Some people say that no matter what happens to a person, in some way it is always that person's fault. I have been thinking about this. I do not think it is always true. Sometimes accidents happen. A person might walk out into the street and get hit by a car. Maybe that person wasn't looking. If the car comes and kills a person because the driver wasn't looking, though, it might not matter if the person was being careful or not. In that case, it's dumb to say that the person got run over because she wanted to.

This is another example. Suppose a man is a thief. He wants money fast. Maybe he is walking down a crowded sidewalk in a city. He sees women. So he chooses one and snatches her purse. Is that the woman's fault, just because she got picked? No. She couldn't help it.

A lot of things happen that people can't help. You can say it's good luck or bad luck, but still, it's just chance. Bad people can have good luck and good people can have bad luck. So when something bad happens to a good person, it isn't always that person's fault.

She counted… 201. Mrs. Soames had said 250 to 300 words.

And to blame people themselves for the accidents or crimes or illnesses that happen to happen to them, is wrong. Julian Papp didn't want to get seizures. I didn't want to get raped.

She stared at the word—raped. She felt it punch her in the stomach, make her sick, make her fight for breath. Was it true? The word had no concrete associations, merely sense memories that ached dully—like cold in mended bones. She dropped the pen and clasped her hands, squeezing them hard between her legs, her shoulders hunching, her body rocking, waiting for the insect sounds to swarm into her ears. She braced herself, heart pounding, drumming loudly like fists on a hollow wooden door.

The door! Sounds were coming from the door.

"Come in!"

Julian appeared. Her rocking halted. Instantly the madness left her eyes, her fears retreating.

"Are you all right?"

After taking a deep breath Melanie found she was remarkably composed. The insect sounds had not invaded. The word was there on the page. And now she knew. Not in a comprehensive way; specifics still lay hidden. But cognizance—of what her mind so desperately had feared—at last had dawned.

"Yes, Julian. I'm all right."

He looked relieved. She noticed. He tried to camouflage his concern.

"That's good. It's no use teaching chess moves to a zombie. Memories astir?"

He tried to peek at her composition. She turned it over.

"None of your business."

"Let me guess."

"No!"

He knew something. She was not sure what that was, but did not want him telling.

"Suit yourself. So, what exactly did you have in mind?"

He nonchalantly strode about, pausing to inspect her sparse belongings. Everything, of course, had been provided by the nuns, principally Sister Dana: clothes, some toiletries, her sketchbook and drawing materials, her Bible, a digital clock. Though the room was physically much like his, atmospherically it was feminine. Turning back, he caught her in a blush.

"Bet I'm the first man ever to visit your room."

"So what!"

She had blushed from anger. She disliked his trying to pry into her things.

Alerted by her tone, Julian changed tack.

"Only here for your lesson, of course. Can't have you missing two in a row. Or would you rather make it up another time?"

She did not answer immediately. She wanted him to leave and also to stay. She wanted to be hugged and left alone. And most of all she felt she wanted Julian to understand.

He finally caught a sense of her confusion.

"Another time, then. I'm sorry I bothered you."

He retreated to the door.

"Wait! Don't go."

She had to talk to someone. Of course, she could scarcely tell him that. Still, the lesson could be her excuse. She cleared the desk off, then repositioned it in between the bed and chair. He came back to help. Together, they set up the board.

"I thought we'd play a game out loud this time."

She looked puzzled.

"I mean, we'll talk it through. Every time I make a move, I'll tell you what I have in mind. You do the same."

"But if I have to tell you what I'm thinking, then I'll lose."

"The object is to learn, not to win."

He said this rather pointedly.

"Sorry."

"You play White, okay? Begin."

She pushed forward her King's pawn two squares.

"Well?"

"I don't know. You do it."

"That's hardly a viable reason."

She frowned.

"It opens paths for both the King's Bishop and the Queen."

"And seeks to control?"

"The center."

"Good. That's better."

He replied with his own King's pawn, stating similar reasons. She slid her Bishop to c4.

"What are you thinking with that?"

She kept her eyes lowered.

"I'm thinking I want to talk to you about something."

They both were aware of levels being shifted.

"Something you remembered?"

She nodded.

"About a black van with a fisheye window?"

It felt as if the floor had dropped from under her. Her eyes winced shut. She saw it—the van, its headlights glaring, parked beside a tree with greenish skin. She pulled back, drawing further and further away, until the scene at last was swallowed by darkness.

Wide-eyed now, she gazed at Julian questioningly, beseechingly.

"How?"

"I don't know. A dream."

"About me? You had a dream about me?"

Before that moment, Julian had not realized how comforting his doubts had been. But knowing now that this image held meaning for Melanie, his nightmare took on insupportable dimensions—which he felt less prepared to bear then she.

"It was only a dream. Nothing to take too seriously. Relax."

Her hands were clenched. She hid them in her lap.

"Maybe it was only a dream to you, but not to me. It happened. There were three of them."

Again she started at her own disclosure. Things were coming back too fast: the faces, voices, smells, the terrible sensations and the pain, and the insects whining incessantly until she…

Julian watched the terror as it overwhelmed Melanie's body, saw her shoulders stiffen, her forearms cross, her fingers clutch her shirtsleeves, saw her face become a writhing mask of agony. She tried to fight it. He felt powerless. He could not help her—though he tried, he rushed beside her, hugging her tightly in order to suppress her awful trembling, hoping to add his strength to hers to arrest the impending scream. It came nonetheless... collapsing her will... eclipsing mind and soul with its brutal energy... building... burning... detonating under Julian's bandaged hand.

He hardly realized that he had grabbed her. The scream, now over, left her alarmingly limp. The floor was strewn with fallen chessmen and Julian's overturned chair.

Now what?

"Melanie? Melanie!"

She was insensate, catatonic. Her eyes were closed, her mouth agape. And there was blood. Whose, hers? No, his; his injured palm was a gory mess.

He picked her up and carried her to the bed. He used his knee to ease her down. He arranged her limbs to make her body look more natural… then wondered why. Was he trying to help or was he attempting to cover his tracks, pretend it had not happened, protect his selfish interest in The Game's continuation?

Finally it struck him, as he stared at the result of his pseudo-psychoanalyst's tampering; this was not a pawn, but a human being.

He reached his hand toward Melanie's blood-smeared cheek and touched it tenderly.

"I'm sorry, Melanie."

He backed away, then left the room as it was.

 

Julian did not report...

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