The pungent stench of urine mixed with the sweet scent of the bus’s engine exhaust sobered a mind drowning in worries and daydreams of a full night’s sleep.

The double doors swished open, blowing a gust of wind laced with trash particles and a potpourri of sweat, urine, feces, and industrial cleaner single-handedly attempting to combat them all. The bus driver’s grim smile welcomed me to step into this porta-potty on wheels, and his yellow, veined eyes told me to hurry up and get in.

As I made my way down the solitary runway, I snuck short, intermittent breaths through my nostrils, holding them in for as long as I could before lightheadedness set in. The more seats I passed, the less that seemed available. On my next inhale, a new smell was introduced into the menagerie running wild in the canned space. Although it was strong—almost musty—it was pleasant, refined. It reminded me of Chanel or Gucci, but I wasn’t sure what the brand actually was. Its pleasantness paved a path that I followed indiscriminately, a raft to an island in the eye of a storm.

The scent led me to the rear of the bus where a homeless man readjusted his crotch repeatedly, drinking an amber liquid out of a Brisk Raspberry iced tea bottle he was trying to pass it off as. Across from him was a tall woman wearing a long, light carnation trench coat.

My eyes told me that sitting next to the woman would yield a more pleasurable bus ride, as she was clean, smelled great, and was wearing high, black stilettos that made her long, smooth, crossed legs impossible not to stare at. However, I took a seat closer to the homeless man because, although he was practically masturbating through his black jeans—brown with grime—the woman had an energy that frightened me a little. Dark sunglasses that looked more expensive than anything I’d be making in the next three months covered her eyes.

She wore her dark brown hair in a tight bun that reminded me of a really mean but gorgeous teacher I had in third grade. I used to stare at her all day and never do my work. She knew that I was staring at her for reasons that were anything but academic. She knew that my child-body wanted hers. After class, she used to make me eat chalk while she covered my mouth and spanked me with the long erasers, as to not leave any marks. The way the woman on the bus was looking at me—her head angled in my direction, eyebrows and lips not moving—sent the same neck-twitching shivers down my spine as when I bit down on the thick, talcous dowels with my baby teeth, while my other classmates played outside in the yard. She was practically a mannequin; one that could at any given moment do whatever she wanted to me.

“This is some mo’ bullshit,” the homeless man yelled.

I flinched and looked over to see what he was referring to, but by then he started laughing to himself and then dozed off.

“Don’t be afraid,” the woman said, in a low, sultry voice.

At first, I didn’t know where the voice had come from, and when I turned my head to face the woman, she was smiling at me. Not a sign of joy or friendship, but instead, one baiting me, beckoning me to entreat her offer.

“Oh, no,” I said. “That didn’t scare me. It’s just that homeless people make me a little nervous. That’s all.”

The woman continued to smile, waiting patiently for my body to settle back down into itself.

“I wasn’t talking about him,” she said, uncrossing her arms and stretching them out onto the empty seats adjacent to her. “I was referring to me.”

I laughed at her comment, trying to defuse the tension making my eyes, armpits, and ass watery. I tried to look directly at her, but her eclipsed gaze was hotter than the heat pumping out of the dusty vents into the bus shaft.

“I’m…not,” I mumbled.

“You’re not what?” she said, retreating her smile.

“I’m not afraid of you, miss. Believe me.”

“I believe you. Do you believe yourself?”

She brought her arms down, diffusing her sweet essence into me, and scooted her small waist and curved hips onto the seat next to her; two seats away from me. I too wanted to move, not merely to scoot a seat but run across the bus and jump out into a dragged-scraped death. However, I also wanted to prove to her that I indeed wasn’t afraid of her, as a mouse before a snake.

“I know you’re afraid of me,” she whispered, slowly unbuckling the belt on her coat. “Even when people play tough, I can read their fear in their eyes, throat, hands, and in the bulge growing in their pants.”

Despite the amount of times I swallowed, the saliva cascading down my tongue wouldn’t go down my throat. I felt as though she could see the inner workings of my vital organs. Just as I was about to start breathing again, she loosened the top of her trench coat and scooted over one more seat.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she said baring her teeth, ones that could have easily formed a smile sweet enough to make me blush. In their current vampiric state, they were savory enough to make me hard. “You no longer get to decide where you’re going.”

I wanted to yell for help, but my voice didn’t. My brain was telling my arm to pull on the cord, requesting a stop, but I felt as though it was oxygen-starved from all the blood my body had redirected to my throbbing erection.

“What do you want with me?” I finally said. “I’ll give you anything.”

“I want you,” she said.

“Buh…but why me?”

The woman unbuttoned her coat completely and stretched out her arms over the seat between us and the one she had just vacated. The aquiline gesture unveiled a small black dress meant more to reveal than conceal. I wanted to look away, but my eyes were also under her domain. Her breasts were small, her nipples barely concealed by the cups of her dress. Her chest muscles were well developed, forming defined striations anytime her arms moved. Her clavicle bones led my eyes to the firm apples of her shoulders that were coyly poking out of her coat. The fact that she could pin me down and place me in a sleeper hold didn’t scare me anymore. She was right, and if I wasn’t already hers, I truly wanted to be.

“Why you?” she said. “Because you remind me of a younger, weaker version of myself.”

“I’m not wea—”

She slid her dark shades up into her hair, revealing two deep blue flames, beckoning the moths of my eyes to their pleasure and their death.

“Yes,” she said. “You remind me of 15-year old me, and you need me more than you think you do.”

“Why? What happened to you?”

She crossed her legs, leaned her head against the graffiti-covered fiberglass and closed her eyes.

“It’s just the look in your eyes,” she said. “That look of vulnerability is what my so-called friends probably saw in me when they tied and locked me up, completely naked, in a pool house all night.”

In spite of the thick layers of primer, foundation, concealer, and finishing powder, I could see the depth of pain her face was trying to hide with her crooked smile. Although I couldn’t help but feel offended by being compared to a vulnerable girl of 15, I wanted to scoot closer to her.

“That’s messed up,” I said.

She licked her red lips glossy, swallowing as a single mascara tear rolled down her cheek bone into her ear. She brought her head back up, and although the flames were still burning, their flickering revealed the source of their waning. She looked out the window, and the amount of fog covering the glass near her mouth told me that there was a deep emotion attached to that deep sigh. By the third exhale, her breath had covered the center part of the glass. She raised her finger and wrote something. Before I could read what she had written, she pulled on the yellow cord lining the windows, requesting a stop.

STOP REQUESTED. Please use rear exit. Watch your step when exiting the bus.

“Where are you going?” I asked as she rose from her seat, buttoned her coat, and buckled her belt. Damn, I thought, there was only one seat between us. “Are you getting off?”

“I am,” she said, with a grin. “You’re not.”

The bus stopped and the backdoors flung open, pushing aside the passengers leaning on them. It all happened as if underwater. I looked at her hips sway side-to-side while her high heels click-clacked down the steps. Then I remembered that she had written something on the glass. When I turned to read it, the secret message it was slowly fading away.

You get off when I tell you to, it read.

I made a mad dash toward the closing double doors and yelled “back door, please. Back door,” as if my well-being depended on it.

The driver looked annoyed. His eyes, now more pink than yellow and once welcoming, told me to get the hell off. The double doors swished open to fresher air and there she was.

“What took you so long?” she said.

I jumped off, trying not to seem too eager, and walked next to her, but at a distance that conveyed the sentiment of I want to fuck, but I also think you are a strong, independent woman of whom I’m also kind of afraid.

“Where are we going?” I said.

She looked at me, took out a tissue and a compact mirror from one of her coat pockets, wiped the runoff mascara, placed the mirror back in her pocket, and flung the used tissue into a garbage bin before walking away.

“Coming?” she said.

“Uh, yeah,” I said, “of course.”

“First thing you’ve got to learn,” she said, turning her head sharply toward me. “You are to refer to me as Mistress, you got that?”

I gulped and nodded up and down.

“Coming?” she asked again.

“Yes, Mistress,” I said, and something released warm on the back of my neck as when a toe is dipped into a warm tub of water.

“You come,” she said as she continued to walk into the night, “only when I say so.”


Friday, September 27, 1985

12:45 p.m.

“What are you afraid of, Tereza Van Ness?”

That’s the question that’s been rolling around in my head and keeping me up all night this past summer. I’m afraid that I’m the only one in my group of friends that hasn’t developed breasts yet. That’s all my friends seem to talk about. Well, that and boys to whom they want to show them to.

Mom, who has enormous tits, keeps telling me that it would only be a matter of time before those suckers popped out. Summer after summer since the one when I turned 12, I’ve seen more and more girls in my class going into the women’s section of JCPenney to get sized up for bras.

I hate it when Mom tells me that everything is going to be “okay.” That I probably just got my flat-chestedness from dad’s side of the family. She states the fact that both my aunts are as flat as boards with a sense of joy and accomplishment, as if having big tits was the equivalent of having a Nobel Piece of Ass prize. According to her, the only markers that told people that my aunts were women were their names. Well, not for Aunt Ryan.

Another thing that scares me is how Dad’s been treating me. He often jokes that he has three sons and that his oldest—in other words, me—was just a sissy or simply thought I was gay. He’s made a habit of walking in on me while I’m changing. The bathroom door broke and because Dad hasn’t gotten around to fixing it, he barges in while I’m on the toilet or showering. He doesn’t even knock. When I’ve asked my brothers if Dad has done that to them, they simply laugh and say “never.”

He’s such a fucking pervert, I know it’s no accident as he claims it is when I catch him in the act. His eyes. His eyes stare for a little too long, I feel them burning a hole through me. He laughs off my supplications for him to leave. The jerk says that there is nothing for me to hide, because there’s nothing to see. I feel dirty and used and I just want to shower in hot water until the feeling goes away. But no matter how long I stay in there, or scream my eyes bloody into my pillows, I know that nobody will ever see me as beautiful because of my ugly body. My stupid tits are the butt of every damn joke that even my mom doesn’t mind anymore. That stupid bitch even joins in.

It got to a point where Dad would force me to change in front of him. That’s what I was truly afraid of; I was afraid of my dad crossing the line from striptease games to rape. In those filthy, blue eyes—the ones I inherited from him—he saw me as a strange woman and not the little girl that looked to him for protection against strange men who wanted to harm her. I was afraid that if I told Mom about how Dad was treating me, it would break the family. But I had to do it. I had to or else Dad would break me.

The next morning, as I was helping her make omelets for the boys, I cracked. I told her that Dad was being a pervert and that he was treating me like his personal little whore. She dismissed it before I could even finish explaining my situation, as if she knew exactly what was going on between her husband and daughter.

“I don’t want to hear it, you hear me?” she yelled, dropping the bowl of mixed yolks on the yellow linoleum. “Your dad is a good man, you understand. A good, God-fearing man.”

“Buh-but mo—”

“If you’re going to act like a little, shameless whore in front of your dad, don’t call me ‘Mom.’ I’m not your mother. I’m your worst enemy.”

Mom looked angry, but more than that, she looked wounded and defensive. I was her daughter, the fruit of her womb, but Dad, he was the love of her life; the man she had made so many promises to. When she asked why I hadn’t told her when Dad first started behaving like that, she didn’t believe my response, and told me that I liked it. That that was the true reason why I had been hiding it for so long.

I fell to my knees and cried in the sticky, yolky goop. The words coming out of Mom’s mouth were unlike anything I’d ever heard her say. They were ridden with hate and fear; the fear of losing her man, not a fear for her daughter’s safety; the fear of her daughter losing her soul.

 She told me that she was going to have a serious talk with Dad to decide where to send my “lying, cheating, whoring pussy.” Somewhere far away from her decent, Christian family she proudly paraded every Sunday at church.

“I…I didn’t—”

“Shut up, you filthy witch,” Mom said, slapping a streak of blood out of my lips and onto the lemon-scented, yolk-covered floor. “See? See what you made me do, Tereza? Now, clean it up.”

Later that night, Mom and Dad locked themselves in their room. I could hear them yelling, throwing things, and Dad punching holes in the wall that he would later patch up to the tune of three beers. That was their pattern: Dad would break the house and Mom would hold the pieces together while Dad fixed it later. After the storm, they decided that living with my widowed aunt in San Diego would be the best solution. Distance and discipline were the medicines that my mom and dad had prescribed to my case of promiscuity, or as mom liked to refer to it, “lying, stinking, dirty whore.”

The last night I spent in my room I did all but sleep. Dad snuck into my room and pinned me down on my bed. Under the insurmountable weight of his sweaty body and that of my shame, I promised myself to never again allow a man to be in control of me. I kicked up with my knee as hard as I could and Dad collapsed into a ball, writhing like a headless snake on my bed. Part of me wanted to kick his stupid eyes in for making me feel like trash. I wanted him to feel in his body the pain he had scarred my soul with. But even as he lay on the floor, shaking like a worthless cockroach, I realized that he didn’t deserve anything from me. Not my hate, tears, or even years in prison. So I ran to my brothers’ room and locked the door. I nestled on the floor, in the space between their beds, and repeated the same words to myself until the sun rose a few hours later:

“What are you afraid of, Tereza Van Ness?”

Nothing. Let alone a man.

“What are you afraid of, Tereza Van Ness?”

Nothing. Let alone a man…


For all installments from Blood Knot, click here.