft, wet flesh was tainted with the cold, steel sharpness of metal. He didn’t find this out until he’d tried to penetrate her. And it sliced him up good—down there. He never did fully regain the use of his member. And of course it was rather a difficult thing to explain to the doctors, his parents, and the police.”
He looked at me dumbfounded. Not with anger. Not with fear or concern. His was a look of slow, blank comprehension. I pulled open his door and stepped out of the room. As I looked back in I held open my hand to reveal the razors and said, “Have a pleasant night’s sleep.”
He never touched me again and, three months later, shortly after his 19th birthday, he moved out of the house and into a place of his own. I cannot say if my “talk” with him influenced these decisions in any way, but I’d like to think it did. On Memorial Day, 1980, the memories flooded back. They continued to do so each year, fading a little bit more with each turn of the calendar page. I met Dennis five years ago on, of all days, Memorial Day, and fell in love instantly. That’s helped a lot. Last weekend, we visited Vincent’s grave. It was covered with foliage and the grass was uncut. I don’t think neither mom nor dad has visited the grave since their divorce. Not that I care. Anyway, Dennis and I opened a bottle of champagne we’d brought with us. We toasted--not to my brother--but to the love Dennis and I share. We then pissed on Vincent’s grave and made love atop a nearby mausoleum. After that, as dusk fell, we lit fireworks in the cemetery. Their radiance lit up the starless sky and the smoke that hung in the air for long minutes afterward was sweet as an early morning dew drop.
I’m sorry about us—about how I just abandoned our friendship. It was difficult to be around boys (and men) after what Vincent had done to me. I always wanted you to know that, and I guess it’s taken me this long to say it to you—and really, I don’t even have the courage to do it in person. So forgive me for that, if you can. If for no other reason, then for the friendship we used to share. I know that we’ll never see each other again—too much time has past, don’t you think? But you should know that sometimes I dream of us. I dream of us as children, and those dreams are sweet and innocent, the type of innocence that can only be found in dreams. But I’m healing, more each day. Dennis is wonderful (you two would get along great). My nightmares are fewer. And someday, my only nightmares will be those of death or nuclear Armageddon. That’ll be a sweet time indeed.
NEXT: Part I of a new short-story: On the Bus
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