She’s just here for three days, my mother said; but I was thirteen, on a week-end, and I’d had plans. The adults wanted a night out and my cousin and I were old enough to be alone. Her parents left, and mine, in a swirl of coats and laughter.
My cousin, almost a year younger, crossed her legs under her and opened a book on the couch.
—Do you want to watch a movie, I asked.
I left her on the couch. Why did I have to stay here? I went to the basement. The unfinished half always frightened me. I avoided it. Thin burlap and thatched boards hid the windowless space.
But this is where I was twenty minutes later.
—What are you doing? she asked.
I’d heard steps, soft like my mother’s, on the stairs.
—Putting stuff away.
—Sounds like fun.
—Just something to do.
—What’s the rope for?
The rope was old hemp, freshly stained with grass.
—We were playing capture the flag.
—With the rope?
—We were tying up the prisoners, but Mom made us stop.
—I bet I could get out, she said, her voice strangely monotone.
I paused. I only had half-a-dozen loops over the hook. She was small. I knew she was a gymnast, flexible and graceful in the way that seemed natural to girls.
—Want to try? I asked.
She stood next to me, standing on her toes, and we lifted the rope off the hook. She backed against the center post and crossed her wrists behind behind the post. I started at her wrists, tying them together. I didn’t make it tight. When I crossed the loop over her middle she’d already freed her wrists and slipped down to the floor. She spun away and lifted her wrists, free of the rope, fingers fluttering.
—Want to try again?
She returned to the post. She crossed her wrists behind her.
—Make it tighter, she said.
I did. I made sure her wrists were crossed. I knotted the rope and yanked. When I crossed in front of her, she watched me as if daring me. I pulled the rope tight across her middle and crossed to the back again. Her hands were red. One thumb was hooked into the rope, working the knot. I circled to the front and drew the rope up and over her left shoulder. What did it trigger? There was a rope coiling in my stomach. I crossed behind her and tugged. She didn’t make a sound. The rope was high and I dropped back over her right shoulder. The rope made an X over her T-Shirt, which I hadn’t noticed till now.
—What, she asked.
—Let me go.
—Get out of it, I said, swallowing.
She struggled. Her hips moved. Her shoulders lifted oppositely. Her long brown hair fell over her eyes. I wanted to hold her hips still. The X dropped down tight round her waist, snugged over her hip. My solar plexus twisted with the knot.
—Let me go!
I didn’t. I couldn’t. My face was hot. Was I angry? Did she mean it? I tightened the hemp at her knees, behind the post, and pulled until she couldn’t move, until her gymnast’s bones punched at the slight flesh of her frame—caught and immobile.
—Try to get out, I said.
I didn’t recognize my own voice.
—Let me go! Let me go! Let me go!
She struggled as if to hide something she couldn’t hide. I wanted to see. The last ‘go’ pitched upward into a scream and she inhaled, whooping as if she couldn’t breathe. Each inhalation jolted her. Neither of us understood what we had somehow set free. I frantically undid the rope, freeing her, but she stared straight ahead, as if still in shock, hiccuping. I yanked at the knot at her wrist. I ran out of the basement, up the stairs, swiped the inhaler from the bathroom counter.
She was rubbing her wrists when I returned.
Her wrists were red and mottled where the hemp braids had bitten. She quickly shook her head. It wasn’t asthma. Her face and neck were mottled like her wrists. She glanced furtively at anything but me and hurried out of the basement. Her tread on the stairs began one at a time and finished by twos.
Don’t tell, I wanted to say.
I turned the rope over my shoulder and hooked the loops from the ceiling hook. The light of the single bulb dangled through the coils. Shadows snaked and corkscrewed under boxes, plastic draped furniture and in the tangled shelves.
I rushed upstairs.
—What’s wrong with you? she asked from the hallway.
—Don’t say anything, she said. I mean, I’m fine now. I don’t know. Just kind of weird. I’m okay. I’m going to go read.
She waited as if for permission, as though I’d wounded her, as though she were afraid of me.
But I couldn’t hide from it. The windowless danger of the cellar was in me. The rope and its venomous involutions writhed in my diaphragm, burned my palms and coiled like a noose in my groin.
William Crimson | September 12 2015