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Stranger at the Doorway
by Richard L. Provencher
9/04/2010 / Short Stories
Working Sunday evening was Bonita's usual custom, a chance to plan ahead for classroom activities. She was a trusting person. Her husband worried about her being alone at school.
"Nothing could happen in this little town," she assured him.
A sound, something out of the ordinary caught her ear. It sounded like a downy woodpecker bullying a weathered tree. She left her classroom, turned on hall lights and slipped down the deserted corridor.
"Hello, what do you want?" She spoke through the front door, hesitant not quite sure if she should fling it open. The shadow through the glazed door was about her height.
"Please. Can you help?" A distressed voice with a touch of panic in its tone, responded from the other side of the glass.
"It's late and the school is closed," she called back. Glancing at her watch she noted 7:10 PM. A fact she'd remember over and over in her conversation with the police later this night.
"I am not sure of the correct night but I am in the Karate Club. I am a student here, in your son's class. In Andre's class," a teenaged voice said.
Opening the door a little she noted the young man's dark hair and heavy set. He was around eighteen years of age and maybe 180 lbs. This Ontario town was a friendly place and the young man said he knew her son. What should she do? She wondered. Her heart said to open the door, but?
"Is anyone else here yet? I just signed up for this course and I don't want to miss my training." The young man sounded genuine enough.
"There's no one else here," she said rather crossly. "I'm preparing lessons for my class. Karate on Sunday night, really?"
"You're here. Maybe I'm wrong. Could be another night. Thank you. Merci."
As the young man turned to go she felt a chill. Something was not quite right. "Mommy, you imagine things," her daughter always admonished.
Bonita returned to her lesson preparation after turning off the hall lights. Her full concentration broken, she thought of the young man. Those eyes held deeper meanings.
Another tapping, this time louder. "What now?" she muttered as she purposefully retraced her steps flicking on hallway lights as she went.
The same voice apologized. "I am sorry to bother you again Madame, but I have to get something in the gym ... my equipment. Should be washed or something like that before school tomorrow."
She could sense the excitement in his voice. His physical energy seemed to tumble out as she hesitated before opening the door slightly ajar again.
She noticed his eyes nervously flicking from side to side. "Why do you have to go to the gym?" Suddenly coming to a decision, she almost shouted, "I can't let you in. School's closed. Now why don't you leave me alone, I have assignments to do."
"I am sorry, I should not bother you. I come back tomorrow and get my things." His English was laced with a soft French Canadian accent.
Back to the classroom she strode, smacking off the lights with an angry determination. She was anxious to get back to her work plans, finish them and get home. These interruptions were ridiculous.
Yes indeed, her husband wasn't pleased with her Sunday evenings alone. Why not? It was her chance to catch up on lesson plans and besides he needed his peaceful moments, too. It was part of their pact.
Home was for the family. Any work to be done was for the office. There had to be a separation. Simple enough, there was work and then family. Maybe a coffee would help relax her. Mother always felt she was high strung.
Suppressing a quiet giggle she filled the water urn. Then doled out coffee grounds into the filter and set the burner to 'on' as she poured water into Mr. Coffee. Should she just head home? She mused.
"Oh no, not again!" she shouted at the walls. New tapping repeated every five seconds, "Tap-Tap-Tap" then a pause and "Tap-Tap-Tap" again. She hurried angrily down the hall, smashing the light switch on. "Ouch that hurt."
She swept along, new pumps stomping a nasty message on the polished floor. Rushing at the door she demanded loudly, "You again?"
"Yes, it's me," A puppy dog whimper answered.
"Who is this?"
"MEEE." There was a pleading now.
"I mean your name. What's your name?"
"Claude WHO??" she screamed.
"Pardon?" he answered in a child's voice.
"For goodness sakes Claude, what do you want? I can't get anything done. Why are you bothering me? Please go away." Fear chilled her voice. Anxious gestures added emphasis to her statements."
I promise not to bother you again."
"Then goodnight!" she answered.
"Wait a minute. Please Madame."
"For what?" She was curious about what it was going to be this time. Listening to his whimpering tone was very aggravating. He had a sort of a get-on-your-nerves kind of voice. "What is it?" She bit at a nail. He was being an absolute pain.
"I must use the phone."
"To phone my parents. To come get me."
"Don't they know you're here?"
"Oui. But only in two hours are they coming for me. After Karate and there..."
Finishing his sentence, she shouted aloud "...doesn't seem to be any tonight! We've been through all this before. What can I do to make you happy so you'll leave me alone?"
"I will phone at the drug store, Madame. Please ... let me have a quarter. I have no change."
Maybe she should have listened to her inner voice. Or even to her husband and their various discussions about the night and strangers. And what could happen suddenly and unexpectedly. But she didn't. "If I give you a quarter, will you finally leave me alone?"
"Yes, Madame. Thank you."
He stood back from the door waiting for her decision. His coat was wide open, a little silly for this time of year. A blue turtleneck sweater hugged his lean neck.
She noticed his hands were in his pockets. He had on new running shoes and faded jeans. A typical teenager dressed for a cold November evening. Some sarcasm here, she thought. Fumbling in her purse she found two quarters. Fingering them firmly, she reached out to him.
A mistake. Her flash of warning came too late, too late. The door pulled open, and he quickly moved forward knocking her aside. This stranger she never knew was now inside the building, with no one else around.
An attractive lady teacher had reached out into the night. What have I done? She thought numbly.
His arm smacked off the lights, grabbed her around the stomach, one hand raised in a threatening gesture. Taken completely by surprise, her voice couldn't even raise a whisper of an alarm. He closed the door with a firm slam, then turned and punched her in the face. The blow glanced off her cheek, stunning her. This can't be happening. "No! No!" she now screamed. But no one was around.
One hand grabbed a handful of hair, the other punching her back and shoulder, again and again. Spinning her around, he slapped her hard. The sting made a nasty sound in the quiet room. "That will teach you. Being so mean to me!" he snarled.
She could hardly believe his rage. His face was puffed in anger, fists clenching and unclenching. She looked away, eyes searching for a weapon. Her brain refused to admit to this situation. It happened so quickly.
An innocent offer of help was now turned into fear and chaos. She was throbbing all over from his pounding. It was difficult to find will to keep standing. Don't fall. Stay on your feet. Tuck your head in. Protect your face, she told herself. Put your fists up. Don't start crying. Around and around went her spinning thoughts.
Another hard slap to her cheek brought her back to reality. This was real. Not a movie, nor a TV program. This was happening right now. Her beautiful strong son wasn't here to look after her. And her husband didn't know his wife was methodically being beaten up.
It was happening inside a darkened school hallway. And right in a quiet little town, while most families were enjoying each other's company at home. Do something. Think. Think.
Gathering her wits she opened one eye, surprised to be able to do so. She noticed the young man didn't even look old enough to shave. He had smooth skin, short hair. Why was he doing this? He's neat looking. Not grubby like some drug addict, she thought.
Gathering her survival instincts she pushed back. Hands grabbed at the air, wind milling her arms, keeping her head up. And pushing. Pushing. This act of defiance surprised him. He thought she would simply scream or go into shock. He couldn't believe she hadn't fainted.
He pulled out a knife, "I know you Madame Bisson."
How did he know her name? Oh, that was mean. That hurt. She had contributed so much to this town. Why was this happening? She managed to suppress her sobs. Her eyes widened as she stared at the knife. Think, girl. Your life is in serious danger.
The assailant just stood there, uncertainty on his young face. A mole on the right side of his cheek twitched nervously. The reality of the knife captured her full attention.
It looked about six inches long, a hunting knife of sorts. She saw his face was flushed. Her heart hammered as they watched each other, the owl and the rabbit. She knew which one she was this very moment. Don't run. Stare him down.
The situation was extremely tense. Anything could happen. At least he wasn't moving towards her. "Why are you doing this?" she finally asked. Her voice was taut. Did it sound frightened?
"You were mean to me."
"I helped you."
"You didn't let me get my Karate suit."
"I explained why." Keep talking. Keep him talking, she said to herself. She rambled on and explained about working with the school children. How much she loved her family and about the town and her spare time interests. It was a one-way non-stop conversation.
And he listened. A little confused but interested. After staring at her for a while he said. "Take off all your clothes."
"I will not! Look, if you want to rob me, or the school, do it! I have $11.00 in my purse. Take it! That's all I have. Do what you want but don't touch me again. I mean it!" She glared at him.
He looked at her carefully, realizing she meant it. She wasn't even afraid of him, even though he had a knife. He didn't mean this to happen. The young man seemed to be in a trance. This lady who did him no real harm suddenly seemed so far away. Her voice became an echo. This was crazy. What made him do it?
"I go to your school. In the same class with your son, Madame Bisson, I am sorry. Please forgive me. I am sorry. " A few moments later he was gone. Just like that.
She heard his running steps disappear before the slam of the front door. He left her there with her head pounding and her bruises aching. She heard a car screech by on the street.
Limping slightly, one hand to her cheek, she went through the front door, of the first house, a rectory. The priest almost fainted at the sight of her. He stared at first. She had one eye swollen, cheek and mouth badly puffed, clothes torn. Her eyes blazed with a furious anger.
"Call-Call the police!" She stammered, looking fearfully behind her as evening silhouettes blanketed the town.
He did and Claude was later arrested. After trial he was convicted of sexual assault.
Richard L. Provencher
Richard enjoys writing poems; many of which have been published in Print and Online. He and his wife, Esther are also co-authors of stories and a print novel. They are "born again" Christians and very busy in their church, Abundant Life Victory International, in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia.
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