Feeling my vision blur, I quickly lifted a glass to my face. A desperate attempt to conceal the awkward moisture now pooling in my eyes, to hide the innocent tears that might scar my blemished cheeks. It was already empty. Instinctively, a dry rasp scratched against my throat forcing a partial cough, as I spluttered slightly. With the glass still momentarily raised, the courtroom appeared strangely, and blissfully, distant, disjointedly refracted through the bottom. I attempted an apology, but my composure was shredded. My voice snagged in a hoarse whisper, the harsh patter of my vanished words echoing strangely against the panelled jury box. Their pity was palpable.
My entire body quivered, a force resonating from my left leg, jittering in rapid, but consistent beats. The pressure was eliciting an almost imperceptible whine from the witness stand, but I felt completely unable to stop. Now, that additional, shrill nagging was persistently jabbing against my ears, colluding with the courtroom murmurs in contributing to an overwhelming cacophony of claustrophobic clutter colliding against me and I just had to stop, and breathe.
The impassive face rising before me was unfamiliar. My lawyer, but a recent substitution. I supposed the firm decided a woman would be more suitable to this case. She could exhibit more delicate mannerisms. I knew their main fear was predicting me to break down on the stand, or to be torn apart in the cross-examination.
With overly deliberate concern, she coaxed the necessary, basic details from me. Something to humanise this shrivelled husk, lathered with sympathy for the jury’s sake, before she explored the crime. My name, age, occupation, all those relatable features of countless individuals with white skin and faint emissions of wealthy privilege. Then, her tone shifted, still soft but increasingly serious. Her practised kindness felt like antiseptic rubbed over an open wound, spitting blistering shards of misplaced compassion at me. With no further preamble, the fateful question was nailed into the arena. Did I remember the night of the 17th, two months ago? Obviously.
It was eternally seared into the backdrop of my mind, demanding endless encores in every waking moment. Inky tendrils lurked in the pits of my conscious, frantic with the single desire of seizing my thoughts and embroiling them in the agonising terror of that evening. My entire world was lashes of sorrow. I had stayed home, waiting late to escort my girlfriend from her drunken celebration of somebody’s something, back to safety. Chivalry was alive, as I dutifully departed just fashionably past midnight. The irony was far from lost, that I had instead been assaulted, before even reaching the pub. I’d even been told that it was lucky, how fortunate I had been, to be in the right place. Imagine what could have happened to my poor girlfriend, had I not bravely sacrificed myself? Such sentiments were typically alive with electric scorn. I had failed to protect her, and myself. Ultimately, victims of assault are determined by the whims of animals roaming the streets.
Animals, like the man I recognised far too well, seated virtually within reach, exuding arrogance from complacent grin. High cheekbones ran smoothly into a thin nose, all perfectly framed by a sculpted chin. His eyes were dazzling. A warm golden-brown melted luxuriously into dark pupils, conveying welcoming depths of humanity, lit as beacons of hope. I was haunted by the flickers of civility shimmering in those delicious, chocolate pools.
Only with mechanical detachment could I recite, yet again, the events as they transpired. How he imposed himself. How, two months ago, I had been found discarded in an alleyway. Without landing a single blow of my own, I had been abandoned in a hot, sticky puddle of rank blood, binding like tar to my bruised and beaten body. Every excruciating detail was alert, and potent, the sheer embarrassment of my humiliation soaring above the physical sensation of split skin, or the jagged pavement tearing against me. In the white heat of passion, I had yearned for that ground to envelope me, a cruel lover who instead spurned me, thrusting me into the arms of my abuser. As I exposed our intimate liaison, I felt the jury’s eyes eagerly pouring over my face, greedily seeking ratifying fissures in my skin. My reflection had long-since healed.
I leant my mouth autonomy, automatically relying the night in a deliberated speech. I withered into a despairing mulch, fermenting in my sheltered core, incapable of processing my shameful, tragic reality.
Suddenly, my statement complete, I was forced to resurface, as we encroached upon unchartered waters. The defence rose for cross-examination. An accusing onslaught, drawing me inexorably closer to horrors I dreaded like death. In a rush, I became intensely aware of my cheeks pulsating, throbbing with a heat that was pierced by every word, icy needles infesting a numbness that ensconced my brain, until all I could hear were the fragile reverberations of my heart and my throat swallowing itself and I knew, collapsing backwards in a sporadic, gasping fit: I was going to die.
The panic having subsided, the rigid silence was now interminable, stretching across unfathomable aeons to crush me beneath its deafening weight. Slowly, I let the morning’s events wash over, catching up like an inquisitive citizen, but completely detached. Except, of course, my hands still trembled atop the dashboard, my face stained with trauma in the mirror. My mother drove beside me, impatiently wracked with guilt, hoping tediously for my miraculous recovery. Once the reserves of her exhaustible sympathy depleted, something resembling hostility had festered. No single word floated between us. Every barbed thought merely rattled inside her brain, seething with rabid resentment at the failures of her child. Her fury was never directed towards me, yet deflected so close, it felt all-consuming.
No one hated me more than myself. I utterly despised every fibre of my being, each tendon and sinew a sickly plague. My mind was a vile cesspit of odious self-pity, wallowing in the foul stench of despicable sorrow. I really was the weak, pathetic loser everyone envisaged anytime my name was conjured, typically to an uncomfortable pause, before conversation flowed past, encountering least resistance by omitting the shattered China doll no longer invited anywhere. Any close friends had inevitably realised the drain of my insurmountable tragedy, eventually excusing themselves from my life, revealing how hollow and selfish our relationships had always been. I frequently struggled to occupy my time, as friends of convenience found me all too inconvenient. Joining a gym had been a latent cry-for-help, a retro-active endeavour to improve my condition. My support group had proven more helpful. A roomful of broken toys, their value depreciated, all sharing the same fundamental story, to the same, underwhelming conclusion. I had been robbed. Worse, I had been abused, stripped of my manhood, my honour. I was a powerless little boy. I was effeminate, a woman; the greatest scorn that can ever befall a man.
Thankfully, work remained a blissful slice of normality, obscuring the faithful question of, Why did I go on? Outside of close acquaintances, the world knew nothing, only of some mysterious week in which I disappeared, and disappointed by returning without tales of adventure or exotic holiday photos. Still wordless, my mum had deposited me outside the office, leaving me to enter alone. Arguably, a suspicious number of doctor’s appointments chequered my past two months, but this easy excuse had yet to alarm anyone. Moving into the kitchen, I was greeted by a colleague’s frivolous small talk, regarding their day and regaling me with their simply scintillating weekend. Such mundane interactions were so refreshing alongside the unrelenting sympathies that scorched my life.
Inexplicably, as I returned to my desk, I felt an unnerving atmosphere wafting from the floor, suffocating the ambience and draping a leaden stillness over the office. The general hum mutated into an evil crackle of suspense, ricocheting in sudden whipcracks between different cubicles. Unexplainably, my stomach began convulsing in twisting knots.
My phone screamed through the silence, announcing a call from my sister. The only member of my family to truly talk to me. As she urgently directed me towards the online news, I found a picture, situated beneath an objective headline, summarising its content with an offensive sterility. Beneath it, some dishevelled man, curled into a ball, wailed hysterically on the floor. My heart stopped.
“Courthouse Scenes From Michael Harris Trial, Victim Of Alleged Sexual Assault And Rape”
The ramifications of one single night crushed me. The truth had finally permeated my entire existence, with conclusive finality. My heartbeat was loud against my skull, drowning out the nervous chatter, the subtle glances, the unwanted, rotten condolences afflicting me from all sides. Their swirling whispers infested my ears, snatching and clawing into my brain. As scalding tears erupted in my eyes, an overwhelming, icy dread possessed me. Paralysed, I was helpless once more, as my soul spiralled into the terrible vacuum of pity.
Thanks for reading! This was initially submitted as a short story (<1500 words) responding to the quotation in the title, an extract from Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1750 [Benjamin Franklin]. I regularly post more short stories, so feel free to check them out!
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