Through the front room window she watched Isaac drive away. He was proud of the van. His first choice of car after the accident had been a fuel-efficient compact, Japanese model, but it was too cramped for her crippled body and too small to transport a wheel chair. Yesterday she had undergone a painful physiotherapy session that had drained all of her energy. Today, she did not have an appointment. She wheeled into the kitchen and, having lost her appetite, scraped the eggs into the trash bin under the sink. She could turn on the taps from her sitting position, or stand by supporting herself against the counter, and do the dishes, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to wash so few dishes.
Rain threatened again today. The first week of June was especially wet and unnaturally cold. She wore her fleece sweat suit because the house was chilly. Isaac preferred not to build a fire in the wood stove after the first of April, relying on the electric baseboards heaters. She loved how wood heat penetrated into the marrow of her bones. Electricity did remove the damp, but she struggled into a sweater over her fleece top and was thankful for her woollen socks.
For a moment Emma considered starting a fire herself. Even from a wheelchair, she could open the door, crumple paper, insert kindling, and strike match. Individually the logs, of which a few still remained on the back porch, were not heavy. She could wheel them in on her lap. Isaac, though, would strongly object to a fire in June, even more if she had built it. She had already raised the thermostat to no good effect.
Emma supposed she was glad that Isaac had taken an early retirement. Before the accident, her notion had been to continue working at the pharmaceutical company for another ten years. He did so much for her and sometimes she felt lonely and frustrated confined to a wheelchair or practising to walk with crutches. A hot bath would warm her body. Isaac still felt it necessary to bathe her until she protested that she wasn’t a child, having to convince him that she was capable of washing herself.
A bath board had been secured across the tub. A shower hose attached to the faucet was within easy reach. True, she could not lie back and soak in scented, bubbly waters. Sitting on a white board, directing the spray over her head, down her back, against her breasts and stomach and over her legs, then scrubbing herself with a washcloth, did not rank high on her list of sensual delights. The physical activity, though, performed in Isaac’s absence, provided its own satisfaction.
Without the presence of a bathroom on the first floor, she would not have been able to leave the rehab until she could up walk up the stairs to the washroom on the second floor. Opening the door, she wheeled over the threshold into a green and white, ceramic tiled room, brightened by light streaming through a very large sash window. It looked over the vegetable garden. The abundant lilac bushes between the vegetables and their neighbour’s provided privacy. White shutters covered the bottom half of the window and a hunter green shade, when pulled down, covered the top.
Rain began to fall. As Emma undressed, she watched the drops splatter, then gutter, down the panes. A massive grey and striated cloud looked like the underside of an island floating in the sky. Enjoying the view of their garden in the rain, she decided against closing the shutters or pulling down the shade. Large enough to allow Emma to manoeuvre the wheelchair, the room also contained a pine linen cupboard. Suspended from the high ceiling in front of the window, a many-legged spider plant arched over the rim of a green pot.
Raising herself out of the wheelchair and sliding herself onto the bath board over which she had spread a towel – it was so cold to the touch – her sense of relief deepened into wonderfully guilty feelings of pleasure. Adjusting the water temperature, Emma wet her hair. Lifting a breast, she washed underneath. Isaac spent so much time at home. Was it absolutely necessary? She didn’t mind being left alone.
The rain splattered hard against the window. Emma turned her head, dropped the hose with water still squirting out of it, and screamed. A man was staring at her. His face half-covered with a yellow rain hat, he pressed his lips puckering out of black beard against the glass and moved his head in a circular motion. Emma reached for a bath towel from the wheel chair and covered herself. The hose squirmed at the bottom of the tub and shot water upwards, wetting her towel. His hands splayed against the glass, the man opened his mouth and licked the rain. The hands became fists and he tapped them on the pane.
The instinct run was so powerful that Emma’s body jolted as if electricity bristled and burned along her nerves. She shouted “go away, I’ll call the police.” Water was still spraying out of the shower hose, soaking the towel covering her body. Clutching it to her stomach, she leaned over and turned off the faucets, nausea rising in her throat. If only Isaac were home. She did not look at the window, but knew the creep was still pressing his face against it. Every piece of metal in her legs clanged and clicked, vibrating against her bones, her blood chilled, and goose bumps pimpled her flesh.
The front and back doors: were they locked? Not the bathroom door. She had seen no reason to lock it. True, Isaac always secured the doors when he left her alone and had told her never to open them to any one she wasn’t expecting. Surely the stranger wanted to get into the house. Emma could not help herself but turn to see him again. His mouth gaping and thin-lipped, a thick tongue like a dog’s protruding through the black beard so obviously false it was laughable. Emma did not laugh. He could break the glass, double panes notwithstanding. She looked for something to throw at him. If wishes were facts, the spider plant would leap out of the pot and spread its hairy legs like a giant tarantula against the window and frighten the monster away.
They did not keep a gun in the house. The man rubbed his mouth and tongue up and down the pane, his beard slipping. Neighbours couldn’t see her bathroom window from any of their own windows or yards. She wondered what she could use as a weapon to defend herself. Quickly searching the pine cupboard and the vanity, her mind saw a hair dryer, rolls of toilet paper, and Isaac’s razor blades. With a razor blade she’d be able to slash the man’s face if he attacked. Fighting back the urge to pee, Emma imagined for a moment how pathetic and frustrated the creep must be that he spied on a crippled woman in her bathtub. God, her bladder bulged and hummed.
He was doing something — hoisting his body? Raise himself he did until his waist was higher than the window sill. He unzipped his pants. His flesh would be cold like a dead fish in winter. She wished for a dog to materialize miraculously, a pit bull especially trained to snap down hard on the genitals of voyeurs. She had only her mangled, naked body which, judging by a penis fondled outside her window, could drive a man wild with desire.
Trying to scream, Emma could not: desperate to stand, she could not: desperate for a plant to metamorphose magically and for ferocious guard dogs to appear, they did not. Desperate for Isaac’s razor blades. Whatever he had found to stand on was not sinking in the soft wet earth. She shifted position and slid towards the wheel chair, still holding the wet bath towel against her breasts. The wheels locked, Emma gripped one of its arms and pushed her body on to the seat, her back turned to the man in the window. His mumbling voice against the glass sounded like the moaning of a beached whale. There were a few cement foundation blocks on this side of this house. He could be standing on them.
She had a cell phone on the table next to her bed in the sun room. Isaac always advised that she carry it on her person. If anything happened, if you should fall, anything at all, you’d always have a phone handy. Stupidly, she resisted his advice on the matter, and here she was, helpless before a stranger’s lust. Emma didn’t want to look at the man, but a compulsion overcame her, some inner necessity, catching her like a mouse paralysed by a serpent’s stare. Cock in hand, he jerked his body up and down outside the window. She started to push down on the wheels, but the chair did not move. She tried harder, her voice suddenly returning in a loud command to the chair.
“Move, damn it, move!”
Then Emma realized that she hadn’t lifted the levers from their lock position. One hand a fist now. His hands looked powerful enough to break the glass. If not, then a cement block could smash through the window. Not much time remained before he forced his way into the house. He was no longer staring directly at her and she couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed. Preoccupied with masturbating and rubbing his tongue against the pane, he seemed to have forgotten she was in the room. Emma glanced at his penis twice and tried to get a good view of his face under the hat and behind the beard. If she called the police, they would ask for a precise description.
The commode over the toilet seat beckoned. Her bladder would soon explode. If she opened the window, sitting on the toilet would bring her practically within touching distance of the hand rubbing his genitals. So cold in the room, so cold her shattered legs, so cold the bath water on her skin.
At last, the fierce pleasure and pressure of nature overcame willpower and fear poured out of her body. Wet and warm heat. Slumped in the chair, Emma didn’t stop peeing until she had fully relieved herself. Goddam you, she wanted to shout, did you get a good look at that? But when she looked up he had disappeared, rain dribbling his semen down the window pane.
Perhaps he was creeping below the window, a slimy, human slug of a creature slithering in the mud. Holding back the tears, Emma towelled the urine off the lower half of her body. She dried her legs and wheeled herself out of the bathroom with such force that she pulled a muscle in her left arm. In the narrow hall, the wheelchair cushion soaked with piss, she banged against the wall. She reached the cell phone, a wheel of her chair catching and knocking over her easel. Her winter landscape in watercolour fell to the floor. The numbers seemed too small for the tips of her fingers to touch accurately. Several tries and each time she pushed down on the wrong numbers. She couldn’t take another bath. She would have to wash the bathroom floor or Isaac would surely notice the puddle of pee.
She put the phone down and wheeled towards the back door, her arm aching. Yes, it was locked. All the windows were shut and locked. Isaac had checked before leaving. Looking through the sun room window, she couldn’t see the stranger anywhere in the back yard. He was not lurking among the lilac bushes, but she had no assurance that this was true. He could very well be squatting on his haunches out of sight, waiting like a feral animal for his prey.
Lovely, deep purple French lilacs, their perfume intoxicating. Would she ever be able to hold a bouquet to her nose again without thinking of perverts in the underbrush? Taking a deep breath and fighting to control her shaking hand, she called 911. Her voice rushed out in breathless babble – man, window, creep, help, bath, cripple, psycho, help, help, pee: all garbled together until she stopped crying, got some measure of control, and spoke more or less rationally to the operator. She thought the woman said she’d send the police. Emma then tapped in Isaac’s cell number, but he didn’t answer. She left a message, crying for him to come home. Friends, their numbers, but she could no longer see the see clearly, and then her ability to speak failed and she dropped the phone.
Smelling of urine, the seat cushion needed to be washed. Oh, if only a fire burned away the cold terror in her bones. Emma clenched on a hope that the prowler had left the grounds, that she was indeed safe in her own house, protected by her husband’s vigilance. And she remembered one of Isaac’s favourite sayings: hope did not change the weather. She huddled deep in her wheelchair overlooked by many windows, waiting, staring at her fallen canvas of snow drifts and naked trees.
KENNETH RADU’S stories have appeared or are forthcoming online in Foundling Review, Thirst for Fire, Two Hawks Quarterly, Clearfield Review, LWOT, and elsewhere. He lives in a French village in Quebec where he writes obsessively in English to maintain his identity.