The homesteader did not understand what she’d done wrong. Whatever it was, her husband was angry. He’d become the feared actor in a horror flick, a lover whose vulgar contempt chills his subordinate to the bone. He viewed the woman as vile, a rat to be expelled, especially after losing her job. She was as afraid of him as of the strange men who had watched her all summer sawing, and splitting, and piling next winter’s fuel, who took pictures of her swinging an ax, who masturbated in plain sight.
On this August morning, hiding from the husband behind a tool shed, between rolls of barbed wire, she waited to hear him leave for work. He knew she was there, for the horses poked their noses over the fence at her.
The woman had her own work, beginning with rebuilding the firewood lean-to. Prowlers had sledgehammered it just hours before, by moonlight. There’d been a thwack and another and the rumble of her neat stacks tumbling.
Although the husband had dashed outside one night with a two-by-four, he left it up to the woman to defend the property. It was, after all, her fault. With police making up stories, unwilling to help, the woman had tried, and failed, to stop the gang by herself.
She also failed at something else—to get the tall lean-to back up that afternoon, a two-person job, and worried excessively about the husband’s wrath upon his return. She hoped his roving eye would keep him away until late, but he came home early and ripped into her.
When his conniption was over, while she was washing the dinner dishes, he said, “The kids and I will be at a hotel this weekend. There’s a concert. You’ll be fine.”
The woman knew, in truth, what her husband’s stoic expression meant. She knew he’d smile as soon as he looked away, for he always smiled after delivering upsetting words. The fact was, he hadn’t been to a big city or a concert in over twenty years, and wanting to go now, with the farm under attack, was no coincidence. And for him to take Friday off when he worked through celebrations, even their wedding day, was no coincidence either. So it wasn’t paranoia that told her he hoped she’d be killed on the weekend, alone in the firs. He wanted her gone for bringing chaos to their home. He’d been plenty clear about that.
Kissing the children goodbye that warm Friday morning, wishing them fun in the city, the woman got busy with chores. The soil, and shovels, and gardens were prized; the woman was proud, living honestly in the bush. But this day felt different, like waiting to be executed. She thought about how a husband should not give his wife to brutes.
When the prowlers came early, double the number, along padded-down footpaths, the woman presumed she would not live much longer. Yet, she wouldn’t have left if there’d been a thousand, at least not at first. The livestock had been solace and sanity when it seemed the whole world hated her. To each animal she owed a debt of gratitude.
From her window seat atop a washing machine, the woman watched the horses trotting nervously up and down the gate in anticipation of being cornered and clubbed. She had not got the dogs inside in time, for the men always came after dark, except for this evening, and now the dogs were frantic, unwilling to come in, unable to protect their home from a swarm of predators.
She watched a man on the sundeck jump on a picnic table she’d built for the kids, and from there jump to the sundeck rail, and from there to the roof, pulling a wisteria vine down as he clambered. She wondered if he could fit in the chimney and what he was doing up there, if others would throw gas cans to him.
Crawling under the windows, from room to room, a magical spot eluded her—the one not to get shot in, the one to disappear in, the one with an uncut phone line. She realized the hunters were playing: thumping the walls, and rapping the windows, and jiggling the doorknobs when they could smash a glass door and step in.
Hearing the hosepipe running, the woman screamed at the thought of another hen being drowned, of cats being drowned, and the man on the roof whistled and stomped. She screamed as loud and long as she could, hoping someone would save her. But she’d bought the place because of the forest. The silence had been a religion to her. No one would notice.
Cursing herself for leaving the truck in the orchard, they’d caught her off-guard, collecting windfalls; so she crept inside a cupboard to see if a claw hammer could rip the floor up and drop her into the crawlspace. Then she heard the men in there too.
With a farm mutt now yelping, thoughts of retreat evaporated. The woman, who was going to die anyways, crawled to the nearest door, put her mouth to the crack she bared, and pleaded for the dog to come. When a black snout appeared, she grabbed it and hauled him in, fastened the deadbolt, and dragged her friend into the bathroom. Wrapped in towels, he looked at her and stopped breathing, only to begin again.
They sat together on the bathroom floor while lines of men slapped the frosted pane with their palms. Examining the blade on her pocketknife, the woman imagined tearing to the truck with King on her shoulder. She imagined piercing the face of whoever grabbed her, and tried to find the courage.
Hesitating, and despising herself for it, the moment of reckoning came and went. There’d be no getting away. The men, proving themselves to be lock pickers, were telling jokes in the house. They were on the roof, in the crawlspace, at every wall, at every window, and in the kitchen.
Placing one hand on King’s lovely head, the woman stared at the knife again, relieved that it was long enough to slice far into a heart. She poked her chest hard, and again, and again, making a blood map through her pink cotton blouse. She practiced all night and through the first glimmer of dawn, prepared to fatally stab herself when the time came. She thought about her bareback rides along the lake at sunrise, until she’d done something wrong to make the countryside unsafe, and prayed her old horse was okay.
In the brightness, the men were quickly leaving. The game was ending, and she waited to be taken, waited for the moment to stab her heart. She watched a man-shape descend a tangle of wisteria vines by the window, for the plant engulfed the house, and wondered if he would be the one to open the bathroom door, wondered if more men were on the vines. She listened to cars crunching on gravel, retrieving the men, readying to whisk her to the butcher they’d promised. But the car doors banged, and the crunching faded. The gang was gone, but not really. Some would be in the firs, and some would be driving by, as always.
The woman with a bashed-in dog sat on the bathroom floor until the silence she loved revived her enough to consider the horror of what her husband would do if anything was broken.
Confused to be untouched, and surprised to find the kitchen as neat as she’d left it, the woman was forced to replay the night in her mind, trying to—hoping to—make it a dream. But her shirt was ripped and she was wounded.
Still clutching the knife, the woman dared to go outside, where she stood among the hazelnut trees, unable to think straight—unable to think at all—as she gazed at the aftermath.
Pulled-off siding from the tool shed lay in jagged pieces in the grass, and paint was spilled on the porch. The old horse looked dead on his feet and the other dogs were missing. She wished the men had taken her.
Cleaning up and fixing up as best she could, the woman wept as she’d never wept before. Burning her bloodstained clothes in the woodstove, and the dog’s bloody towels, she tried to make it all look fine. She considered life without her kids, leaving them with a miserable father. So she stayed.
As soon as the husband got home, he tore into her for letting the men take over while he was having fun at the concert.
“I couldn’t help it,” she said. “There were so many.”
The husband stopped speaking to the woman. He did not want to hear what happened, and he did not want her to eat, or talk, or be seen, expecting that his loathing would make her bolt. But she couldn’t. Not even for an hour. Not yet. Not empty like that.
Her spirit left when the men came in the kitchen. Or maybe it was her soul that cast off. It was a sensation from the heart, of essence flying, vacating its shell, a surreal feeling of being hollow but alive. She could only speak in a whisper. Every noise made her panic, and she stopped sleeping.
After one full moon, sick from something, the woman did go. Opening the vegetable garden gate, she stumbled her way to the red plastic tub that held her peach-tree seedlings, dumped it, and keeled over. Grieving for all she was about to lose, she wondered if the seedlings would die and wondered if all her hard work had meant anything. Rolling the tub to her big truck, she stood on it, slowly pulled herself up to the steering wheel, and drove off, unwilling to put the children through her final decay, tired of being despised for whatever she’d done wrong.
June Ti is a mental health crisis counsellor who runs an international support centre for people who are stalked by a group. You can contact her through the centre’s website: www.westcoast-oseh.com . June is the author of No Ordinary Stalking: a look at organized stalking and electronic harassment. www.noordinarystalking.com
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