Her head had cracked against the cement floor and she believed her life had come to an end. Her mind plummeted in a tailspin down a black well. In the descent, she heard a growly voice demanding cunt and her brother Adrian laughing, be my guest, he said as if inviting his friend to use something he owned. Words couldn’t escape her throat, only a muted sound, as if she were screaming from a great distance. Her brother smoked and laughed while his friend, also rank with booze, grabbed under her skirt and clawed off her panties. She appealed to her brother: help me, Adrian, please, god, help me, but her words came out in a muffle and a bony hand clamped over her mouth. She had tried to bite it but her jaws wouldn’t move. Both Adrian and the second friend held her arms apart by the wrists while the first friend drilled deep into her body and screams cut through the soft tissue of her brain.

All shadows…her eyes turning to the dirty window…some kind of light but the dead could not see…he was choking her neck, gripping and pummeling, grunts spitting out of his throat…her legs immobile as if disconnected from her body…her body rocked against the cement…she sensed some parts of her body, others not…as if it was dying in stages…and then a pause…the friend dug into her as far as he could go…and cawed fuck fuck fuck before relaxing his entire bulk on top of her wounded flesh…voices in the dark…alcohol forced into her mouth…she coughed it up…spewing…he lifted himself off…and then she was rolled back and her legs separated again…but they didn’t seem attached anymore…no…please…no…she could hear herself speak as if she were in a another room…help me…her legs hoisted high and even the desire to protest died as the second friend rammed into her body…Adrian’s voice again urging his friend on…moon darkened…a black moon …

Donna recalled opening her eyes…closed for how long she didn’t know…her brother and his friends like shadows smoking by the window, passing a bottle around. Aching on a garage floor, half-remembering how Adrian had wanted her to join him and his friends for a party, she would have followed him into a cave if he had asked. Dark, still dark, and she never really saw their faces. She was grabbed the moment she had walked in. And her head cracked against the floor. It still hurt…scarcely breathing, feeling sticky splotches between her legs…but climbing somehow out of the dark well, inching like a crippled spider up the rough stone wall…her voice dredged up as if disinterred, some part of her not yet dead…more a whisper than a shout: I’ll kill you bastards, I will kill you, Adrian. They left the garage without giving her another look. How long she remained there, she couldn’t tell, except that the moon had vanished from the sky and all parts of her body shivered in the dark.


She never learned the names of the other two rapists, and the third, the chief orchestrator of the event who had stood by encouraging and watching his friends, looked even older than his sixty-one years. If the gods showed mercy, or if she did, he wouldn’t live out the month. She wasn’t the sort of woman who would travel halfway across the world to murder her brother. She had waited for him to come home. His breath smelling like a plugged toilet, his hair fallen out. Staring down at his bony and sallow face during her last visit, Donna had scarcely recognized the boy she used to know.

Her parents returned from their Florida holiday ten days later. The bruises on her face had receded and her vagina and rectum no longer bled when she used the toilet. Adrian had warned her not to say anything, grabbing her by the throat and hissing in her ear to keep her mouth shut, if she knew what was good for her. For a few days he had jollied her along, as if it had all been a joke, and had even mentioned a replay, if she wanted. If she wanted?!…Jesus! Escaping to her room from eyes that seemed to stare right through her clothes, she had sat on the edge of her bed wondering how to get rid of that persistent, rippling sensation inside her body like she needed to puke but couldn’t dredge it up. She swallowed the filth deep into her belly. Images of decapitation rolled through her mind. Not even the shower had washed it away, or the many showers after that. She began barfing up her food, excusing herself from the table and shoving two fingers down her after every meal. Eventually she got used to the discomfort of vomiting, and never forgot her promise to kill those bastards, one of them at least. She gargled with mouthwash to freshen her breath and when she looked in the mirror, she saw nothing. The dead did not see themselves in mirrors.

Now that her brother lay dying in hospital, killing him seemed redundant. And yet, she opened the box and pulled out a longing for revenge: old, but still serviceable. Sometimes, in her dreams, she saw a woman sawing off the head of a man with the assistance of a servant. Although she knew she couldn’t bring herself to do such a thing, the bone-deep thrill and satisfaction of the image stayed with her all day.


If it didn’t rain soon, she’d have to water the vegetables. Donna worked the soil of her vegetable patch with a hoe. The tomato plants flowered. Kale and romaine looked vigorous. For years she had eaten very little, but a residue of good sense and a failed attempt at suicide overcame resistance, and she sought help from a Toronto therapist whom she visited once a week for as long as it took to keep her food down. She could also drive to a garage rank with the smell of engine oil and not freeze with panic or shudder when staring at a mechanic and wondering if he had been one of Adrian’s two friends.

“Get out and do something besides work, something outside in your own backyard would be a good place to begin,” the therapist had advised. It had taken her many months to begin the effort but she got the puking under control. It still happened but not after every meal. She began by cultivating vegetables in a patch of ground that she had dug up, and even managed to swallow her breakfast that consisted of just coffee and toast, eventually a boiled egg. Careful not to dislodge the carrots as she hoed between the rows, Donna was pleased with the doctor’s assurance that Adrian had not long to live.

“A week? A month?”

Perhaps she had sounded too hopeful. The doctor demurred, unwilling to predict the exact date of demise. But he was dying? There couldn’t be a mistake?

Yes. No.

A wheezing sound like a slowly deflating balloon slipped out of Adrian’s partially open mouth.

When conscious, he was often in pain, poor dear, no one should have to suffer, and she considered it an act of mercy to put him out of his misery. He hadn’t really come home, for their town lacked the cancer treatment facilities of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. A two-hour drive, though, was close enough for Donna’s purpose. From years of weekly sessions with her therapist, who talked to her about her memories and her dreams of bloodied torsos and severed heads, the travel had become easy, the city familiar. She always returned home with a purchase from a bookstore; her library had grown, and she built bookshelves. The first time she had visited Adrian, he had been alert enough to greet his sister cheerfully. He accepted the bag of licorice all sorts, his favourite candy, Donna still remembered after all these years, and ordered her to park her ass on the chair and chew the fat a while. He joked about having lost fifty pounds in the past year.

Adrian had worked most of his adult life in warehouses. He had also acquired a fleet of trucks and a million bucks or two. He could have died in private luxury, but had chosen this semi-private room, as close to their hometown as medically possible, a room without frills. He wanted to be buried next to their mother and father. He had long ago bought the plot and made the arrangements, so Donna needn’t worry about all that. Which Donna hadn’t ever imagined she would. For all she cared, the hospital janitor could have disposed of her brother’s body in a plastic sack along with the other trash.

Adrian asked standard questions about her life, but didn’t wait for any kind of answer before he changed the subject to his last wishes. He spoke about his prepaid funeral, gave her the name of his lawyer, whom he really needed to speak to before he kicked the can. They should let bygones be bygones, he said to Donna. She wondered if Adrian always spoke in clichés. He even used the phrase bottom line at a certain point. To what it referred, she didn’t know, but presumably it had something to do with finances or dying. Holding the glass of ice water as he sipped through a straw, she realized that he had deliberately deleted the rape from his mind as if in his memory it had never occurred.

Why was he depending on his sister now when he had disregarded her for years? Apparently she was his only visitor. He looked like an exhumed corpse, his skin grey and patchy over his skull, his lips shrunk above his gums. Good girl. Good girl, Adrian always said that, when he got his way, or thought he did. Since her last visit, he had slipped into a coma out of which he probably wouldn’t emerge.


She had seen movies on television wherein some patients were murdered in their hospital beds: cutting the oxygen line, or inserting cyanide in the IV bottle, or smothering the victim under a pillow before a nurse entered. Donna had long imagined how she’d do it: Adrian must first understand who was killing him and why. Revenge lifted out of the box and shaken loose and put on like an old coat, she could whisper in her brother’s ear before pressing down against his stricken face with the pillow. She had read that patients in a coma were capable of hearing. She would speak very slowly, each word a drop of cyanide poured into the porches of his ear. While sleeping Hamlet’s father had been murdered that way by his own brother. Expected to pass away sooner than later, Adrian’s death would occasion no surprise. Donna could depart safe and satisfied.

She discovered grubs in the soil, thick, fat, creamy, curled like fetuses. Gathering five of them, she placed them in a can to be disposed of later. Adrian had sucked up to her parents, mowed the grass without being asked, and entered mind-numbing conversations with his father about football, hockey and car engines. They worshipped the football field upon which their beloved Adrian played quarterback. They forgave Adrian’s bullying and staying out late. Only 15 at the time, she couldn’t bring himself to reveal to their parents what Adrian and his two friends had done. She had been so happy when he had promised to take her to a movie and let her hang out with his best buddies, even invite her to a private party. Instinctively, she knew her parents would blame her, the clothes she wore to attract the boys, even if they could have believed the story in the first place. She had entertained the notion of going to the police, but recoiled as she remembered the horror stories of what women went through who reported rape, and besides Adrian had threatened her.

Revenge, she discovered, like learning to eat again, took time. And she was glad that she had created a garden. She enjoyed the labour. It had taken time to speak to her brother without spitting out words, but she learned to pretend. He didn’t know that often she stood by his bed back home in the middle of the night while he slept, her mother’s knitting needles pointed over his closed eyes. Her mind would not direct her arms and she drifted out of the room like an ineffectual spirit. Sometimes Adrian remarked that she was getting skinny as a stick, and she’d make a big show of eating a huge meal. Out it spewed as she knelt and bent over the rim of the toilet bowl, undigested peas and ragged clumps of dead grey meat plopping like shit into the toilet bowl.

Kill Adrian. Was it possible to buy arsenic from the drug store? Despite her nocturnal visits, once with a butcher knife, she had retreated from the horror of it all, and threw up in the bathroom. Smashing his head with a big rock would do the trick, but where or when? She had known a tough boy once who would have beaten the brains out of anyone for a price, especially if she let him fuck her, which she had considered. She took no pleasure in sex, but did it because for a few minutes she experienced some sort of power over guys who wanted her and called her a slut. The word had no meaning for her. No one beat her, so the fucking was tolerable. She never had any female friends to speak of. Too late: Jimmy had been sent to reform school for threatening his history teacher with a jackknife. In the end, Donna realized safety lay in secrecy and self-reliance.

Adrian and she had played well together until she entered Grade Four, by which time Adrian had developed a whole new set of relationships. You’d think that she and her brother had never met the way Adrian snubbed his sister in the halls. Pick and choose your friends wisely, their mother always said, you don’t want to get into bad company. Over the pot roast at supper, her parents had beamed at Adrian as if he were Jesus reincarnated. Her father added that Adrian was too smart to hang around with riff-raff. Donna remembered that her brother had joined a gang of boys who smoked in the alleys and fondled their genitals in front of girls, stole candy bars and magazines, and broke the windows of empty houses. When her father belted her for some infraction, “I’ll teach you to obey,” being his oft-repeated justification for abuse, Adrian never sympathized. Her mother wrung her hands and lamented, Donna, you’re breaking our hearts. Try to be a good girl. Well, she went silent, stayed out of their way, and disappeared in her books.


Parents often died unexpectedly one way or another. A simple fact of life. She had trouble recognizing her father after the transport truck had crashed through the parapet of an overpass and came to a shuddering, scrunching halt on the roof of the family sedan coincidentally available on the road below at the precise moment of its plunge. She could recognize her mother’s face by the three moles on the underside of her shattered chin. Escorted to their home from the mortuary by the police who assumed her silence meant grief, even though she had by then moved into a small two-room flat, she assured them at the front door that she was alright and, yes, would call if she needed anything. She had made tea in her mother’s sparkling and lemony smelling kitchen, and turned on the television. She had smiled over her cup in front of a situation comedy and consumed a bag of potato chips retrieved from the pantry. She did not throw up.

Adrian had been too busy to attend the funeral, or to do much except send an extravagant spread of Madonna lilies in a blue ceramic vase to the funeral home. Donna took five days off work at the Supermarket where she was produce manager. Among the various employees over the years, she met a few men, fellow workers mostly, who shared her bed, or the randy high school boys who worked part time and fucked her in the stock room. Complications, she was happy to say, had never arisen. She convincingly acted the part and encouraged the guys, her mind often roaming elsewhere as they pumped themselves empty, making peculiar noises. She could absent herself from the moment, remain only pliant flesh, a soft receptacle, her mind roaming elsewhere over a dark sea.

She’d rather suck up her own vomit than marry, but she had acquired lingerie and nylons, all the costumes the guys seemed to enjoy. In the bedroom mirror she could now see herself standing in panties the men liked to clutch. She also bought and renovated an old, two-bedroom raised bungalow on a quiet street, large enough for her personal library of a thousand books, and she created the garden in the back yard. Often on a summer’s night she’d sit on the back stoop overlooking her vegetable patch, and smoke three cigarettes, feeling as distant and separated from the world as the stars.

Her parents bequeathed almost everything to Adrian. If it had served any purpose to dig up their graves and grind their skeletons, she would have done so. Donna ate dinner at her parents’ house once a month before the accident and imagined her father choking to death on a clump of overcooked meat while she watched. Her mother knitted Afghans all day, and collected recipes. Donna inherited a mere four thousand dollars. There didn’t seem to be grounds for dispute. Adrian didn’t offer to correct the injustice and share the wealth.

Before putting their house up for sale, according to the terms of the will, she had gathered all of Adrian’s pictures her parents had displayed in gilded frames, lay them on the garage floor, similar to that of the garage where they had taken and banged her head against the concrete. She smashed a mallet against each picture as if applying it to Adrian’s face, and burned them in a metal barrel behind the house.


She drove to Toronto to see Adrian for the last time. She remembered appealing to him in the garage: help me, Adrian, please, god, help me. How easy to expunge him off the face of the earth. Like a slug in a can of oil. Would he struggle against her hand tight against his mouth? She didn’t think so. His face looked as if it had shrunk, the skin collapsed. Dying in a coma, his body under the blue sheet would be as unable to protect itself, just as she couldn’t save herself in the garage. She wondered if he was capable of feeling misery. A pillow would be softer. If she waited for the cancer to produce its inevitable result, she’d be breaking the promise she had made and denying the divine thrill of revenge. A pillow between her hands, she leaned over his head like the woman in the painting.