After Anna Lee told her husband Ridvan she was leaving him, he got himself transferred back home to Meadow Green. To try and work things out. Suddenly he was no longer gone weeks at a time, but was always fucking home, always trying to get them to do things as a goddamned family. It was pathetic and awkward—besides, Anna Lee had so moved on, was in love with her old high school locker mate Titus Strother, whom she’d found on Facebook. Anna Lee had started sleeping in the guest room, and she never knew which Ridvan she would find downstairs in the morning. Some days he would weep and beg, which disgusted her; some days he was cold and curt, which is what she preferred; some days, he invaded her space and threatened her. He made a point of wearing his gun around the kitchen in a shoulder harness like a cop.
Anna Lee called her brother Kirk at his office and asked if they could meet to talk about Mom and Dad’s estate. He asked her to meet him at the mini Dairy Queen down the block from his church, where he went for long lunches to avoid sermon prep.
“Why are you leaving him?” Kirk asked her over hamburgers and Blizzards. Kirk had Oreo and Anna Lee had Butterfinger—she loved the crunchy peanut butter; it reminded her of the old Chick-O-Sticks she used to get at Roger’s IGA as a kid.
“It was Mom and Dad’s death that gave me the freedom to leave my bad marriage,” Anna Lee said. “Take decisive action before I die too.”
“It’s not unusual for people to do things like this after a major trauma,” Kirk said. In his lap he looked up freedom on is phone.
“Life is so short. I have to make a change.”
Kirk read the definitions: Freedom: 1. the condition of being free of restraints. 2. Liberty of the person from slavery, detention, or oppression. The American Heritage Dictionary offered six more definitions, and then a synonyms box that described all the words as referring to “the power to act, speak, or think without externally imposed restraints.”
“Ridvan is not a bad man,” Anna Lee said. “Though he has made some serious mistakes. He’s damaged—who isn’t?” She picked at the cuticle of her left thumb with her right thumbnail; the cuticles on all of her fingers peeled back and scabbed. “He’s cheated you know. Isn’t that biblical grounds for divorce?”
“Abandonment is,” Kyle said. “It’s not the same.”
She raised her hand to her mouth, bit at her thumb, and then went back to digging at it with her other thumbnail. The winter sunlight through the restaurant window lit up the tiny hairs on Kirk’s crow’s feet, turned them to tiny glowing filaments. Her little brother looked old.
“People make mistakes,” he said.
“I have these two beautiful children, but, I swear, Kirk …”
As she talked, Kirk looked up biblical uses of freedom, holding his phone down below table level in his lap. The freedom Jesus offers in John 8:36 is a translation of the Greek word eleutheros, and means “exempt from obligation or liability.” The word in Acts 22:28 however, politeia, connotes full citizenship in a community and the rights that come along with that.
“You know what Titus told me?” Anna Lee said. “He told me that I was known as the school beauty in high school—do you remember that, Kirk? People thinking I was the school beauty?”
“I don’t know,” Kirk said. “You were my sister. I was so obsessed with soccer, I didn’t notice much else.”
“That’s what he said.” Anna Lee continued, “I think back to that time, to how fucked up everything I was taught about being female was …”
She had stopped talking. Kirk looked up from his phone.
“Are you listening to me or are you reading?”
“No,” he said. “I’m listening.” From there, he went into what it was like for him. He recounted his and Lydia’s secret showing of their privates when they were young. Anna Lee had heard it before, but she listened, nodding.
“That really was an epiphany for you,” she said, “a genuine aha moment, huh?”
“When you married him, did you really, in your heart of hearts, convert to Islam?”
Anna Lee picked up the soggy hamburger, looked at it, and dropped it on the paper. “This is disgusting. I’m just going to have my Blizzard for lunch.”
“I talked to my lawyer,” Kirk said. “And I’m having a guy from my church go inspect Mom and Dad’s house, see what needs to be done to sell it.” He said, “I wish you would consider reconciling with Ridvan.”
“When will you hear from the lawyer?”
A week later, back at the Dairy Queen, as they sat at the red booth, Anna Lee said, “So, what’s up with the house?” She had ordered a foot long hot dog this time, with chili and onions.
“No chance for reconciliation with Ridvan?” Kirk asked.
Anna Lee said, “You see the press conference the Sex Criminal did with those women?”
“He’s made mistakes—like you said, who hasn’t?”
“Not the same.”
“I know you don’t respect him.”
She snorted a bitter laugh. “You think?” She lifted the hot dog and took a bite. As she chewed, she frowned at the hot dog.
“I mean, look at you: you’ve left your husband for another man.”
“You want me to use real names?” she said.
He waited as she chewed and swallowed. A woman named Elizabeth Hawkins crept by outside in Jimmy’s pickup truck, easing up to the drive-through menu. Anna Lee remembered her from marching band. The truck window slid down and her head craned out. Her hair was downy as a fresh-hatched duckling—chemotherapy hair.
Anna Lee watched her creep past, finished chewing, swallowed hard, and sipped a long drink of Coke. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s start with Jessica Leeds.”
Kirk sighed heavily. He saw Elizabeth Hawkins too. She and her husband had left Bethany Baptist in anger because he had not visited her in the hospital. “Who is that?” he said.
“She is a businesswoman unlucky enough to sit beside Sexual Predator on a plane. She said he was all over her, trying to ‘grab her by the pussy.’”
“Do you always have to be so vulgar?”
“Your guy’s words, not mine,” Anna Lee said.
“He’s not my guy.”
“Haven’t you heard the tape of him telling Billy Bush, ‘It’s like a magnet. I just kiss them. I don’t even wait. When you’re famous you get away with it. You can do anything you want. You can grab them by the pussy.’?”
“Ted Cruz could have moved this nation back in a godly direction.” He leaned out over his burger.
“He groped Kristin Anderson at a Manhattan nightclub. He groped Rachel Crooks, a twenty-two-year-old receptionist in his skyscraper. He assaulted Natasha Stoynoff, a People Magazine reporter, pushed her against a wall and shoved his tongue into her mouth.”
“Allegedly,” Kirk said. “There’s no proof.” Outside a lined of cars had formed in the drive through lane.
“He brags about doing this shit, Kirk. You heard the tape: ‘Do anything. Grab them by the pussy.’”
“Anna Lee,” Kirk said. “Please.” He looked around the restaurant. An elderly couple by the front door. Three people standing at the counter to order. No one Anna lee knew. “If you’re going to keep using language,” he said, “at least turn the volume down.”
“He groped Mindy McGillivray, a twenty-four-year-old helping a photographer friend with equipment at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Five different Miss Teen USA pageant contestants between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. That have come forward.” Anna Lee threw her hands into the air and let them fall heavily on the table. “Why don’t Evangelical Christians care about this?”
“None of those stories have been confirmed. He’s never been convicted in a single one of those cases. You should be careful where you get your news. Liberals are on the attack.”
“I’ll tell you why they don’t care: Evangelical men think like Sexual Predator does about women. They get where he’s coming from.”
“Please,” Kirk said. “Being hysterical is not going to convince anyone of anything.”
“Hysterical,” Anna Lee said. “When you’re doing definition games for your next sermon, you might want to spend some time with that word. Before you use it again like that.”
“We aren’t electing a pastor in chief. A lot of good could result—conservative Supreme Court justices most of all.”
“He saw a young girl going up the escalator, and he leaned over and told a reporter ‘I am going to be dating her in ten years.’ The girl was just a child. He told two teenaged girls in a youth choir, ‘I’m going to be dating you in a couple of years.’”
“I get it,” Kirk said.
“No you don’t.” Anna Lee pushed her red hair behind her ears again, stared straight at Kirk and said, “He called his own daughter Ivanka voluptuous, and said on that TV show The View that if she wasn’t his daughter, he might be ‘dating her.’ Can you imagine saying something like that about Angela?”
“Bill Clinton is any better?”
“Did I say anything about Bill Clinton?” Anna Lee almost yelled. The people ordering turned to look. The older couple stared at their food as if they hadn’t heard. Anna Lee stood up. “Did I fucking say anything about Bill Clinton?”
“Anna Lee, this is where I live. This is where I minister—”
“Is Bill Clinton running for fucking president right now?”
“Imagine if we could get Roe-v-Wade repealed. Imagine if we could stop the slaughter of innocent lives.”
“Cassandra Searles,” Anna Lee said as she sat back down, “was Miss Washington 2013. She said he ‘continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.’” She made air quotes with her fingers.
Kirk picked up his hamburger. The soggy bottom bun flopped open. He pressed it back up and took a bite.
Anna Lee went on. “He groped Temple Taggart, Miss Utah 1997, and Kristin Anderson, an aspiring model. And Summer Zervos, a contestant on that stupid fucking TV show of his. Louise Sunshine worked for him from 1973-1985. She reported to the Washington Post that the asshole had a ‘fat picture’ of her in his desk drawer that he waved at her when she pissed him off.”
Kirk chewed. Swallowed. He said, “He totally denied that. It was an absolute fabrication.” He took another bite.
“I know, she’s a liar,” she said. “Women are always lying.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Trump told Esquire magazine that he didn’t care what the press wrote about him, as long as he had ‘a young and beautiful piece of ass.’ He said about women in a New York Magazine interview, ‘You have to treat ’em like shit.’”
Kirk set down his soggy burger, wiped his hands on the thin white napkin, and took a long drink of sweet tea.
Anna Lee was not about to let him off the hook on this. “Vendela Kirsebom, a Swedish model who had to sit beside him at a Vanity Fair dinner. He talked about the ‘tits’ and other body parts of all the women, comparing them to each other like pieces of meat, including his own wife, until the Swedish model asked to be moved away from him. She said she had never met a more vulgar person.”
“Miss Universe Alicia Machado?”
Kirk took another bite. Chewed. Looked up at her wearily.
“He verbally abused her, called her ‘Miss Piggy’ and ‘Miss Housekeeping.’ Body shamed her when she gained weight.”
“You’ve memorized all these names?” Kirk asked. He adjusted his grip on the soggy burger to keep it from falling apart.
“You’ve heard of Alicia Machado. You know, how he tweeted a total lie about her being in a sex tape. He tweeted, ‘Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?’ Misogyny and xenophobia all wrapped up into one tweet. He is a disgusting pile of human fecal matter.”
“I think you have an unhealthy obsession with Donald Trump.”
Anna Lee said, pressing her palm toward Kirk. “Cathy Heller was a brunch guest. She was with her husband and children at Mar-a-Lago. He groped her.”
Kirk bit, chewed, swallowed. Took a drink of tea.
“Lisa Boyne reported that she was at a dinner with Trump and some models, and he made the models walk on the table before they could leave so he could look up their dresses and comment on their underwear and genitalia.”
“Come on,” Kirk said. “Really?”
“Yeah, Lisa Boyne is probably a lying bitch too. Like his ex-wife Ivana when she described how he raped her in a fit of rage one night because he wasn’t happy with the way her plastic surgeon had closed up his bald spot.”
Kirk ate his last bite of burger, pulled three new napkins out of the dispenser and wiped the grease and ketchup off his fingers. He leaned back and popped a French fry into his mouth.
“The account came out in her book,” Anna Lee said, “but that asshole’s lawyers forced her to issue a disclaimer at the beginning of the book saying she didn’t really mean rape rape when she said he raped her, not rape in the ‘legal sense’. She only meant pretend fucking rape. Jill Harth worked with Trump on a business deal. She filed a lawsuit against him for attempted rape.” Anna felt her cheeks getting hot.
“That suit was dropped.”
“She must have been lying too,” Anna Lee said. “All these dirty lying bitches and whores who say Sexual Predator tried to—or did—force himself on them sexually.”
“I told you, people are out to bring him down,” Kirk said. “We weren’t there. We can’t say for sure what did and didn’t happen. People go after rich and powerful men.”
“Jane Doe was lying too when she filed rape charges. He raped her—”
“Allegedly raped her back in 1994, when she was thirteen years old.”
“She dropped those charges,” Kirk said. “No one has even seen her to know if she exists or not. A group out to get Trump—”
“She did not drop the claim as much as she was chased into hiding. She got so many threats from the Sexual Predator’s followers, or his employees, who the hell knows. He’s a goddamn thug. She said that right after he raped her, he threatened that if she told anybody, she and her family would be physically harmed, possibly killed.”
Kirk kept eating his fries. The line of cars was gone. The older couple dumped their trays and left. Anna Lee was alone with Kirk and a girl who was cleaning up the condiment bar. “Well,” Kirk said. “About time to get back at it.”
“I’m not finished,” Anna Lee said. “You told me you’d been trying to avoid work all morning anyway.”
“I thought we were meeting to talk about Mom and Dad’s money.”
“Tiffany Doe, who was an eyewitness of the ‘alleged’ attack on Jane Doe, said she witnessed Trump force other minors to perform oral sex on him.”
“We have two lousy choices this election, I admit it. One is less-than-ideal, sure, but one is a criminal who should be in jail. Can you imagine having to hear her screeching voice for four years? Eight years?”
“I read an essay by Rebecca Solnit in Harper’s about the victim silencing men do. When a woman is assaulted, she has to struggle through levels of hell, like Dante’s Inferno, to get justice, all of them there by design, there to take away her voice at every turn. Anna Lee ran her finger along the condensation on the outside of her Blizzard cup. “The first level is self-doubts,” she said, “repressions, confusion. Shame. Fear that somehow she did bring it on herself, because that’s what she’ll be told.’ Better yet, she’ll be blamed for ruining a man’s reputation. Solnit says that if a woman finally decides to brave these obstacles, she comes up against, ‘external forces’ arrayed by the Patriarchy against her, ‘humiliating or bullying or outright violence, including violence unto death.’”
Kirk took a drink of tea and waited.
“If she makes her way through this gauntlet, she faces a litany of accusations from incredulous males in power. Solnit refers to Judith Lewis Herman’s groundbreaking Trauma and Recovery to describe what the victim faces from the accused.” Anna Lee held up her fist, and counted off as she spoke: “It never happened,” she said, flipping out her thumb. Flipping up her index finger, she said, “The bitch is lying.” She counted on, “She’s exaggerating. It was consensual. She asked for it.” She held up her other hand and said, “Then finally, they say it’s time for all of us to let it drop so everyone can move forward with their lives.”
“Kirk took a long sip of tea through the straw. He stared out the window at passing cars.
“Cassandra, in the most famous version of the myth,” Anna Lee said. “She was cursed by Apollo to tell the truth to unbelieving ears because she refused to have sex with him. Solnit writes that the loss of credibility is punishment for a woman’s asserting rights over her own body.”
“You don’t have to talk so loud,” Kirk said. “I’m right here.”
“Being the overly emotional female, I know. It’s true. Freud discredited the women he interviewed when what they told him was damning of men. Instead, he insisted they imagined the abuse, that they secretly wanted it. Arlen Specter, while humiliating Anita Hill for speaking up about harassment, proposed that she ‘imagined’or even ‘fantasized’ Clarence Thomas’s sexual harassment of her.”
“That was how long ago?”
“The hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo spoke out against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF, and caught hell for it. You remember that a few years ago, Kirk?”
“No, of course you don’t. You can damn well be sure Diallo remembers. What would have happened if other women had not stepped forward with their stories of that man’s sexual assault as well? The charges were dropped against him all the same. Where did Dylan Farrow’s story go? Do you even remember it?”
Kirk shook his head. He did not remember even hearing about Dylan Farrow, didn’t know who Dylan Farrow was.
“Sexual assault,” Anna Lee leaned forward and said, “is like torture. Solnit writes it is ‘an attack on a victim’s right to bodily integrity, to self-determination and -expression. It’s annihilatory, silencing.’”
“Wow,” Kirk said. “Where is all this coming from?”
“I don’t think you have actually listened to me one time in our life.”
Kirk said. “That’s why I’m here right now. To listen. Let’s talk about you and Ridvan.”
“No. Let’s talk about selling Mom and Dad’s house.”
“Okay, let’s talk about that.”
Vic Sizemore’s short fiction and nonfiction is published or forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, Southern Humanities Review, Connecticut Review, Blue Mesa Review, and elsewhere. His fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award, and been nominated for best American Nonrequired Reading and two Pushcart Prizes. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.