This selection is part of NonBinary Review Issue #7: The Woman in White. Get NonBinary Review #7 from the Zoetic Press website. 

In the long moments as the knife played in shadow across the milky shower curtain, Vanessa pictured a grizzled man humping her gushing wounds indelicately. She could see in specific detail the calloused fingers drawing the curtain aside and yellowed teeth as the beastly man howled with each wild thrust into the gash he’d made in her flesh. Maybe she’d still be alive enough throughout the proceedings to gurgle a few protests through the blood that pooled in her throat before she died, limp and ravaged on the bathroom floor. The clarity with which she was able to picture the man having his way with her young, wet, pliant corpse was impressive even to her and she hoped a similar clarity would come regarding how to fend the intruder off—she looked frantically across the many half-empty bottles of shampoo and conditioner for something of substance, even if only a prop—like a cell phone when a date is runs late for a dinner engagement and in an effort to look busy you go through old text messages, deleting all the “L8R”s, and curating the remainder into a list of flattering and humorous notes that make you seem important and cared about and not like someone who would be made to wait 35 minutes outside a restaurant that you are slightly underdressed for looking very alone.

Vanessa considered the family sized TRES EME bottle, but knew it was nearly empty, having been there since Peter first suggested and did not follow through on moving in together over a year ago, and its flimsy weight would hardly protect her. She was suddenly irritated with Peter for installing such a massive and useless object in her shower space, using its contents to her own peril, and then not even be there to save her. He could, at very least, take a few stabs of his own so that in their dying moments together they might feel he had done all he could to save her while he is made to watch the stranger pummel her wounds with his fleshy man-piece. Maybe the criminal wouldn’t rape her, though. Maybe he would just stab her a little bit, or strangle her, or put a plastic bag over her head, or hang her from the curtain rod with her face in the tub of water.

Vanessa gave up on the sliver of soap that she’d considered rubbing in the criminal’s eyes, glued as it was to the soap dish forever, and reached for the pink disposable lady bic that had been discoloring the edge of the tub with rust for weeks. She quieted her breath, believing the element of surprise to be the only thing working in her favor. No doubt the intruder believed he would be the one surprising her.

Seeing the figure’s slow advance filled Vanessa with a fresh wave of panic and adrenaline born from the very real threat made on her life (though she wondered at the killer’s choice to hold the knife so high—it seemed cliché—but maybe, she allowed, they were going for a very specific, vintage cinematic aesthetic).

Unable to endure the suspense any longer, Vanessa yanked back the shower curtain and lashed wildly at the intruder who was, indeed, very much surprised.

The butter knife lay impotently on the rug at Peter’s feet. He looked at her in wide-eyed terror and screamed, “What in all of fucking hell fuck were you thinking? I was going to surprise you!”

Vanessa had she now recalled, been hoping Peter would surprise her for their anniversary. She’d been happily soaping her breasts, fantasizing about an equally trite cinematic experience—one involving a pizza delivery man and conveniently skipping over the awkwardness of putting on a condom—when she has caught sight of the shadowy figure. She felt a little bad about yelling at Peter, but her heart was still pounding and her brain still yelling KILL KILL KILL, so she yelled back, “Me? What was I thinking! I thought someone was about to stab me and fuck my wounds!”

Peter had to concede that much. He’d shown up with flowers and a bottle of port—it promised to be a good-enough evening. However, finding the door unlocked, he let himself inside. He’d gotten bored waiting in the living room so he flipped through the diary hidden under her mattress and rummaged through the box of naked photographs an ex-boyfriend had taken of her that she kept behind her luggage in the closet. But even that could only hold his interest for so long, so he went to the kitchen to open the port and get a snack when he saw the butter knife, still edged with the bloody purple glint of the raspberry preserves Vanessa had smeared across her toast that morning. It was so cartoonishly murderous that Peter could not help himself. He took off his shoes and grabbed the knife, moving in an exaggerated tiptoe toward the bathroom in a manner he thought Pink Pantherish. When he finally made it to the bathroom he lurked for an additional minute, waiting to see if he could catch her peeing or talking or somehow embarrassing herself in the shower.

“I’m sorry!” Peter shouted, still angry.

Vanessa agreed that from his perspective it would have been funny. Had she been in his position, after going through his pockets and all the scraps of paper stuffed in his books, she would have done the exactly same thing. “Apology accepted,” she said with a slight pout, shivering under the spray of water, which had cooled to a tepid kiddy-pool temperature.

Peter frowned sympathetically through his irritation. “Come here,” he said, holding up her towel. Vanessa pressed her face against his shoulder as he dried her off. It wasn’t much, but it was as close to love as they could get while trying to kill one another.

NBR7RyckmansmallTatiana Ryckman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the chapbook, Twenty-Something, and Assistant Editor at sunnyoutside press.