Terrier

He quickly became tired of hiding in the dark and secret places, but still never left them. He knows that people like him don't belong outside the corners and the tight little hollows where more successful people drop their garbage and forget.

People like him swallow other peoples' garbage, and they do it happily. They swallow their own garbage as well, because there is no one out there who cares.

When he was thirteen, he cried in front of his gym teacher while the rest of his classmates wrestled on a sticky blue mat that smelled of stale sweat and plastic and dust. But he couldn't say why he refused to be pinned to the floor again by another vulgar, pubescent boy, and so the teacher had given him a detention instead. For two hours after school he had cleaned out the equipment storage closet. When he had moved aside the wrestling mats, shuddering slightly with revulsion, he'd found that rats had chewed through the oldest of them, using the innards to make themselves a nice nest. And he had felt glad.

He wanted to have a nice nest like they did, one where he could be properly isolated and safe. He wanted to curl in on himself and sleep away the daytime, when all of the dangerous people were active. He wanted to come alive while the rest of the world slept and go about his business seldom bothered.

Instead he had found himself on a battlefield he had no knowledge of, every day of his adult life spent braving loud voices and strange requests, the masses of those normal people who only blink or squint in the bright sunshine and don't feel the peculiar prickle burning beneath the surface of their flesh. The people who don't avoid the other people, who shake hands and brush shoulders without comment or revulsion, he supposes they don't still feel someone else's fingers touching them hours later, gripping them even through layers of clothing. But he goes through life branded by the claw-like embrace of his mother, the disappointed touch of his father's ghostly forehead against his, and the pinprick wounds in the back of his neck—suffered during the early days of his existence when Mr. Martin had clamped down his jaws and snapped the delicate conduit of his spine.

The new girl, CathrynohCathryn, tries to see him through her sweetly rose-tinted contact lenses; she is a good Samaritan working woman, and he is the little lost stray she picked up on her way home from the bus station. A normal person might be grateful for her kindness in an unkind world, but he finds himself resenting her as much as he longs for her company. She wants to take away the darkness that makes him feel safe because it repulses her. Even as his helplessness, his soft, non-threatening voice and trembling hands, attract her curiosity, she is still able to see the disease behind his eyes. She doesn't know it, but she feels it deep inside; it is the same instinctive disgust that people feel upon the discovery of an unexpected insect in their home, the primeval revulsion that prompts even the most caring and humane people to set rat traps.

He is quite sure that she would not like rats. Would she poison his only friends and family? She might. He does not want to take that chance. He is afraid that he might lose the nest he has built for himself over the years, out of insecurity and humiliation and torment and vitriolic hatred. He is afraid to be poisoned by her humanity.

But he is not sure quite what to think of her, late at night, when they are both alone and working in the bleak and empty office. He likes to look at her—because she is a woman and she is pretty—but he doesn't like to talk to her. Still she talks at him, probing and chewing at his monosyllabic replies (Willard I hardly know you Willard). Her voice rings shrilly in the midnight shadows of Mr. Martin's stolen empire, and he cannot help but evaluate the two in their methodology. He compares and contrasts and makes weighted lists in the privacy of his mind, and eventually he comes to the startling conclusion that Mr. Martin is the more humane of the two. Nasty, hated Mr. Martin had, at least, the good social graces to sever all his hopes and dreams early on with one swift clench of his powerful jaws; Cathryn, on the other hand, belabors every point, teases him, gnaws at his guts and leaves him alive enough to watch her greedily devouring the coils of slippery viscera. So, while he loathes Mr. Martin and mourns the early loss of his dignity, it is Cathryn who is the more offensive, for she is brazen enough to offer him feathers and a clear open sky before she strikes.

When she wants to ask him a question, she stands beside his desk, bent at the waist, and speaks softly; she nods and her hair brushes her collarbone; she leaves for the night and her perfume lingers in the office long after she has gone. He hates these unfamiliar reminders of her sheer vitality and presence; he wants to forget she is alive, but she will not let him. Her fingers are warm and soft against his when they brush reaching for the stapler and she smiles at him. Still he can't help surreptitiously wiping his hand on his slacks the moment she looks away.

The office is like a cave in the evenings when they are alone with only paperwork and one another for company. He tells her she doesn't have to stay, but she always does. She wants to help. She thinks he is being a gentleman, asking her every night whether she really wants to stay after hours to tackle the sizable backlog of purchase orders and greasy triple-decker carbon paper forms. But he knows that he asks every night in the futile hope that she will one day leave and never come back.

And yet the moment steals up as they file and sort in their empty office antre, insidious in the heavy darkness and drawn to the dual globes of their desktop lamps. He can see it coming, feel it coming, and it terrifies him because he can't stop it. His hand grazes her thigh as she stands beside his chair, and he knows causality has dug in its horrible claws. He watches from a distance, from a dream-place as she looks curiously down at his boyishly guileless face, cheeks flushed a blotchy pink and drops of cool sweat sliding down the contours of his temples. He sees her touch his bicep gingerly, the same way he saw his father hug him for the very last time, the same way he saw the tessellation of rodents writhing blindly over one another in gloomy closet, the same way he saw Mr. Martin's hands gripping his shoulders and holding, always holding him down.

He stands abruptly, awkwardly pushing his chair out with the backs of his knees; metal screams against the linoleum tile floor, making him shudder. One shaking hand knocks a stack of papers and a canister of rubber bands to the floor; when he begins to stoop to retrieve them, Cathryn's hands bump against his chest, keeping him upright. She lays her palms flat on his lapels and looks up at him, not smiling or frowning. He forces himself to meet her eyes, and realizes that she can see what is going to happen just as well as he can.

It shouldn't be embarrassing, but it is, and thankfully his body has tentative, instinctive notions about pushing her up against the desk and tugging her skirt up to her waist. She begins to tug off her pantyhose, and he finds himself idly stroking the outsides of her thighs, marveling at how thin and how smooth they are; he feels rushed from the dream-place back into unsteady reality of his body, which seems to be no more that a receptacle for sensory sensations. She whispers to him (Don't worry; I'm on the Pill) and he barely hears, he is so filled with the sight, smell, and feel of her. The sensation is good and right with the slightest undertones of grotesquerie; it is not dissimilar to the routine stroking of Socrates in the dead of night when he is feeling his loneliest.

She pulls him closer, between her legs, and he trips slightly on the undergarments she left at his feet. He blushes, but she doesn't seem to notice; she works industriously and without any particular expression, like a whore who is bored, but trying not to show it. Trapping his hips between her knees, she reaches for and fiddles with the zipper on his trousers. With her skirt rucked up around her waist and her balance tipped precariously backward against the desk, the view he has is of white skin giving way to the soft, dark tendrils of hair that grow at the apex of her thighs. It is a nice sight, one that makes his fingers tremble against her flesh, but it does not arouse him the way he knows it ought to. So he closes his eyes and thinks of rats locked in their clumsy copulation, one on top of the other, as she pushes aside his underwear and begins to curl her soft hands around him.

They come together quickly and with little preamble; both are eager for the act to be finished. He moves his hands from her thighs to her hips to her lower back before finally placing them on the desk, palms flat against the yellowing blotter. He pants a little, and she whispers his name mechanically; he feels awkward and ugly pushing his hips against hers in an inconsistent and unpleasant rhythm so out of sync with the rest of the world. He begins to wish fervently for home and the safety, however loathsome it might be, of his solitary bed and his special little family. Tears begin to leak from the corners of his eyes, which he has clenched resolutely shut so that he doesn't have to see what he is afraid will upset him.

She says his name again, more urgent and breathless than before. This surprises him and he blinks and in that split second he knows that he cannot keep his eyes closed any longer. He raises his head and stares over Cathryn's shoulder as he continues to move against her, stares intently at Mr. Martin's door as if willing it open, willing him to be there, to come out and catch them entangled on company property. Anger surges through him, sudden and daring and more obscene than Cathryn's open legs could ever hope to be. Repressed and buried hatred surges through him as he stares at that door, that idiot door, the door that used to lead to his father's office: a room he'd always felt comfortable in until the day Mr. Martin had led him inside and changed everything forever.

He thinks about being pinned down and helpless against the false, sticky plastic of the junior high wrestling mats. He thinks about what it meant to be below someone, to be controlled, to be eating shit from the palms of their hands and still licking them in gratitude. He thinks about this and realizes that, at this very moment, he is on top, he is in control. Surprised, he tears his eyes away from the dim, shadowy outline of Mr. Martin's office door and looks down at Cathryn.

Her eyes are lidded, soft-looking eyelashes delicately brushing her cheek; her lips are wet and parted and she breathes through them in little gasps as she holds on to his shoulders. She has thrown off her earlier robotic frigidity, and this makes him hate her. He begins to thrust into her more violently, knocking his kneecaps against the handles of the desk's drawers and not noticing the pain in the slightest. Her eyes snap open, and he feels rare triumph at the sight of her startled expression. When she opens her mouth to speak, he covers the hole with the palm of one hand, knowing that he would not be able to kiss her to stop her words, protesting or encouraging. Every time the bones of their hips meet, his guilt intensifies with his pleasure; he thinks of Socrates, sitting alone on his bed perhaps, and waiting for him. He feels like an adulterer, though he is aware that what he has left behind is a cuckold rat. Cathryn would not understand.

When he climaxes and the sensations wash through his body like waves of vertigo, he feels himself losing the anger that fueled his bolder reactions; he thinks that maybe it was released from him with his semen and smiles a tight, bitter smile of resignation. Cathryn touches his face lightly and begins to coo things, trite and meaningless, the moment he allows his hand to drop away from her face. He wishes she wouldn't; the anger may be gone, but the hatred remains, stirring his insides like witch's brew.

He tells her she can leave, and put down extra hours on her timecard while she's at it. She stares at him, blankly at first and then with the icier coolness of realization. He bites his lower lip as he bashfully pulls up his zipper; she smoothes her skirt down over her thighs and briskly bends down to retrieve the tangled pile of her pantyhose, which she stuffs carelessly into her purse. There is something about this that excites him more than intercourse did. She grabs her coat and stalks out with head held high; she does not glance back at him. He imagines he can see the glimmer of light reflecting on a trail of fluid trickling down her inner thigh. And then she is gone, for the first time taking his suggestion; he would be happy, but for the lengths taken that ended with her doing so.

He tiptoes to the window and watches her leave the building, kicking a stray piece of litter as she goes and pausing only to flip her hair from underneath the collar of her coat. He watches as she gets smaller and smaller, obscuring the sight of her with his hand momentarily and pretending she does not exist. When he shifts his hand back out of his line of vision, he charitably brings her back to the world of the living. But now she is walking amidst an ankle-deep sea of dead rats.