The Intruder
Jo Cooper
       The furnace kicked on and Elaine dropped her book in her lap. A branch rubbed across the side window. Funny, how small noises seem so loud when you're alone, she thought, tightening her yellow robe. "I remember," she said to the man's picture on the piano, "You used to say the boughs were like loving fingers gently tapping at the window. Now that you're dead, they sound like rough fingernails clawing into my heart. I miss you so."
     Tossing her dark hair to the back of her shoulder, she uncoiled her long legs and moved quickly to the kitchen. When she reached over the sink to pull the lite cord, she heard a sound outside. Probably just the wind banging the screen door. She walked out through the narrow pantry where moonligfht ricocheted over the canned goods stacked in rows on the shelves. The back door opened outward onto a small screened porch. "No sense having the front door locked when I leave this one wide open." She balanced herself with one hand on the clothes dryer and reached out toward the door. "Really, I should have this hinge fixed so I don't have to reach so far." She groped for the door knob in the shadows. At first she thought the door must be caught on something. She pulled it toward her, but it didn't move. Then the knob turned ever so slightly in her hand . Someone was holding the knob from the other side. She didn't swallow. She stood there motionless. A muscular arm swung around the door and held her wrist firmly.
     "S-s-s-s," her breath made a hissng sound as she sucked it in. Suddenly a man was on the step in front of her. She was too scared to scream. Not that anyone would hear her. He moved up the steps and they stood face to face, one of his hands on each of her wrists. Their backs were arched as she strained to pull away, like coquettish lovers playing the game of restraint before response. She stared up into his dark eyes. The night breeze shifted a strand of her hair onto her forehead. It tickled. His grip tightened as she tried to raise her hand to brush it aside. She was numb. Everything seemed like a dream. Suddenly she realized it was real. She couldn't move. "I thnk I'm going to be sick!"
     "I don't want to hurt you, he said, still holding her wrists.
     "Then let me go. You're hurting my arms," Elaine pleaded.
     "Who else is here?" He looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen.
      "Just my son, and he's only four. I swear, no one else is here. Let me go!" That was stupid, she thought, I should have lied.
     He let one hand go, but led her by the other wrist as he searched the entire house.
     "I haven't much money, maybe $10 in the house-money," she said, as they re-entered the tiny blue kitchen.
     The tall, angular man sank into a chrome chair and grabbed a pack of cigarettes from on top of the radio. He lit one, then put the pack in his pocket. She could feel him watching her every move.
     "Fix me some coffee and food."
     "All right. What ever you say." maybe if I humor him, she thought, if I'm civil to him, talk to him awhile, maybe he'll go away or at least leave me alone long enough to use the phone. She poured boiling water into a cup with instant coffee and stirred it. Her hands shook so when she screwed the top back on the jar, that she almost dropped it. Looks llike a decent fellow, she thought, setting the cup in front of him on the kitchen table.
     "Bennett. I mean Ben! Hey, where's your husband? Willhe be home sooon?" He jumped up and clutched her arm.
     "He died two years ago."
     His hand on her arm, even forcefully, felt warm like Dave's used to. He's nothing like Dave, she thought, and yet, he smelled like a man. The old familiar aroma of tobacco-shaving lotion mixture dulled her senses for a moment. "Oh, Dave," she thought.
     He let go and she reached above his head into the cupboard for the sugar bowl. Ben twisted his shoes about the legs of the chair and rested his head in his hands. "I didn't do anything. I didn't hurt anybody."
     Elaine licked her dry lips. The cup slid off the saucer and almost out of her hand, before she caught it. "What did they say you did?"
     ""They said it was rape, but it wasn't. She wanted me. She just got scared 'cause he ma came in and then she started screaming and the nexxt thing II knew I was in jail and they said it was rape. You don't think I'd hurt anybody, do you?"
     "Of course not," elaine mumbled as she fixed her coffee. He really didn't look the type.
     She pictured herself scooping an ugly bullfrog from a pond of lilies. The frog was croaking, "I didn't do it, I didn't do it." As she lifted it in her hands, it turned into a handsome young man who bent and kissed her. She shook her head. Ben was standing beside her at the stove.
     "Sit down, I'll do that," he said, carrying the kettle from the stove. "Your'e shaking so you'll burn yourself."
     "You're right. I guess the coffee will help. Ben, how long have you been in jail?"
     "Seventeen months. every day was Hell! I couldn't stand it. You gotta help me. Don't let them send me back, please."
     His eyes pleaded much like her son Ronnie's, when he wanted something he knew he shouldn't have. Ben seemed like a little boy, and yet, she knew from her own reaction to him that he was very much a man.
     "I forgot the cream," she reached above him for a pitcher. Ben moved his chair to give her more room, but this only helped her lose the little balance she had. She fell against him. Her face was against his chest. Elaine felt the warmth of his body. His arm tightened around her waist. She responded. Then, quickly, she caught herself and tried to pull away from his embrace. I need a man's arms around me. even a stranger's felt wonderful for a minute, she thought, terrified.
     "Let me go!"
     Ben smiled. Then he kissed her very hard on the mouth.
     All at once it was not wonderful. It was sickening. This was not Dave, nor anyone like Dave, she thought. This man wanted her....most desparately, but not like she needed a man. She cold feel the lust in his whole body as he greedily fondled her against her will.
     "momir?" A small boy cried form the doorway. Ben jumped. Elaine ran quickly to the other side of the kitchen. "Go back to bed, Ronnie. Right now! Do you hear?"
     He rubbed one hand over a sleepy eye and she watched as the fade blue flannel pajamas disappeared into the bedroom.
     Elaine's senses were reelign. Ben's small, dark eyes looked at her differently now. She knew she could not help him now. She must only somehow protect herself and her son. Only her head moved. She closed her eyes tightly and opened them again.
     His arms reached out toward her. Thousands of thoughts jammed her brain: the knives are on the wall, right behind my right hand - but that would be MURDER - Thou shall not kill - he may kill me, or Ronnie - he's so strong - I'll never be able to get to the ;phone - Oh dear God, what can I do?
     Suddenly Ben's large, hairy hand seized her left arm. She could think no more. Only feel. She could feel his warm breath in her face. She could feel the sweat inside her hands and on her body. She could feel the rough, wooden handle of the knfe in her right hand.
     Quickly, quickly, she threw her arm around hm just as he reached for her other hand. With more strengt than she had ever had before, she pushed the knife into his back. It seemed an eternity before it even got through the clothing, then she felt warm liquid gushing out onto her hand. His eyes looked shocked, then sad, as he slowly let go of her arm and crumpled to the floor.
1500 words
COMMENTS by Ralph Cooper, 10-17-07
     In her voluminous folder for this story, I found that she had first sent it to Doubleday in 1960. That was when she was living in Turlock under her name, Josephine L. Hunt. They rejected it, but with a full page, personal letter which was very encouraging to her. After many revisions over the years, she periodically submitted it to a total of six different magazines. All but one returned it with just the standard, printed, note, thanking her for her submission, but saying it didn't answer their current needs. She last submitted it in 1974.

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