It’s like an acting exercise: pretend the man you love is on the phone. Or a prayer, know that someone must hear you—but what are the odds it’s the god you intend.
The accounting firm on the corner keeps on the green lights lining the reception desk. I am on the phone with my mother. I pass the Hot and Crusty. It is a warm night.
I stop for a light at West End. A cab pulls up in front of me. The driver motions me to get in.
I shake my head, I shake my head again. I make a gesture like I am almost home. The driver frowns, then shrugs, then pulls away.
I inhale smoke so close it could be a friend or lover next to me in a doorway on a cold night. I gasp. My mother says, what’s wrong. I turn. A man on a bicycle has pulled up very close behind me. I say, oh, nothing.
Very few people walk on the street after nightfall in the neighborhood; they have families and are sleeping.
I walk fast across the street. He keeps pace on the bike, staying just behind me. Under the scaffolding, I veer to the left. I think, he must be drunk and doesn’t want to pass me. He still does not pass me.
As I went by the accounting firm, I thought about the empty leather chairs, never all pushed in. I kept going, into the dark, the pizza smell ending, the night smelling like unclean bodies, which is to say, like night.
He pulls up closer. I look at him and he offers me his cigarette. Again, again I shake my head. I don’t think I noticed what he wore.
I have not been drinking. I am wearing jeans and a loose-fitting top. That is what they say, afterwards, what the woman was wearing when she—.
I speak louder into the phone. No, honey, I’ll be home in a minute. It’s ok, I was just startled. I’ve missed you all day. I’ll see you soon.
My mother asks how much danger I think I’m in. Not very much, I say. It’s ok. She says should she do anything. I say no, no, babe. I walk slower.
My house is only a few doors away but I don’t know how I’d stop him from following me in. He stays behind me. I stop altogether. He stops, too. I motion him to keep going. My mother asks what’s happening. The man again offers his cigarette to me. What would he have me do.
One night on this same corner, a big drunk tilted into my path and tried to kiss me. It wasn’t even dark outside. How pink his lips were as they missed my face.
But everyone is desperate sometimes. This man is young, perhaps ten years older than I am. He is innocuous, neither thug nor psycho. Dark eyes, thinning hair. Sober.
I say to the man, please go ahead of me. He says no. Just no.
I smile. You’re making me uncomfortable, I say, please go on ahead of me. He says this is where I stop. I say, ok, and I walk on a little. He follows. I stop again. We are almost at my apartment.
I say, do you live here?
He says stop freaking out. Why are you freaking out. You’re always freaking out. Stop freaking out. He repeats it as if we knew each other, as if this were a fight, or a lullaby.
The attacker’s clothes do not matter. I have my key in my hand. An old man with a dog appears down the block. I run.
I unlock the front door, then my door. We’ve left the blinds open.
I crouch and lean against the bed, where it shelters me from the windows. I tell my mother I am ok. I stay like that for a long time.
Victoria Kornick is a writer, visual artist, and expert in ghost stories. She studied poetry at the University of Virginia and has printed several artist's books. She is now an MFA candidate at New York University , where she is a Rona Jaffe and Goldwater Fellow.