The Thief

Shadows have lengthened across the bed. The last rays of winter sun are fading behind the bedroom blinds. Emma hears voices.  Rob is speaking to his mother. Terseness crops his tone and he utters words she’s unfamiliar with. Thick guttural sounds. The door opens silently. Emma’s chest tightens.
Rob is silhouetted against the warm glow of the hall lamp; he mouths a kiss to her and merges into the gloom. She smiles nervously, feeling foolish, like a fraudulent patient. This is the charming and affectionate Rob she met last summer, the man Emma won, the man her best friend lost on their August camping trip. Not the man who has instructed her harshly to get into bed and rest, a blunt response to her pleas to explore this new city.
That morning Emma stepped off the overnight ferry and onto continental Europe. She’s nineteen and impatient for a taste of the world. “I’m in Holland.” She says the words slowly to herself, “I’m in Rotterdam,” straining to detect a note of the exotic in the union of “I” and Rotterdam”. 
Fleeting glimpses she has caught of this city in the grey dawn reveal that it has been blighted by industry, brutally ravaged, like her home town, Manchester. Hulking oil refineries, unwieldy flyovers and sombre tenement-style buildings, gaunt faced commuters and graffiti-vandalised façades have hollowed her enthusiasm. A creeping dismay has begun to gnaw at her determination to find glamour in this bleak terrain.
 Reluctantly, Emma climbs into a stranger’s bed, just as she will do for so many more men in hotels and bordellos, speaking in a language she is, as yet, unfamiliar with. All of this is to come.
With sudden, deft movements Rob pulls his shirt over his head, slips his trousers off and slides into bed. He’s swift, sparing her the shame of seeing his nakedness. Emma lies perfectly still. His hand travels steadily across her abdomen. If he is vexed to discover that she’s wearing a tee shirt and pants, there’s no sign. She’s drawn a line and he won’t presume to breach her defences in this bed. This is Emma’s protest. She does not want to be in this bed, in the penumbra of this December afternoon.
Rob murmurs into her ear and caresses her breasts. His saliva drools onto her neck and slithers on to the soft white pillow. Emma’s thoughts focus on the need for credible calm. Again and again she mumbles softly “Not now.” His caresses become urgent, impatient, with no hint of tenderness. She pleads that she’s not ready but the words vanish into the gloom, unheeded. Resignation sinks her resolve when a hand slips into her crotch and for a moment she’s six years old, lost in a crowded supermarket, her first experience of probing male hands.
She seeks to recall the words of love from his own language he taught her last summer but her voice has fractured into a whimper, “Ik hou …” and Rob hoists himself on top of her. He’s panting and grunting male noises. Her breathing is submerged in his and the shadows have dragged the room into blackness. Her body is lost in the density of hot frenzied jerks.  Sweat rolls down his chest onto hers. Rob is possessed by his desire, he’s alien to her. The momentum builds, he shudders and gasps. In the stillness he slides off her, exhausted. Thick warm sap dribbles down her thigh, oozing a smell that reminds her of bleach.
Rob’s silence is made of steel. He fumbles for the light switch and sweeps back the blankets. The scene is grotesque, two people captured by the momentary flash of an intruder’s camera. Emma sees repugnance and humiliation frozen on her face. His reflects concentrated ire. Rob wrenches the sheet from under her. The whiteness is crumpled but complete, transparent only where his sap has stained it. In an instant she understands what he is seeking and laughs mirthlessly. There is no blood; the hymen has not been breached today.
She’s a liar and a slut.
The door slams. Silence and then the television.
Her virginity has gone, lost forever to a man who breaks in and snatches it with no regard for the sacred. Emma gives bitter thanks to the graceful gelding she urged on across a wintry moor when she was seventeen. They fell together that afternoon. She wiped the blood from the saddle with confusion, for she did not know then how she had been wounded.

Artist: Fang Zhao (Judy)