The metal opener rips the frilled cap from the chilled beer bottle, exposing the vulnerable tunnel of brown glass. I drink its contents in under a minute, empty stomached, minutes after I arrive home.
Much earlier I ate a half-warmed tamale at the adult education center where I work. A man given community service, Tony, had cornered me between the avocado-colored refrigerator and the door of the kitchenette while I heated my lunch. I had been asked to hold down the fort while everyone else headed out at noon. We take turns.
“Are you alone?” he asked.
Sixty seconds, the microwave flashed.
The lid shudders off the second bottle of Bud Light, and as the cap hits the counter, I wish the sound were gunshot loud. It does not drown the memory of his “Are you all alone?”
Forty-two seconds before food and freedom, I glared into his dark eyes, noted his broad shoulders. But I had a plastic fork in my left hand. I was betting on me.
At thirty-one seconds he shifted pronouns: “Are we alone?”
My blood sugar dropped.
“Excuse me,” I said as I grabbed the tamale from the still-running microwave, wielding my plastic fork as I swept passed him to my desk up front, trembling. A grown woman, no longer a vulnerable child, I have a fork, and I’m not afraid to use it.
I sat by the phone as I ate the tepid tamale, smiled “normally” as my coworkers returned.
Still: now that I am at home, my brain begins its slideshow of the three ghosts of violations past, and I twist off the cap of yet another beer, too impatient to use the opener. My hand twists into an aching monkey’s paw.
The next day, at work, Tony says “You look different with glasses.”
I think, “Men never make passes…” Bullshit. He eyes me as I bend over the copier to fix a paper jam. I raise the zipper on my shirt. Too late.
“Clean out the bottom of the fridge,” I bark as I straighten; in front, I hear the comforting buzz of my coworkers. I know a vile green fluid lurks under the crisper from a pea soup spill earlier in the day that no one has had time to wipe up. Though he wears gloves and a mask for the task, I hear Tony dry heave, and I smile.
Then I sigh, tell him, “Don’t pull out both drawers at the same time or the whole thing will come crashing down. You might get hurt.”
He doesn’t return to work the next day, and on Friday, I learn he has been given jail time for his parole violation. That night, I drink a beer, shoot a brown bottle-covered finger at him, at life. Three ghosts are enough.