In retrospect she could see that over the course of the later years she had quietly constructed a soft but impenetrable fortress. Each mindless repetition of routine actions was a block in the multi-layered wall of defense against the thoughts that her consciousness was trying to let in. She had retreated to the tower of the mundane. The solitary acts were the most effective in the defensive structure; vacuuming, dusting, all the stages of doing the laundry. Over five thousand days of repeated acts, the timing and sequence carefully, if not consciously, honored. And it was not a breach in the wall that brought it all down around her, but more like a Trojan horse. It was a simple statement, a combination of words in sequence that now it seems hard to believe had only come to her ears twice in fourteen years.

It was the laundry that left her exposed. That bastion of monotony where there had been so much mind-numbing safety in the past had left her vulnerable in its false security. She had gone into her son’s room to empty his hamper and asked the same question she had asked twice a week for over a decade, “I’m doing the wash; do you have anything else to go in here?”

She was leaning over the hamper, pulling out an armful of clothes when she heard the squeak of his desk chair as he stood, still facing his computer. She heard the sound of a belt hitting the floor, and knew that he wanted her to wash the jeans he was wearing, “Don’t turn around,” he said, securing his privacy.

She felt a sharp point of pain in the right side of her neck just at the surface. Her arms lost their strength and the clothes dropped, but it took only a moment for her to recover. Her hand shot up to her neck where she felt the hard raised scar that she followed with the tip of her middle finger across her throat up behind her left ear, the palm of her hand now pressed hard against that side of her neck as if to stop the imaginary bleeding. She could smell dead leaves and rich, damp dirt but her body was numb.

“Okay, you can turn around,” he waited a few seconds; “Mom. Here.” He held out the pants but when she didn’t turn around he tossed them on the bed and sat back down to his computer. “They’re on the bed,” he said while his fingers began quickly tapping at the keys. He didn’t notice when she left the room leaving the clothes behind and he didn’t hear the bathroom door close behind her.

With her back against the wall her legs gave out and she sank quickly to the floor holding her throat with both hands and gasping for air. She had heard that voice only once before and it had said only those words.

Fifteen years earlier she was a waitress in a college town. The previous year she had been a student in a college town who was coming to the realization that she liked the town and hated going to college. The waitress job was a temporary answer.

One night in early October of that year she was closing the door of her car in the dark parking lot behind her apartment building when she heard a voice from behind her say, “Don’t turn around,” and she felt the point of a knife puncture the skin on the right side of her neck. Every muscle clenched tight; and while she felt in her mind like she was screaming she could hear nothing but the sound of her heels dragging against the pavement at the end of her stiff, locked legs. She watched the spare, dim lights of the apartment building drift away and disappear in a tangle of leafless brush and small trees as he dragged her into the woods, away from the civilized world where concepts like decency and morality drained off the asphalt pavement and into the ground. The rape and beating were brutal, but she had no recollection of the damage or the pain. She knew that he had slit her throat because she felt the tug of the knife, but that was all she felt. There were only two senses that functioned fully and one was her sight. In the darkness she watched his face, between her and the sky, keeping her from floating into the air, but eventually it went black as both eye sockets, broken from the beating, filled with small bits of debris and a trickle of thick, sticky blood. The other functioning sense was smell. As she lay numb and sightless she remembered a late October night and Halloween as a child. The fragrance of wet, fallen leaves in the cold night air. This was a stink now. The smell of the damp October dirt as he covered her body in what was meant to be a shallow grave.

She’d lie alive in that grave for two days before she was found, but she had no recollection of that either. Her roommate had reported her missing despite her car in the parking lot. A few feet away were her keys, and then one shoe and then another; artifacts left like bread crumbs on the trail to where her body was hidden. She was in the hospital for months, in an induced coma some of the time with a section of her skull removed while the swelling of her brain slowly subsided. She was not expected to live and all of the initial medical interventions were directed at one extraordinary trauma or another. As the long string of urgent care needs slowly turned into the occasional maintenance of what one nurse confidentially confided to her husband was “Like having a plant,” no one had any reason to detect her pregnancy. Five months into her hospital stay tests concluded that she was five months pregnant.

At first the diagnosis was perceived by her brain like any of the other bad medical news: “You have a blood clot in your brain;” “There appears to be internal bleeding;” “You have an infection;” “We are fairly certain now that the sight won’t return to that eye.” But when she was left alone to think it became insidious, more like “It appears that the rapist has inserted a bomb in your womb.” It wasn’t enough that he had brutalized her in the past, he had purposely left something behind to torture her, something inside of her. He left himself inside of her. She squirmed at the thought and could not wait to get it out of her.

But she had to wait. Medical complications necessitated that the abortion would have to wait for an unspecified amount of time, and in that time she began to dream about the invader inside. Dreams that were so contrary to her conscious thoughts that she believed they were a message from the child. At first in her dreams she saw one child, her child, pleading to be separated from the rapist. Before that dream she viewed the thing as an atrocity stuffed up inside of her, but now she realized that it was also a part of her. In the daylight she suffered at the thought of her having become bound to the monster that raped her. In a later dream she saw two children, hers and his; but in the dream world she knew they were one. Her child pleaded that it did not want to be sacrificed for its tie to the other. Slowly in her dreams the other child transformed from the rapist to a separate being, another victim, morose and angry, bound to the only innocent spirit left among them, her child. By the time a discussion about the viability of an abortion took place she was in doubt, unwilling to take the life of her half of the child and uncertain about the fate of the other.

Her father held her hand the morning she was scheduled to speak to the counselor, “What would mom want me to do,” she asked him, looking at his hand around hers.

“Ohhhh,” he said in a low voice; “I don’t suppose we would know. I’m sure she would say that you are the only person who could know what to do. It’s not a matter of want, I don’t think. But I would have been afraid to speculate on her thinking when she was alive. I’d be downright terrified to do it now that she’s dead.”

They both smiled at the thought of her, “We’ve never talked about this,” he said, “Never felt the need to because I figured it would come from you someday when you were ready, but did you ever feel like you needed to search for your real parents, you know, your biological parents?”

She held his hand up a little off the bed, “You’re my parents, you and mom.”

“I know. I know, of course, but I bet you see where I’m going with this.” She was silent, and he continued, “It was terribly difficult for your mother when she found out she couldn’t have children. Mostly because she felt she had robbed me from the opportunity of raising someone who was a part to me, to carry on the great family traditions of slow learning, bad eyesight and a genetic predisposition for heating and air-conditioning duct work.” This time they allowed themselves to laugh and she took his hand in both of hers; “Sweety, there’s no telling who your parents are and you didn’t care enough to hurt our feelings to find out. You have to ask yourself if you feel like you are bound to the man who fathered you.”

“You fathered me,” she said looking at his face.

“And I am no more related to you than I was to your mother, but I can not imagine that we, the three of us, could have been closer.”

She patted his hand. “You’re a sweet man.”

“And my father was a son-of-a-bitch. So, I’ve said enough.” He looked up to the heavens and repeated, “I know, I’ve said enough.”

Samuel Frandino is published in Milkweed, and the 2016-2017 Winter issue of Art Business News. His novel, The Final Coming, was published by start-up book subscription service, Feedlits. Frandino is a certified Art teacher in a small rural district in upstate New York.