I’m on the elevator alone for one floor before the man gets on. He stands in one corner, staring at his phone. I drink my coffee. At the next floor, two more men get on. They flank me, laughing and talking about some game somewhere. I pull my arms in at my sides, try to become smaller. Two floors down, four more men. They take up so much space—their elbows out, their bags overfull with books, their legs spread to balance themselves—that I am pushed to the back of the elevator. I spill coffee on my shirt. Ten seconds to the bottom, I say to myself. Ten seconds. I can handle this.
And then I feel something on my bare arm, and I look over and it’s the finger of the man who is still staring at his phone. The other arm is crossed in front of him and now the knuckle of that hand is tracing a line down my arm. I want to pull away but there is nowhere to go. My backpack is pressing into the elevator wall. There are men all around me. There are all men and me. So I stare straight ahead. I drink my coffee. I let him touch me, because it could be worse, it could be worse, it could always be worse and then in the middle of the next sip of scalding coffee that I bring to my lips come the memories, descending on me like a flock of birds: the time when I was ten and a waiter cornered me in the dark restaurant hallway and ran a finger down the side of my breast and said wanna fuck—the time I was twelve and wore my first bikini to a pool party, and my father’s friend walked up and put his hand on my shoulder as he talked to my dad and with the other hand, pulled gently at the string of the bikini top, letting me know he could untie it any time he wanted—the time I was fourteen and in London on the Tube late at night and the drunk man got on and pressed his erection up against me again and again and I did nothing because I was terrified and then he stumbled off at the next stop—the time when I was sixteen, and the boy I thought was a friend grabbed my breast and kissed me with whiskey breath before I was able to push him away—and the time—and the time—the time the time the time the time and then the man turns and looks at me and the memories flutter and wing away.
There’s only him now, this man. Staring at me. Touching me. The other men are oblivious or are ignoring him, and I really don’t want to know which one it is. Then the man reaches up and picks up a lock of my hair and shakes it gently, and I remember the deer I saw on the interstate median on the way to work, how her body was populated by half a dozen vultures and how, while the others stuck their beaks into her skin, one plucked her ear up between its teeth and shook her head and her neck undulated like a ribbon, and I for a second I saw her face, the way her lips were pulled back from her teeth the way that lips do when the body is beginning to break itself down again into the dirt, and I thought she must be dead, mustn’t she?
But now I realize she wasn’t dead at all but just biding her time, waiting for the car that struck her to get far enough away that it would forget, waiting for a break in the traffic long enough for her to drag her bitten, broken body from the ground with enough force that the vultures will lift and clear and she can make a run for the woods. I turn and look at the man. My hair falls from his fingers. I pull my lips back and bare my teeth, and he actually smiles because he thinks that’s what I’m doing, and then I think of the deer’s mouth again and of course of course of course. __ Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared recently in, among other places, Electric Literature, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Paper Darts and is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel and Pidgeonholes. She has received fellowships from Pen Parentis and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a residency from the Ragdale Foundation. She is currently writing her dissertation and a novel. You can find her on Twitter at @megpillow.
Photo by Elizabeth Fackler