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Picture of Sybil Smith A Dog Named Hopi

Available Now - Hanna Duston's SisterWhat I remember best, what keeps me from closing my eyes at night till the lids are weighted with so many pills they seem to fall shut of their own accord, what I remember is being blind, and not knowing where the pain would start next. The duct tape wound around my head barely let me breath. My whole naked body was alive in every follicle, each inch of skin straining to see if it would be called on next. My nerves were a class of reluctant students, none of whom knew the answer. Would it be back, buttock, thigh, neck? Would it be teeth, pliers, the mallet or the cigarette? He must have known that. Because I couldn't see him he was an entity not quite human, a sound here and there, a large, gnarled, displacement of space.

***

Weeks have gone by, my wounds have healed into pink inscrutable glyphs, my hair has grown back in. I keep a notebook. I write down what I think about (I remember it all) and bring it to Diane, my psychiatrist. I bring my sordid little offerings to her, and she sits, always in the same chair, a small woman, possessing no covert wisdom, no startling answers; just a quiet ability to receive and transmute my pain. She is a human wireless, crackling with quiet bursts of compassion. What messages I get from her seem to come from beyond her office, the quiet street, the sullen winter sky; seem to come from God. It is through Diane I have learned that God doesn't have the answers. All she does is listen, and there is nothing too terrible to say.

***

I was jogging. When the truck pulled up I stopped trustingly, and ran in place, willing to give directions, or answer queries about our land. Perhaps he wanted to hunt. Was it posted? Did we mind? There was a rifle in his gun rack. He looked clean and pleasant. He approached me smiling. When he stuck a handgun in my gut I was so shocked I felt my bowels loosen. My skin became a new organ, an organ that sensed evil, sending the heart rate up like a Geiger counter near something radioactive. In my dreams now, in my relongings, I leap away easily as a deer, and with as little hesitation. My spandex legs scissor the ditch and my feet ride the ground instinctively. My brown hair sways as I dart off into the forest. In real life I got into the truck.

***

He told me to put my head down on the seat, and I did. He put a coat over me and drove for a short jolting distance with the gun on my head, except when he shifted, in which case he laid it in his lap. I tried to tell myself that he only wanted to rape me. I thought of all the women down through the ages who had been raped, and silently asked their help. I asked their spirits to hover above us and lighten the dark corners of this man's mind. I had always felt it was possible to survive rape, if you looked upon it as something like a broken-leg, or a traumatic accident. I had real faith in hot showers and scorn, scorn for any man who thought he could hurt a woman's soul by merely using her body. My body was like a valuable china bowl, it's worth and beauty could rise above whatever it held, briefly. The problem lay in whether or not he decided to break the bowl.

***

By the time we got to where he was going I was too far for help, on a logging road a thousand screams from the nearest person. I fought when he tried to put the duct tape around my head. I pleaded.
" I'll do what you want. You don't need that."
I have to.
" Why?"
I have to.
I tried to look him in the eyes. He wouldn't let me. He got angry then, and hit me across the temple with his gun. I still have the mark there, and it throbs as I write this down. Stunned, I let him wrap my head. I couldn't breathe at first and flopped like a grounded fish on the front seat of his truck. He straddled me and held my head still, making small slits where my nostrils were, and I pulled in air with pathetic gratitude. I wanted him to cut a space for my mouth, but could not tell him this. When I grunted he ignored me. Once my face was covered he felt freer with me. I was his thing then. He was still straddling me and he squeezed my breasts, squeezed and kneaded and ground himself against me. He pulled my shirt up, pulled away my jog bra, and gloated in his treasure. I could tell he had pictured this for a long time, and that it was better than he had imagined. I felt his breath on my bare chest, as if he were bending to listen to my heart. Then he bit me on the nipple. That first pain was horrible. I hit out blindly and managed to smash his head. He went into an ecstasy of hate then. Bitch, cunt, whore, cunt, bitch. I'll fix you. He turned me on my stomach and bound my wrists with more tape. He put my face in his lap, hitched my hands to the door handle, covered me with a coat, and started up the truck again. We drove for a long time. The place where he had bitten me burned. I breathed in the clean scent of his pants. He wasn't dirty. I plotted and planned. I did not give up. When he opened the door I'd run. When he untied my hands I'd gouge at his eyes. I'd wet my pants so he wouldn't want me. I thought of my husband, Brad. I was sorry we'd been fighting so much lately, and that I hadn't said good-bye that morning. If I lived through this he'd say that this proved he was right, we should move back to the city. He hated Vermont. I thought of my cat. I went over the jog that morning, remembering each step. I swore that if I lived I would never again forget how quickly the world could change. I would never take another thing for granted. The sun rising, the road meeting my feet, air, digestion, water, the color blue; I would never stop blessing them for simply being there.

***

He brought me to his house. I could tell it was his house because he used a garage door opener. I heard a dog barking. Without words he pulled me up and led me in, using a key. The dog jumped all over us, as if I were an old friend. I thought it was a Lab, probably. Something about the weight and the bark.
Toby, the man said. Toby, old boy. Hi.
He said this in the voice of a man who loved his dog. It filled me with hope. I heard a tone, a cadence, that reminded me the rest of the world was still there, out of this nightmare, carrying on with a modicum of sanity, using the old rules. Toby followed us upstairs. The duct tape was still in place, and I could feel blood loosening the area where he'd hit my head. My tears, too, had softened the glue. The man lay me on a bed. He undid my hands. I tried to thank him, but once again the sounds of my grunts unnerved me. I didn't want to sound like that. It made it easier for him to think of me as an animal, a catch. Right away he pulled down my pants. Then he realized he had to take off my shoes. He did it, efficiently. Then he spread my legs and took me in the ordinary way. I was dry with fear, but it didn't hurt. I wanted him to finish as soon as he could. I hoped then whatever drove him would be released, he would be out of fuel. But his fuel supply was bigger than I'd imagined. Who knew what? A sadistic mother, a treacherous girlfriend, a secret life, a sodomizing older cousin, spirit possession, whatever it was it held him hostage.

***

I tell Diane everything. Every little thing. Her philosophy is this:
if I could live it, surely she is strong enough to hear it. Each detail must be carefully gone over, to flush out any poison attached. In the hospital, after I saved myself, the nurses cleaned every wound with peroxide and betadine. They had given me a shot for pain, so it didn't hurt that much. Two nurses worked together. They sighed and dabbed and sighed some more. One of them started crying and left the room. Then another new nurse came in. Diane is doing the same thing, only she working on the scenes inside my head. Instead of peroxide she anoints them with light. Then she applies the cream of acceptance.
When I fought for my life, when I used every wile, I shamelessly tarnished the noble ideal. When I was young I used to read silly romances, so I know what the noble ideal is. The heroine, a feisty woman, closes her legs and says, kill me if you must, my honor is more important than my life. She lifts her chin and says, you're a beast. Do your worst. You shall not besmirch my soul, though I be dead. My strategy was different. I decided that I must, in as much as possible, please him. I must figure out what he needed, and give it willingly.
The problem was, he needed pain. My pain. He had set the room up to torture me, and that was what he set about to do. He put me on my stomach and tied my hands to the bedpost. Still I wasn't sure what was happening. I did not know this till I heard the match, and smelled smoke. My sphincter tightened. Suddenly I felt a hot pain on my right buttock. It felt like a bee sting, magnified a million times. I could not really scream, because of the tape, but the moan that came out of me was gestated over centuries. It was low, deep, rising, it took every sac of my lung and wrung it empty. The pliers were next. He twisted the skin on my left thigh till I felt the flesh give with a pop. Then the mallet. It was a rubber mallet. He pounded my head with it. Suddenly I knew that he would kill me unless I talked to him. I couldn't point to my mouth, so I nodded my head up and down, up and down, while groaning out a metered series of grunts. In a moment of weakness he slit the duct tape between my lips. Curiosity got the better of him. I had very little to work with. I kept thinking of how I looked, my head a silver knob. How could I bring dignity to it? Words. Words.
"Listen. Please let me go. I don't mind that you raped me. You needed it. I promise I won't tell anyone. I just don't want to be hurt."
You saw my face.
Yeah. So? Why should I tell? All I want is to get home and....
What do you think I am stupid? Do you think I think you won't run to the first cop?
" I won't. I won't. I promise."
Did you like it?
" Well, to be honest, I was scared, so I couldn't get into it. It would help if...what's your name?"
Just call me Sir.
" Sir, it seems like you just have a lot of strong feelings and you need to act them out. But that's okay. As long as you don't hurt someone."
I like your tits.
"Feel them again if your want. I don't mind."
Call me Sir.
" Sir."
He straddled me and pushed my breasts together. A nice set, he whispered. You're so hot. You like it, don't you. Tell me you like it.
" I like it, Sir."

***

Sometimes I joke with people. People look at me now like I'm different, special, amazing. Everyone is so politically correct, they wouldn't think of feeling that I was blackened by my experience. Openly, that is. But underneath, I wonder. My husband, Brad, for instance. He is afraid of me. He doesn't dare touch me. One time he saw me coming out of the shower with my scars red from the heat, and he turned away. He always loved me for being perfect, smart, hip, pretty, fit. I was marked now. I would always remind him he wasn't safe either. Mostly people don't talk about it, when actually I'd like to talk. They say things like, "You're so brave. I don't know how you found the strength." And I say stuff like, "some field trip. Don't sign up for that one." Or, "Yeah it was bad, but it was the direct route to God. I never could find the time to meditate." That's supposed to be a joke, but the truth is, I believe I may have found God that day. When the pain hit, my soul shot out of my body and something held it. The pain was still there but I discovered that pain could not kill me. I discovered that it was pure and powerful, but not deadly. I learned my mind could dwell on each locus of pain, each bite and burn, and still skip above it, like someone hopping across stones to cross a brook. Most important, though, was that I learned my torturer was human. When he entered me from behind, and quivered with pleasure, I hated that, too, but welcomed it as a smaller pain. And his skin brought some strange relief on
mine, on my wounds, with weight and relative coolness. After the second rape he turned me on my back. This time I tried to jump up and run. I blundered against a wall while he wrestled with me. I could sense he was getting angry so I stopped fighting. He led me to the bed and tied my hands again.
Bad girl, he said.
" I'm sorry I was bad. I won't do it again."
I have to punish you now.
" I'll give you a blow job," I offered.
You'd bite my prick off, he said.
Then he leaned down near me. My skin prickled. He began biting my breasts, so hard he broke the skin. This time I could scream. My wail bounced off the walls and filled the room with a chill. The dog scratched at the door, whining. The screaming upset him. Sir was distracted. He loved the dog, and though he could torture me, he could not leave his dog in discomfort. He opened the door and the dog came in. It sniffed the blood and I felt its cold nose on me.
" That's a nice dog," I said. "What kind is it?"
A dog.
" How long have you had him?"
Five years, since he was a pup.
" I'd like to get a dog," I said.
There was a silence than. If... the silence intoned. If....
The truth was, I'd never wanted a dog.

***

I don't know why he let me go. The police say it was because I kept on talking. When he hurt me and hurt me I never gave up. I screamed and pleaded, but I never swore at him, or cursed him, or told him he was evil. I wanted to, but I knew that was the one thing he couldn't stand right then. He would have had to kill me for telling the truth. Right then, he needed lies. Myself, I always think the dog brought him to his senses. The dog's simple dislike of what was going on, made Sir ashamed. I have to kill you, he said at one point.
" No, you don't," I replied.
You'll tell.
" I won't tell. This will be our secret, forever."
How can I believe you?
" Because I'm different."
How?
" I understand. You don't really want to kill me."
He didn't reply. I knew I was on the right track.
" You have these thoughts and these urges, but deep inside you are not a bad man."
How can you not hate me, after what I've done?
" I'm a Buddhist," I lied. "I don't believe hate is a useful emotion."
The odd thing, the oddest thing is that while I spoke these words I believed them. And if I hadn't believed them he would have known, and would have killed me. Later, when I was safe, I felt the anger and the hatred. They swept through me like an avalanche, and I had terrible daydreams in which I crushed his head, stabbed him, lit him on fire. Now I think of him, sitting in his bare room in prison, and feel sad. I don't want him to be free, but nor do I want him to die. If I saw him face to face I would feel I was meeting someone I knew well, someone I'd been to hell and back with. He drove me home. The duct tape was still wrapped around my head. The dog was with us in the cab. I was afraid he'd change his mind, and a fit of shivering assailed my body. I held the dog so Sir wouldn't see. Toby and I lay together on the seat, and comfort flowed from his thick, leaf scented fur. He knew where my house was. He'd been watching me, he said. He knew I jogged. He took the tape off. Some of my hair came with it. I made sure to keep my eyes down. I didn't look at him. I pretended that I wasn't looking at anything, but I saw that Toby was not a lab, as I'd imagined, but a black Collie. I wrapped this clue in silence and hid it in my mind. He walked me to the door and for the first time I wanted to laugh out of sheer hysteria, because I thought it was like a date. He was walking me to the door. Would he want a kiss? Should I say, I had fun, give me a call sometime?
Instead I said, "Good-bye. I won't tell. I promised, and I never lie."
, Good-bye he said.
I opened the door and went in. I closed it and sank against it, still in the dream state that had saved me. I didn't even lock it. I just leaned on the door and breathed. Then he knocked. This is the part I go over and over with Diane. Why did I let him back in? The cops wonder too, and Brad. Somehow I knew it was the right thing. I wanted him to stay in the dream I'd woven, in which he was safe, in which I didn't hate him. If I'd locked him out he might have come through a window. I didn't have the strength to fight. If I'd used the phone he might have heard me. There was no one around. He was waiting to see if I
kept my end of the bargain.
I opened the door. I looked at him calmly. I need paper towel, he said. I want to wipe my fingerprints off your doorknob.
" Okay," I replied. "Here, take the whole roll. Be sure to clean your truck too."
Thank you, he said. The door shut again. This time I went into action. I silently turned the doorknob lock, but not the deadbolt. I tiptoed upstairs and found the key to Brad's drawer. I got the gun. I loaded it, as he'd taught me. By this time the shaking was so bad I could barely get the bullets in. I looked out the window. He was cleaning his truck. I tiptoed downstairs and out the back door. I left it open, and ran, hoping Toby wouldn't bark. The woods are about two hundred feet from our back door. It was the longest two hundred feet I've ever run, and I've run marathons. In the woods I went faster, scrabbling up the ridge like an animal. I ran and ran. I must have gone two miles before I dared to look around. No one was there. A crow called. The wind blew. It was late fall, and cold. I sank to the ground and held it. It felt warm. The rest was easier. I walked back home. I skirted the house. The truck was gone. The back door was still open. The garage door was open, as it had been. Still, I didn't dare go in. Instead I went to the neighbors trailer, and knocked on the door. When the woman, Betty Dowd, is her name, when she saw me, all bloody, with the gun in my hand, she shut the door and locked it.
" Call the police," I yelled. "I've been ...raped."
" Okay", she yelled back.
I waited for a time on her step, and finally she inched the door open.
" Will you put the gun down?" she asked.
" Yes," I said. I left it on the step. She let me in. She took one look at me, in my torn, dirty, bloody jogging outfit with my hair torn out in clumps, and burst out crying. From that moment on the world could not do enough for me. Again and again I saw it, on the faces of police and nurses; horror, anger, and the wish to take away my pain. Respect, too, after I'd told my story. I told them everything I remembered. He made me call him sir. He had a Collie named Toby. His truck was a new model Chevy. He was about forty, medium height and weight, no distinguishing marks. They had him in two days. They went to every town clerk in every town an hour away from my town, and looked for a dog license for a Collie named Toby. So Toby saved me again. Since then I have thought that the dog was an angel. I hate that show on TV about angels. I think this angel craze is sappy. But still, I kept thinking about Toby. I asked Diane if this was delusional, part of the PTSD parcel. She thought and said that my bond with the dog was reasonable. Toby had been a comfort during my ordeal. Perhaps, as I had speculated, Ralph (I found out his name was Ralph Weston) didn't kill me because of the dog. One of the detectives, an eager, clean cut guy named Ken, had handed me his card after one of our debriefings. I called the number. He got right on the phone. He asked me how I was. I told him I was okay. I had been given pills, and was seeing a psychiatrist, because I had trouble sleeping.
" That's par for the course," he assured me.
" Duh," I replied.
" Sorry," he said, and laughed. "You're pretty neat, for a lawyer," he added.
" Lawyer bashing is boring," I said.
" Go ahead, bust my chops," he said kindly.
" Sorry," I said.
" No problem," he replied. "You could fart into the phone right now and I'd clap my hands."
Then I laughed. I laughed hard.
" It's a relief to talk to someone whose seen the ugly stuff," I told him.
" I might ask you to slide me a few sleeping pills," he said.
There was a silence.
" I wanted to ask about the dog."
" Good old Toby," he said.
" Yeah."
" We brought him to the SPCA."
" Oh no!" I said. "No one will adopt him."
" We asked Ralph's family if they wanted it. You can guess what they said."
"Negatory."
He laughed.
"Have they killed him yet," I asked.
"Don't know," he said. "I'll check for you."

***

When he called me back he said the dog was still alive. The people at the SPCA didn't know if they had a right to kill it, until they knew what was going to happen to the owner. Ken told them the owner was going to the Big House for a long long time, longer than Toby would live.
"What's your interest," he asked.
"I want the dog," I said.
He laughed. "There must be a law against that," he said.
"Not that I'm aware of," I replied.
"If I was you, " he said, "I'd have someone else go and get him, and then give him to you."
"My husband's not keen on the idea," I said.
"You're the one that matters right now," he said.
I was silent.
"Why don't you think about it for a few days," he continued. "If you still want the dog I'll see what I can do."

***

A week later, after I'd thought, after Ken had thought, a silver Subaru pulled up in the yard. I was not alone, my family has been staying with me in shifts. They screened visitors. My mother looked out the window.
"Oh my, whose that handsome boy?" she asked.
"Ken," I said. "A detective."
"What does he have left to detect?" she asked.
I got my sense of humor from my mother. Ken waited by his car. He didn't even come to the door. Toby danced around him in the new snow that had fallen. Both of them had haloes of fog around their heads, from the cold. I put on my coat and my Sorels, and went
out.
" You could come in." I said.
" I wanted you to come out," he answered. "It's such a nice clean day."
Toby was investigating some bushes with his nose. He bounded over to us. He was so glad to be out of his pen, he couldn't get enough of running. But he stopped long enough for me to squat down and hug him. He sniffed me and I swore his pupils widened. He sniffed my neck and then my crotch. Both Ken and I could have pretended this didn't happen, but we didn't.
" Yup, it's her," Ken told him.
I laughed. "You always make me laugh," I said. "You're so ...vulgar.
My mother was watching us from the kitchen window.
" Mom's watching," Ken told me.
" I know," I said. "I told her about the dog."
Toby went after a Blue Jay at the feeder. The Jay was indignant.
" Good dog," I said. "I hate those bully Jays."
Ken called the dog over. He held on to his collar. "You going to change his name?"
" Yeah. I'm gonna call him Hopi. Long for hope."
Ken laughed. I took hold of the dog's collar. Our hands met.
" Thank you," I said.
He bent down and whispered some instructions in Hopi's ears. "You take care of her," I heard him say, but I couldn't catch the rest. Ken's head was right below me. I touched his clean, soft hair, and then held his head with both hands. He didn't move. It was the first time I'd intentionally touched a man since the thing had happened. It made me so scared, and so sad, I started to cry. Ken stood up. Then I bent to the dog, and wailed into his fur, big sobs I'd held in before. Ken waited till I was done. When I looked at him he
had tears in his eyes.
" I guess I did the right thing" he said.
" Yes," I whispered.
" You still got my card?" he asked.
" Yes," I said.
" Wal," he said, tipping an imaginary hat, "let me know if I kin be of sarvice Mam."

***

He drove off. I stood outside for awhile, which I hadn't done for quite some time. For the first time the world looked pure. I knew this wouldn't last, the snow would get dirty, and then there would be mud season. But then, in May, the landscape would swell with eighty colors of green, and I would accept it like the gift it was. I would jog again, with Hopi at my side, and his bark would penetrate the dark corners of heaven.

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