Taking Care of Jodi
By Earl Gates
Just at neighborhood dinnertime, a small, red car pulled up in front of a large, well-kept, two story, Arts and Crafts bungalow that had been new at the time of the Market Crash of 1929. The neighborhood spoke of comfort, convention, stability, and discreet power. It was a place a politically ambitious, young, county prosecutor could raise her family.
The driver’s side door of the car popped open and a young woman, dressed in trousered hospital whites, twisted out of the front seat. She was of average height and pleasing, not striking, appearance; someone attractive enough to encourage attention, but businesslike enough to discourage proposition. Her hair was red; her skin fair and her lightly freckled cheeks were rounded, not gaunt. The poets of her ancestors wrote much of vengeance done from behind just such an improbable mask.
She looked sharply both ways for traffic, walked around to the passenger side and tugged that door open. After a brief, obviously emotional exchange, the passenger got out of the car. The second woman had the same hair and complexion, was prettier--in a way often called cute--and younger. If tear-reddened eyes and rigidity of posture were indicators, she was very unhappy with her companion.
The two went up the old fashioned concrete walk to the house and the driver punched the bell. She spoke briefly with the small girl who answered the door. She spoke slightly longer with the woman, still dressed in business mode, who had been about to sit down to dinner with her family before being summoned by her young daughter. They all disappeared into the house and the door closed.
* * *
Not two hours earlier, Rosemary O’Neil had brushed an invisible smudge from the right thigh of her white pants and surveyed her surroundings. Maple and birch trees looked back at her, impassively, in the dappled, mid-afternoon sunlight. If the trees had secrets, they showed no signs of sharing them.
She sighed and moved to the base of the large maple tree directly across the small clearing from an opening in the underbrush. Beyond the opening, a path wound out of sight toward where she knew there was a graveled clearing just off the paved trail with parking room for three cars. She lowered herself to sit with her back to the trunk of the tree where she could watch the path. All her movements were easy with the power and strength borne of wrestling the dead weight of bodies unable to move themselves in their beds. Her hands were strong. Her hair and fingernails were short and clean. Her only jewelry was a larger-than-fashionable wristwatch on a sturdy, plastic band around her left wrist and one small, diamond-like stud in each ear lobe. Her head fell back, tired, against the tree and she closed her eyes. Maybe she was breathing a little faster than usual. Maybe not. She appeared completely relaxed.
Her wait was not long. She heard, faintly, the sound of a car pulling into the parking area where her own car sat. A door slammed softly and she glanced at the analog dial of her watch. Right on time, she thought, and she watched the second hand sweep twice around before the brush rustled across the clearing. She looked up at a tall, boyishly handsome young man whose clothes didn’t fit him, after the fashion promoted by the more expensive mall clothing stores and MTV fashion plates.
“Hi, Derek,” she said.
He paused and peered around quickly, much as she had done minutes before.
“Why did you want to meet here, Rosemary?” he asked, uneasily.
“Jodi told me you thought this was a special place,” she said with a faint smile.
Startled, his air of curiosity abruptly shifted to wariness. “Did she say why?” he asked, and peered quickly around again.
“As a matter of fact, she did,” she said as she stood up. She idly tugged her white tunic down where it had bunched up as she had leaned against the tree. She gave no sign of being aware that the act emphasized her breasts. The young man’s curiosity had been running at warp speed and his adrenalin level had been elevated off any known scale since he got her call at lunchtime. His sharpened perception made it impossible for him not to notice there was no bra under the tunic. Jodi’s sister had never seemed to him to be the kind of person who would be without a bra. The realization that the older sister of one of his recent conquests was here with him, without a bra, raised new possibilities in his mind and the hormone level in his bloodstream.
The young man grinned. “Did she tell you that she’d been here?”
“She admitted she’d been here night before last, but she said not before.”
“Yeah, Jodi’s not as much of a party girl as she’d like people to believe.”
“Do you come here often?” She paused, “With other friends?” She accented the word “friends.”
He took a few wary steps toward the low bushes to his right and peered into them as if looking for something. He looked back at the young woman and frowned slightly as if puzzled about something.
“Oh, yeah, quite a bit.”
She watched as he moved to the other side of the clearing and peered into the bushes there. A faint smile softened her mouth.
“Are you looking for something?”
He looked back at her, still frowning vaguely. “Just checking to see who else was here,” he said.
She laughed softly. “Don’t worry, we’re alone. After Jodi’s description of what happened, I wondered if I might be missing something. I thought we could talk about it more easily without anyone else to interfere.”
Her right hand massaged the back of her neck, moving things under the tunic, again. The young man was more firmly convinced that she was bra-less.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Jodi said things might have been a little rough.”
He grinned and moved closer to her, scanning the low bushes behind her tree, not yet convinced they were alone. He was close enough now that he could place his left hand on the tree trunk above her head and lean over her. He leered down at her. She didn’t flinch from his closeness. Anyone looking for such things would have detected a flush creeping over his ears.
He chuckled low in his throat. “Jodi played like she didn’t want to mess around, but she really did. I can always tell.”
“You mean she fought?”
“If you call a little scratching and kicking really fighting. If she had really been serious, she wouldn’t have had so much to drink before. It wasn’t hard to figure why we were coming up here.”
He moved to kiss her. She jerked her face aside and frowned as if irritated. He tugged with his free hand at the front of his baggy trousers. He seemed to be experiencing some discomfort. She had used her index finger to flick too many hospital bed erections into submission not to be aware of the cause. Her Mona Lisa smile flitted again.
“How do you know when girls are serious about ‘no,’ Derek?”
The question was not one on which he had spent any prior thought. High school football team captains born of civic first families are not often faced with such problems. He frowned and ran his free hand through his long, brush cut hair, still leaning over her with his left hand on the tree above her head. He grinned brightly and dropped his free hand to her waist. “I guess I’ve never run into a girl I thought was really serious about not messing around with me. If a girl agrees to come out here for one of our parties, I figure she knows what is going to happen.”
She pushed the hand away from her waist.
“Jodi said you hurt her.”
“I don’t believe that,” he said. “She was in no hurry to leave after the first time.”
“There was more than once?”
“Oh, yeah. I had a couple of more beers and she was still pretty weepy. I kind of began to comfort her. It got me excited again. I told her she owed it to me to let me take care of it.” The ghost of a smile moved across his face.
“She agreed, and didn’t argue?”
“Not really, but she was crying too much to object much.” His eyes narrowed and he peered intensely down at her face. “Hey, why are you asking all these questions?”
“I told you, I just wondered what ‘rough’ meant.”
He leered. “I’d be happy to show you.” His free hand went to her waist again, this time under the white tunic, on her bare skin, above the waistband of her trousers.
She grabbed his wrist with her right hand and held her tunic against her rib cage with her left hand above his exploring hand. She held his arm immobile in a grip so strong is surprised him. “Not so fast,” she gritted.
From her perspective as a nurse, it was clear that hormone bathed synapses were firing outside any paths leading to careful deliberation. His respiration was elevated, his eyes were darkening, and his skin was growing more flushed. She smiled at him, also excited, but for entirely different reasons. Her mind was icily clear.
“I’m not interested in becoming another entry on a list for someone who’s messed around as much as you claim to. I think it’s time for me to go.” She started to pull away.
“Hey, we’re just getting started good,” he complained. With the upward movement of his hand blocked, he shifted it down, sharply, under the elastic of her trouser waistband. He grabbed a fistful of her panties, which were not the bikini style he usually found, but utilitarian cotton ones Rosemary’s sister Jodi referred to as “orthopedic.”
“Stop it!” she shouted.
“Don’t worry,” he laughed back at her. “I’ve got enough condoms to last us all night if we need them.” He tightened his grip under her waistband and dropped his left hand from the tree to the small of her back. He now had her trapped. At this point, he usually felt much of the fight drain from his prey. Tears would start in acknowledgement that physical resistance was impossible. Rosemary, on the other hand, was irate. Derek was beginning to enjoy himself.
“Do you always carry so many condoms?’ She snapped. Her eyes were dry, blazing hot enough that she could have been cited as a fire hazard.
If he noticed the lack of tears, his misfiring brain read that as a signal she had given up. He had no way of knowing that she did not fear him. Her experience with bullies told her that attacking, instead of fleeing or simply covering up, often confused the bully. At that moment of indecision, a knee to the groin or a hand slap to the nose, delivered without thought of mercy, could shift the initiative from predator to prey. She had prepared her mindset to kill him, by any means to hand, if that became necessary to stop him.
“Oh sure,” now Derek was definitely enjoying himself. “You don’t want any lab evidence left around if someone decides later that she really didn’t like what happened.”
That explained why the vaginal exam she had browbeaten Jodi into having hadn’t shown anything but bruised and torn tissue. Jodi had come home in tears and her sister had dragged from her what had happened. Rosemary had rushed Jodi to the emergency room and had asked the resident on duty, as a favor to one of the hospital’s favorite nurses, to do a confidential exam.
Rosemary relaxed, looked up at Derek, smiled, and said, “Well, let’s get on with it.”
Completely misunderstanding, he grinned back at her. He grunted and shifted his body to be better able to exploit his superior weight and position, but it didn’t work that way.
When he eased away from the front of her body, her left leg flexed, her foot came off the ground, and her heel slammed down with her full weight and the muscle tone of hundreds of miles of hospital corridors onto his right instep. The resulting small popping noises were drowned out by his shout. Continuing her move forward, she threw her weight against his chest, shoving off from the tree trunk at her back. Disoriented by the pain in his foot, Derek fell back and down, still clutching the orthopedic underwear, a move that jerked the top of her trousers down. He hit the ground on his back, holding the cotton in a steel grip. The waistband on the panties snapped above her left hip and most of the fabric ripped away, leaving her nude from waist to mid-thigh. If modesty occurred to her, it was apparent she considered it irrelevant to her totally focused purpose.
Derek was stunned, on his back, still clutching a fistful of flimsy cotton material, his eyes blearing from the pain in his foot. Rosemary jerked up her trousers with her left hand and stretched behind the maple with her right. She pulled a pair of handcuffs from under the leaves at the base of the tree. Her uncle Michael, the retired policeman, was not yet aware that he was missing an item from his collection of memorabilia. One cuff was already locked through a loop of fine steel cable that now glinted from under the leaves. She had acquired the cable at her uncle Martin’s True Value Hardware earlier that day. He had not asked her why she wanted to know how to make it into a loop that couldn’t be undone without tools. She had finished looping and locking it around the tree barely minutes before Derek arrived. She grabbed Derek’s good foot and wrestled the open cuff locked around his ankle. She scrambled back out of his reach and stood, hands on hips, and surveying her work.
“What’re you doing, you Bitch!” he screamed, almost sobbing.
“Now, that’s not nice,” she said, already calmly moving to a young birch tree four feet to the left of the maple. She stretched over her head and started unwrapping a strip of tape the color of the tree bark. She lifted a small video camera she normally used for recording family celebrations from the tree fork where the tape had held it and turned the switch off.
“You tricked me!” he sobbed. Realizations began to filter through the rapidly dissipating hormone fog. “That won’t prove anything.”
“Maybe not, but it’s worth a try,” she said over her shoulder as she moved to a similar birch on the other side of the maple. She unwrapped more tape and removed another camcorder--her aunt Marie thought it was still in her front hall closet--before switching it off. Work on the wards had taught Rosemary that redundancy was often helpful when dealing with life and death matters.
“Someone will be out to get you in a while, Derek. Meanwhile, try not to do anything more stupid than you’ve already done.”
She disappeared down the path. She unlocked the little red car and got into it, placing the camcorders carefully on the passenger seat. Rosemary laid her head down on her arms stretched across the steering wheel and her body shook with huge sobs.
The sobbing slowed and stopped. She raised her head and leaned back against the headrest. Suddenly aware she wasn’t comfortable, she reached under her waistband and tore off the rest of her shredded panties. She stared at the tatters dumbly for a few seconds and then shoved them into the small trash bag hanging from one of the levers for the car’s heater.
Her faith told her that her mother was watching from somewhere. It had been three years since her mother had tired of the tubes and surgeries that were only prolonging a life that was no longer worth it and demanded to leave the hospital and go home. Rosemary had sat at her bedside at home that same night.
“Take care of Jodi, Rosie,” her mother whispered tiredly.
“I will, Mom.”
Rosemary dozed off in the dark after midnight holding her mother’s fevered hand. When she woke, her mother’s hand was cold.
Alone in the little red car, Rosemary said, “Sorry, Mom.”
She started the engine and left the forest. She had to pick up Jodi at home, check to see that there was something worthwhile on the tapes, and put on some underwear. It would not do to go visiting people at suppertime improperly dressed.
Earl Gates can be reached at: email@example.com