In the meantime

She kept her coat on, that was the first thing. She was wearing a red coat and she kept it on but we were inside. Something was wrong and we drank coffee and there wasn’t any way to say it out loud.

Something happened, she said. He hit me.

The day moved. I don’t know what happened next. We were in her flat, in a car. We packed an overnight bag.

Where is he now? I don’t know. I don’t know where he is. I just left.

We go to a friends house and it is dark. We talk for hours and she shows me the marks, the cigarette burn on her leg. We go into the bedroom alone and she takes off her clothes. I take photographs. I have no way of taking the humiliation out of this, the flash whitening bare shoulders, her hips, her thigh. We sit on the bed and roll cigarettes and talk for hours. We smoke out of the window and there is lamplight and sheets and we are all together, we don’t know what to do, we talk and talk and talk. I think that they give me a cigarette because the next day my hair smells of it. We don’t know what to do, it is late at night, no one has slept, the world is ending.

Morning comes.

In the first days, we were lost. We didn’t know where he was. She left his flat in the morning, showered and changed, then came to meet us. He was missing for three days. The university called at his flat, left notes, made faint efforts to find him while we spoke on the phone, trying to keep the tremor out of our voices. Around us people were having ordinary days, buying milk and catching the bus. But we had stepped out of ordinary time, we were up all night and no one went to classes. We put everything on hold, locked ourselves in. The days ran into one another, burnt toast and the dull fever pitch of a crisis.

He lived nearby, he worked at the university, he could be anywhere. He slept with the students. He had told us this. We often saw him around campus, walking with books and his long, sardonic strides. You could never tell what he was thinking. And then this, in the dark, in the place that no one talks about. How many times? How many other girls?

We couldn’t go to the police. It was not possible. But we needed to warn someone, we felt responsible, and we thought that they would help. After all, hadn’t we done the right things? We took photographs. We made notes. We had the evidence, the dates, we had turned the confusion of night and fear and humiliation into clinical words on a page. This happened. And then this, and then this. A mess of hands and intentions and the sudden cold-water shock of hurt. We had ordered our chaos. They had to listen to us.

He says that you wanted to.

In a small white room, on plastic chairs. He sat at the desk and folded his hands to imply that he was listening to us, and tried to make his eyes look softer. He was watching us, watching me take notes of what he was saying on a pad. I’d rather speak to you alone, in private. It’s really not necessary that your friend take notes.

And we go over it, and I can feel it as it presses down on you, I can feel the weight of the words he is forcing you to say, again, the clarity with which it hangs in the air, the loudness of the silence. I cannot lessen this, I cannot take out the sting, it is like when I undressed you for the photographs, we are leaving you without skin.

He says that you agreed. It will have to go to a tribunal. In the meantime, you can both keep your jobs. I will try and find alternative accommodation to offer you, or are you staying with friends? I see. In the meantime. I can’t give any guarantees. In the meantime.

And so this is how it happens. This is how they get away with it.

It goes to a tribunal. They decide it is his word against yours. After all, why wait for two days before coming to them? Why not go to the police? If it was true. If we are not lying. We offer to show them the photograph, the statements we have made. That will not be necessary.

It all counts for nothing, in the end. He will not lose his job. He will not lose his flat. But perhaps you would feel more comfortable, if they offered you another position? In another block, so that you would not share a staircase with him? Just let us know, and we can get it all arranged. No trouble.

As if you had had a slight misunderstanding, but it would all come good in time.

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