The tape contained her hot breath. An inch of light under the door, stuttering as someone moved past. A single bulb hung from a cord above, swaying, the motion of the light in shadow making her sick. She closed her eyes, not wanting to vomit with the tape on her mouth. Hands tied behind her back. A creak disappeared into shadow as she shifted. Slow breath seeped from the dark. He leaned forward. Light swelled and gasped over his face. He licked his finger and tapped the bulb to keep it swaying. Each time he touched it, his finger sizzled.
The heat of him swelled into the space between them. Shadow obscured the walls, but those things unseen always loomed close. Thoughts of her morning welled up: coffee steaming between her palms; her bag-strap an aching yellow line on her shoulder; the clouds a snarl of white wire between the buildings flashing by the bus window; squeaking brakes; blank faces lurching forward at stops, mouths ovaled in surprise when motion halts. A normal day. Like any other. She had walked off the bus, past the news stand. Headlines a blur. Things were happening, but they happened elsewhere, to other people. A pregnant woman had problems maneuvering her belly through the crowd. A slice of flesh, white and goose-pimpled, revealed where her shirt wouldn't cover. She made it through. People parted before her. Her belly left a wake of separation. That's the way it was, she had decided, her fingers light on her own flat belly. People shirked away from the pregnant, walked with a different tenor, a softer step, held back as if something might erupt right there while they were looking at it. Her fingers clench into a flat fist. As she stepped off the bus, she had thought: Perhaps things turn out for the best.
She had sat at her desk in the pale glow of her computer monitor, thinking of her life. There was a certain acquiescence in her gestures. The way she whittled her pencils with an easy thrust into the whirring teeth of the sharpener, the way she typed with a light touch -- she moved her hands as if she were always touching flowers, as if they would never be bound by tight rope in a small room, white and stiff with terror. The moments of her day arrived easily; they slipped by without thought and apprehension. The red numbers of her desk clock merged into the next without notice. As she lay on the cot, watching that line of light in the door across the room, she wished that she had joined the talk of the game last night -- the one she hadn't watched. There had been laughter in another cubicle at a joke that she'd missed. The mayonnaise on her turkey sandwich wasn't properly appreciated. Even Denny with his hard elbows and sweaty armpits, who leaned over the wall to talk, would be missed. She shook her head. Perhaps it had been a mistake to move away. People could be forgiving; it was a possibility. She should have stayed with the lazy roads and corn stalks, the afternoon dust hanging over the yard. No, no, she thought to herself. Nothing's happened yet. He hasn't tried anything. There's still a chance. There's still hope. His close breath a slow motor in the dark.
Perhaps, she started to think, she shouldn't have turned left. Normally, she turns right out of the hallway. Everyone else turned right to go to the bus stop. She had to turn left. They had asked: where are you going? They wanted to know. Oh, she had flipped her wrist at them, a different way. It's been a boring day. I want something different, she'd said. The truth was she'd been thinking about her cold television, her long, clean coffee table, a single yellow apple on her kitchen counter, the sigh of cushions as she sat alone. Her friends, her work friends, had waved their hands. She'd waved hers. Alone in the long hall.
Hard fingers on her bicep. A palm clamped across her mouth. She couldn't recall where it had happened. In the hall? Out on the street? Events only make sense if they occur slowly and if there's a certain measure of expectation. She struggled against the ropes. He leaned forward some more. He wore a mask. His eyes ribbed with red. A sound wriggled deep in her throat. It was pitiful, she knew. It didn't matter. There was no hope. It was over. Her life would end here somehow, she knew, and she'd missed it all. Should have paid more attention. She began to cry. He reached with a mophandle finger and wiped the tears away, then stood, opened the door. That inch of light swelled to a foot a terror. He left without saying a word. The line of light shrank again and stuttered once as he walked by, then went dark. The light went out. The light inside and on the other side of the door went out. That line went away. Darkness swelled. Only noises remained: the creak of the swaying bulb above, her breath huffing against the tape, an air conditioner slowly thrumming through the wall.
She wanted that inch of light again. She wanted it to swell to a foot of terror. The darkness was too much. The cot complained under her. She had missed it all. She had missed everything.