Kathie Giorgio’s fourth book, a novel called Rise From The River, releases April 1. Her third book, the novel Learning To Tell (A Life)Time (2013) debuted at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books to a standing room only crowd. Her first novel, The Home For Wayward Clocks (2011), received the Outstanding Achievement award from the Wisconsin Library Association and was nominated for the Paterson Fiction Award. Her short story collection, Enlarged Hearts (2012) was selected by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as one of the 99 Must Reads of that summer. She is the founder/director of AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop. Find out more about Kathie on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
Excerpt from Rise from the River
Main Street Rag
©Kathie Giorgio 2015
Lying in bed, Rainey stared at the ceiling. The moon spilled in; the blinds were wide open. In the room two doors down, Tish slept, her teddy bear crushed to her cheek, her thumb still smooth and unsucked on the pillow beside her. Rainey thought that this fearless sleep was a sure sign that some stress was lifted. Rainey willed sleep to come for herself as well. There was no need anymore to lie awake at night and listen for every sound. Tires rolling to a stop. A step, a scrape on the pavement, the stealthy turn of a doorknob. A creak on the stairs.
There was no longer need. He was caught now, wasn’t he. Her rapist. She identified him and he would be put away for a long time. Forever? Rainey didn’t know. How long was a rapist usually kept incarcerated? Incarcerated. What a harsh word. Like lacerated.
With a start, Rainey realized she wanted him lacerated. Strung up. She wanted him dead. But at least, he’d be incarcerated for a long time.
Wouldn’t he? There were three other women besides her. And who knew how many before.
Rainey threw aside her blankets and headed down the hall. She stopped for a moment at Tish’s door, listened to the steady breathing, and then padded down the stairs. Her laptop was on the little desk in the kitchen, where Rainey paid bills and sent emails and played on the Internet. Tonight, she kept the lights off as she booted up the computer. Its glow in the dark kitchen felt companionable. She put it on mute as well, wanting to hold the dark and quiet around her like the blankets she just tossed aside.
A quick trip to Google and a question typed in: “How long of a prison term will a rapist get?” And then she began to read. As she did, the dark around her changed its texture. No longer a blanket. But an anvil, heavy, square on her chest and squeezing the air from her lungs.
Rainey found a study released just a couple of months before, in July of 2006, by the U.S. Department of Justice. It showed that from 1990 to 2002, rapists received an average sentence of 120 months. The actual time served was an average of 5.4 years.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network claimed that out of every one-hundred rapes, only forty-six were reported to the police.
Of that forty-six, only twelve would lead to an arrest.
Of that twelve, only nine would be prosecuted.
Of that nine, only five would lead to a felony conviction.
And from there, only three rapists would spend even a single day in prison.
Three. A single day.
Rainey sat back in the dark, now returned to dangerous. She reminded herself of Robert and Sarah, how they stayed by her side during the line-up, how they seemed so strong in their intent to catch this rapist, to make sure he stayed locked up. Her rapist had four women who came forward. Maybe that would mean he’d be one of the rapists who would at least get a sentence? Of at least 120 months? Ten years. And maybe he’d stay locked up more than five years. Even with good behavior.
Only forty-six out of every one-hundred women reported their rapes. Which meant that Rainey and the three other women were a part of that, separate from the fifty-four who never said a word.
Why were the others silent?
Rainey left the lit screen and carefully, she moved around the duplex, checking the locks. The back door. The front. The windows. She went upstairs, looked in on Tish again, and then returned to the computer.
Rainey reported the rape. But she’d been found by a police officer. She wondered for a moment, if the rape happened that same night, the same way, but Tish wasn’t there, if Rainey stumbled out from the bushes and had not found her daughter, held her, tried to warm her, would Rainey have sought out help? Or would she have run the rest of the way home, her breath tight and wheezing, looking over her shoulder, looking in front of her, looking side to side, run in the door, lock it, run up the stairs, and stay under the shower for as long as it stayed hot? And then stay under for even longer?
She thought of her body’s climax, of the way her rapist forced her into a convulsing hated awful orgasm.
Would she have reported it?
If she’d been by herself, if there’d been no child to protect, Rainey likely would never have stayed long enough to be found by the police. She never would have called the police, even after reaching home. She would have been too ashamed.
In the light of the computer, Rainey shuddered. If Tish hadn’t been there, Rainey’s rapist would have been one of the fifty-four who went on leading their lives as normal. Even though the women they raped never had a normal life again.
It was good, wasn’t it, that Rainey reported it?
On this night, and for who knew how long, her rapist wasn’t out there anymore. He was behind bars. And just like him, everything in the house, the doors, the windows, were locked up tight. Rainey wasn’t in a dark park. Her child was asleep, tucked to the chin in a pink blanket. Her teddy bear at her side, all of her fingers firmly curled on her pillow. And Rainey was alone, and she should be able to go back to bed. She should be able to sleep now.
But she couldn’t. Because her rapist, and how long he would stay in prison, kept her sitting by her computer. But that wasn’t the only thing.
When her rapist walked away, when Rainey found Tish, when the policeman came, and hours later, when Rainey finally arrived back home, the rape didn’t stop. The aftermath was still going on. Still growing.
From her pregnancy with Tish, Rainey remembered. All of the descriptions. And she remembered one in particular, because the number was just so fantastic. At about this time, an embryo’s brain was growing at the rate of one-hundred new cells a minute.
Rainey sighed, a soft and moist sound slipping into the kitchen. She pictured her breath there, for just a moment, a white circle of mist. Then she put both hands on the keyboard again. She returned to Google.
Was this her fault? Did the orgasm create the pregnancy? If she’d just taken the rape, been the steak she felt herself to be, if her body hadn’t suddenly arced in a pleasure she didn’t want, would this conception have taken place?
She typed the question in. Can an orgasm make conception easier?
There were about 1,440,000 results. Rainey stared. All she wanted was a simple yes or no. This was 1,439,999 too many answers.
Rainey combed and she read. Some sites said yes, that the contractions from a woman’s orgasm helped pull the sperm more quickly and deeply into the woman’s body. Others said no, and compared ratios of how many women didn’t experience orgasm during intercourse with how many got pregnant anyway. One site simply said, “Don’t be silly.”
Don’t be silly.
There was an abundance of answers that led to no answer at all. Overwhelmed, over-tired, Rainey slammed the lid of her laptop down. Then she staggered up the stairs and got back into bed.
Her head spun on the pillow. Forty-six out of one-hundred rapes reported. Only three rapists in prison. 120 months, released in five years. Good behavior. Yes. No. Don’t be silly. Despite being crowded with numbers, with facts that could be facts, but might not be, Rainey never felt so alone.
But she wasn’t alone in the bed, was she. Her rapist was alone in his prison cell. But Rainey, in her room, in her house, anywhere she went right now, wasn’t alone at all.
She’d tried everything to be the only person in her skin again. One afternoon, while Tish was still in school, Rainey drove to a remote spot outside of town where railroad tracks criss-crossed the country road. Repeatedly, Rainey drove over the tracks, urging her car to go faster and faster. Over the tracks, then a Y turn, over the tracks, then a Y turn. Twenty-five miles an hour, thirty-five, fifty. The last time, she hit the tracks at eighty-five miles an hour and the car soared as her seatbelt snatched her body in mid-flight, cutting deeply into her belly and chest. The car skidded to the side of the road, and Rainey sat there, her heart galloping, her hands fluttering on the wheel, waiting to feel what she hoped would be a welcome gush of fluid. But nothing happened. Rainey took a deep breath, reasoned that it could take a while, and then drove to pick up Tish at school. After settling Tish in front of the television with her snack, Rainey ran to the bathroom. But her panties remained unstained, that afternoon and that night and the days following; no sudden blood of miscarriage.
And every time Rainey went into the bathroom, whether to take a shower or use the toilet or to simply run a comb through her hair, she squatted on the floor and pushed as if she were giving birth. Even as she did, she held on to the sink for balance. To keep herself from falling.
It seemed there was always something there to rescue her. Or to rescue the fetus. The seatbelt. The sink. Things that Rainey really did herself. She clicked the seatbelt across her body, she grasped the sink’s edge.
But still. Even as she grabbed at a multitude of last seconds, she worked at finding a way. Another way. Any way.
One-hundred new brain cells a minute. Time was passing.
As her mind slowed, Rainey focused again on the fetus. She wished it would just go. This fetus, this baby, this mass of cells, whatever it was. Go in a natural way. She pictured it packing up, grabbing some nutrients from her internal sea, putting them into the tiniest of leather suitcases, and moving down the passageway, through the doors that curved and tucked between her legs, and out on a warm, worn red carpet of blood. Rainey found herself wanting to assign the fetus a gender, so she could see who it was she was banishing. What it was. The face that she pictured, looking over its shoulder as it walked away on unsteady legs, the face that was at once angry, yet gray with loss, was male.
So was that what she carried? A tiny boy? Is that who was inside her, distilling life from her blood? Rainey thought about what Doris said, about evil begetting evil. It was dark inside of Rainey, she was sure of that. But did this child make it darker? Not by its skin, but by who it was? By its bloodlines, its pedigree, by a genetic path laid down by his father?
An animal. A beast. Locked in a cage, on the other side of town.
Was this baby a beast too?
Sitting up, Rainey looked across the room to the mirror on top of her dresser. Touching her hands together, thumb to thumb, forefinger to forefinger, she placed a circle over her abdomen in the exact spot where she was sure the fetus hid. There was always a stitch there now, as if it was digging in with its new fingers and toes, and Rainey felt the burrowing in the deepest of her tissues.
She remembered Tish as a baby, pink and moist and warm. She tried to put Tish’s luminescence onto the child hovering in her mind, in her body, yet it remained as dark as that September sky on a Wisconsin night in the middle of a park where Rainey wasn’t supposed to be. Where she took herself and her daughter, knowingly breaking the rules, the well-posted law, and where she now wished fervently she’d never been.
Rainey had to make up her mind, and she had to make it up soon. She knew that. The weeks were going by. Soon, it would be illegal for her to do anything and she would have to go along with what her body started, encouraged by the attack of an animal. Once she reached a certain week, she would have to go with the flow inside of her like the flow of the river that she sat by on that night where this all began.
Sliding back down in her bed, shifting in a search for comfort, Rainey tried to force herself into sleep. But the silence unnerved her and opened her thoughts to all sorts of paths that she hadn’t intended thinking about when this night started. The nights were the worst since the rape. During the day, now that she was home, Rainey adopted Doris’ schedule, becoming her shadow on her own side of the duplex. On days that Doris cleaned the kitchen, Rainey cleaned hers. When Doris dusted and vacuumed, Rainey’s side roared with a vacuum as well. Following Doris’ lead, Rainey kept herself busy, and her mind kept focused on whatever was the next chore, the next step. But at night…
At night, Rainey’s mind became a centipede, all one-hundred legs stretching and reaching for different footholds. She moved from one fear to the next, from one secret to the next, often without a breath in between. Rainey kept opening her eyes to stare at her open doorway, which she didn’t see so much as she stepped through to the next line of thought. Of memory, of recrimination, of fear for the future, and of thinking just how damn tired she was.
That open bedroom door led just about everywhere.
When she was little, her mother and father argued about her bedroom door. Her father said it should be closed, her mother said open. Her father argued over fire safety and privacy and how Rainey would actually be more protected because they would hear if her door opened in the middle of the night and she either crept out or someone snuck in. And her mother argued that when you were little and scared, sometimes an open door was like the open arms of a mother’s hug. An open door let in the glow from the nightlight in the bathroom. It showed the path that led straight to her parents’ room, if she needed them. And it let her tears be heard more quickly, instead of waiting for them to be soaked up by the door, washed out on the carpet, and then down the hall.
In the end, Rainey’s door stayed half-open, a compromise, until she was old enough to decide to shut the door herself.
She did start shutting the door, when she was fifteen. When it became important to shut her parents out so she could dream of that boy in her life, of Jeff, of what he did to her, what she did to him. When it was important, for that awful couple weeks, for the aftermath then of her secret abortion, to shut out her mother, shut her away from the sudden rush of blood that overflowed Rainey’s sanitary pad. The blood she blamed on a heavy, heavy period. And when that stopped and time slipped by, Rainey’s door had to stay closed to hide the other boys, the new boys, that captured her heart and released it, captured it and released it. It became important to open an unheard window at two in the morning and slip outside for the warmth of lips and arms and pressed bodies. Or to let that warmth in, to her own bed, while her parents slept on down the hall. Their door half-open, a compromise, and Rainey’s closed. Closed hard, a lock pushed in and twisted into place. Her father never had to worry about a creaking door. It never creaked. Only the window whispered with secrets.
Rainey stared at her open door now. Down the hall, Tish’s door was open too. A nightlight glowed in the bathroom between them. The path was clear.
Before her parents’ sudden visit, Rainey talked with them on Easter, several months before, in spring. Before that, her mother’s birthday. Before that, Christmas. Holidays meant a phone call, with Rainey doing all the calling, except for her own birthday. She and her mother always talked about Rainey’s job, about Tish, about Tish growing impossibly fast. The conversations then were polite. Her father never came to the phone, but Rainey always told her mother to say hello, and she always heard a grunt in the background. Tish enjoyed talking with her grandmother, calling this woman Grandma, whom she’d never met, who was only a voice on the phone and an image in storybooks, a voice that caroled, “How are you?” and “Oh, you’re such a big girl!” without ever laying eyes on Tish. At least, until she stopped for those few moments on her way out the door that sudden night a short time ago. Following that lit-up path. Rainey’s mother saw Tish then, silvered by the moonlight, sweet in her sleep. Rainey’s father, other than photographs, had never seen his granddaughter. He’d never spoken to her. Grandpa was a name Tish only saw on birthday and holiday cards. Signed by Rainey’s mother.
Rainey left home over five years ago now. She’d never been back. Until the rape, her parents had never been here. Home. The word played with pictures of warm meals and quilts, laughter around a table, a swingset in the backyard. To think of her parents’ house, where Rainey grew up, as home now was such an impossible thought. How could she ever find any comfort there? Home was here now, on her side of this duplex, and with Doris on the other.