She rang all night. Rang for help. She rang and called and shouted, while the thugs broke her, pried her open, poked around in her, violated her, and robbed her.
Her screams echoed in the damp, half-empty street. People dared not interfere; no, worse, they would not interfere.
Over the noise of the beating and the slapping and the manhandling, she caught that faint, most repulsive sound of them all,
the hurried little steps of passersby scurrying on the other side of the road. In her mind’s eye, she could see the askance looks and their craven faces deformed into a grimace or a frown.
She could even hear their thoughts, wishing she would stop making such a fuss that loaded them with responsibility they hesitated to meet and gnawed at their consciences.
Wishing she never existed, if that was what it would take. The scum assailants finished with her quickly. No one answered the pleas while it was happening.
A voice blurted from some vague location nearby, a balcony or a window perhaps, yelling at her, shouting down her wailing at that hour of the night.
Sorry to inconvenience you so, she thought, if only you did what little you could do to help and dialed the police.
Cued by the shout, the mob finally decided she was being louder than acceptable, and with one final blow they silenced her.
He found her at dawn, shattered all over the ground, battered useless.
“NO!” The man was horrified.
He ran to her and went round, watching it prised open at the door; holding the bent, charred metal at various points; inspecting the dented surface, the broken headlights,
the messed up interior, and the alarm—destroyed and thrown off to the sidewalk.
“Has anyone called the cops?” He yelled to the small crowd that had started to collect.
It came from behind him. A female voice.
The crowd stirred somewhere and then parted. A woman came forward in slow, easy, measured steps. The rain had picked up again and kept hitting his eyes shut. He squinted at her.
“You’re doing it all wrong.”
It was his ex-wife, he was surprised to find.
“Have you forgotten what it was like?”
Why was she here? Was that her doing? No, it was too big a vandalism for a small woman to carry out.
She stopped several steps away and gestured to the vehicle. “You’re caring. You’re showing emotion,” she said, in a low, snide voice.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he said.
“Do you cherish that piece of metal? More than you cherished me, if you ever did?” she continued, ignoring him.
He looked around; the people watching weren’t certain what was happening. He hated them now and wished they would go away. He wasn’t going to be tried and slandered in front of strangers.
“When the same thing happened to me, you never consoled me. You never bore to touch me afterwards, not once.” Her voice was breaking as she ended the last part with a laugh, pointing to him.
He was suddenly aware of his hand gripping the metal surround of the now-gone windshield. He withdrew it in reflex.
“You never tried to pull me up and put me back together, you just DIVORCED ME!” she shouted those two words.
They echoed off the same surfaces and corners as the car alarm did a few hours ago, and as her cries did a little over a year ago.
His eyes had got used to the rain by then.
He wasn’t answering her. He wasn’t doing anything, really.
Just standing stiff, acutely self-conscious, staring wide-eyed at her like some threatened animal, his heart thudding in his chest,
his attention divided and overwhelmed between her and the damaged car. Each one of her words a slap across his face. Each whisper between the people seeing them a crack in his ego.
“Not. Here,” he finally got out, through gritted teeth.
“Does it need the affection, more than I did? Does it need support?” Her voice was plain lecturing a child now. “Or were you doing that for your own sake, as you do everything?”
“Are you saying I care more about a car than I did about you—is that what you’re trying to say? That’s ridiculous.” It came out weak.
She stared in disbelief. “I’m not contrasting myself with a chunk of metal. I’m contrasting you with a normal human being.”
The rug was being pulled from under his feet. He couldn’t understand, his car lay bashed to pieces behind him.
The victim here was supposed to be him, not his ex-wife, and not really his car either.
A synapse connected somewhere in his brain after that last part. He considered it more. It took him a moment to realize he may have said it out loud too.
His ex-wife shifted to the other foot and her mouth opened as though in a silent gasp. A murmur began from the crowd.
The woman finally broke stance and reached down. He saw her grabbing a rock and managed to duck just in time as she flung it at his head.
The rock dashed through one of the car windows and shattered the glass all over the wet street. He didn’t look behind.
She turned and left exactly as she had come, in a relaxed, steady walk. Most of the crowd trooped off after her, going about their own business.
They all left now, just like the man, pathetic and shamed, had wished. He forgot about the car.
Instead, there was a strong tug forward, in their direction, as if he was reduced to a child with abandonment issues.
This all went pretty badly, the thought pervaded him, but it could’ve easily been otherwise. He saw it. He saw himself doing better when his then wife was raped.
He saw yesterday and he was parking elsewhere. He saw his ex-wife and she was taking a different street, or staying homesick.
He saw himself only moments ago, and he was handling it smoothly this time, arguing back, and cast as less guilty as possible.
He saw all those timelines; they felt so close he could almost leap the invisible barrier to them; so real he could be standing in them already.
He willed them so strongly he thought the gears of the ancient, single-destined arrow of time were really giving way,
creaking and rattling and upheaving an untold amount of dust on a once-per-eternity journey to look the other way.
But none of that was actually happening. He considered the thought like he had done a short while back.
Again, all the great lengths he imagined, all the breaks in the natural order that jumped to his head, would be meant to change his own current moment of inconvenience. To make him feel better.
He was thinking in a self-centered manner again.
So he stood, waiting, drenched in the sheets of rain that seemed to wash any filth but his, until the cops arrived.