I was alone, standing near the little brick church round the corner, when the policeman approached.
“Is everything all right here?” he asked, officious but not uncordial.
“Yes,” I said, “just looking at a big spider.”
He stepped closer to me to have a gander at the spider weaving its web in the shady alcove of the church’s back entrance. I was his better in height by perhaps an inch or two, but he more than compensated with a generous dousing of cologne. “Oh, looks like a black widow. Better not get too close.”
“I don’t think it’s a black widow,” I said. “And I wasn’t playing with it, just looking.”
He leaned in, squeaking forward on the toes of his shining black shoes. An immaculate one he was, uniform pristine, tucked-in and tidy, his frame smallish and compact, hands and cheeks well-scrubbed, could not have been much above thirty. After a good squint, he straightened and puffed out his sturdy little chest like a bantam cock to say, “Ah! That’s what we in this area call a common wolf spider.”
I peered sidelong at him. “Hmm!” I went, all curious-like, as if accepting his superior wisdom, though I haven’t seen the wolf spider yet who spins a web. During his arachnid inspection, I noticed the hand resting upon his hip bore no wedding ring, and I wondered if he was divorced, or if, as I am sure he would have put it, he simply “hadn’t met the right girl yet.” I wondered if he was lonely, or if he had a girlfriend. Most of all I wondered just why he’d gone out of his way to strut over to the frumpy girl in the oversized sweater standing perfectly legally if somewhat strangely by the old church. There was a silent moment as we watched the lovely shining creature go about her work in the shadows, and then the cop reached over and plucked a string, sending the spider scuttling away.
“You didn’t have to scare it off!” I said, mingling chastisement with flirtation. The officer colored slightly, confronted with my face turned straight upon his, the twinkle of girlish indignation in my eyes. I could tell in that instant that I had the upper hand, and so I playfully tapped his shoulder with my fist, pouted, “You big bully!” and could see by the dumb, happy expression on his face that I had him utterly disarmed.
Sweet John, I would come to call him, My John. My mother would likely have known whose son he was, may have even dandled him on her knee when he was a babe. As most families in the town, ours has been here for generations, and all the same old names are familiar with one another. But I am more akin to cancer than offspring, cohabiting within the body of the town, the body of my family, alongside the healthy, functioning parts, but malignant, silent. I did not care what his name was, but he insisted on telling it to me, and I learned how he liked the sound of it whispered in his ear, the sound of his own name, that’s what a base thing he was.
It wasn’t long before I got the confession from him that he had an ulterior, though not wholly dishonorable, interest when he stepped over to the girl with the pretty hair by the church. I made sure the interest was dishonorable the first time I visited his house. He was very close, a block away, in a little house I could easily sneak to, just a whisper for me over our backyard, through a bend in the fence, like a rabbit, and over the empty lot behind, through the sleepy garden of an elderly lady, across the street and there I was. The first time I went to him was late in the afternoon, when there’s still some golden light before dusk, that suspended time when a girl can go missing for an hour or two and no one will notice. Our town is ostensibly a friendly one, old-fashioned, as many will insist, so although my visit was not expected, his having told me where he lived that first day we met was enough of an implicit invitation for me to play it off. I found his home predictably tidy, warm, and lonesome. I was surprised he didn’t have a dog. I sat on his couch and in the course of the many things we spoke of told him I was a virgin, another implicit invitation. I wondered how many firearms he had in the house.
I told him he need not be gentle with me. I took to sneaking out nights, scurrying to his house in the dark. His eyes and mine grew shadowed with lost sleep. Our encounters became little tableaux of violence. I urged him to forcibly move me as he wanted, to toss me around, to trap my arms, legs, hips roughly in his grasp, to strike and bruise and manipulate my flesh with full authority. Together we shed him of the facade of his good nature. He learned that he liked to wrap his hands round my neck and squeeze to the point of danger, that he liked to flip me over and take his belt to me, fuck me harshly, pull my hair till I hissed, and he learned he liked it as well when I clawed at his flesh, gouging in till there was skin under my nails and vivid bleeding stripes over his body, he liked it when I bit at the straining tendons of his neck, when I writhed beneath or above or against him like something not quite human. I begged him to kiss harder, to bite and chew at my lips till they bled, and he would do it, the fool, he did it and he tasted my blood. It could not be undone; I was within him, I would be there forever, a taint.
I encouraged these appetites, telling him to abuse me, and his hunger to do so grew. Abuse me, I said, and he thought it was to bring me pleasure, but it was to see the changes wrought in him that pleased me. My body was a training ground for cruelty. I wanted him to develop the taste for causing pain. My body grew beyond the pain, or the pleasure, or any sensation, it grew like a gathering swarm of locusts descending. I called him Sweet John, Sweet John whose eyes grew hard, as he changed, as his capacity for savagery was wrought and honed. He carried a terrible weapon, that badge, a weapon I became eager to teach him to use.
I taught him early on to accept that nothing he could do to my body would bring me to orgasm. But one night I strung a new thread. “John,” I said, as we were limb-splayed on the sheets he would not wash, to spite his usual meticulousness, “John,” the appellation drawled into a sound stripped of association with that good Biblical name, “I want to tell you something I haven’t told you yet.” A vaguely interested murmur was the response, but it was early enough in the night I knew he was still interested. “It’s something nasty.”
He lazily twined a length of my hair round his fingers, and tugged just enough to jerk out a small gasp. “How nasty?”
“Sometimes,” I said, “I go in the bathroom, when we’re done, or even when we aren’t done, and I think about things, and I get myself off where you cannot see.”
That got him. Up he sat. “Why do you do that, why not with me?”
“Because it’s bad things that I think about.”
“You. I think of you. I think of you on duty, in your uniform. I think of you, well, I think of you arresting someone, having to be really hard, really rough with them, rougher than necessary.” My body’s swindle provided him a blush, a lick of the lips, a hand rubbing absently over my thigh, for his watchful eye. Within the half hour, I had his blunt hand fondling me in slick accordance with my own, as we murmured and growled terrible fantasies of the brutality he could carry out in his capacity as the strong arm of the law.
The street was on fire, a patrol vehicle burning in front of the station, warming my cheeks and lighting joyously in my eyes. There is an unspeakable sweetness in dreams made manifest. Most of the crowd had dispersed from the area soon after the fire was merrily ablaze, the cue to move on to the next target. I supposed my own contacts from out of town would have ensured the stage was set so the final denouement could play on without a hitch, and I knew they could be counted on to be artful enough to make the spectacle seem a spontaneous one. The night air was filled with smoke and shouting in the distance, and my elation was calm, poised, electric as I walked the familiar streets leading to the house where the riot had taken its natural progression.
They had him out on his lawn when I got there; the walk to anywhere is not long in a small town. They were screaming indictments, screaming the names of the two young men, the one he had beaten and broken and the other he had shot and killed. I saw many faces I knew in the crowd, though I still cared nothing for what their names were; familiar, meaningless faces. Many more were strangers. I climbed atop the car of the elderly lady whose garden I had sneaked through so many times. Someone had set the garbage bins on fire. My John saw me in his frenzy as they held him and were bringing the makeshift noose over his head. He called my name, the false one I had given him when he asked for one. I stood there, elevated as a priestess, undisturbed by the mass, and watched the people pull the rope and dangle the disgraced officer from the branch, the jerking of his limbs sending froths of screaming ecstasy spilling from the throng. I felt suddenly languid, my eyes, body, and mind pleasantly tranquil and relaxed, as in a haze following an excellent meal, or coitus. I waited until the night’s villain was, after a few teasing drops and renewed hoistings, finally spent of his last twitches, and the little house touched with flame, before lowering from my perch and slipping through the old route back to my house and into bed for a delicious sleep.
Olwen Thrush, ONA / Dec. 2014