The path down the hill is right by my apartment, so it seems safe, though it’s obscured by trees. Sometimes coyotes lurk around. When the back door’s open, I can hear people trudging up it. Once, I heard a couple screaming at each other.
A neighbor warned me never to walk there after police were swarming. A rape, she said, too dangerous for a woman alone. Later, I read a brief item in the newspaper: the incident had been resolved and police had no reason for concern. Was it a made-up assault? Even if nothing had happened, safety is conditional. Imagined trauma can haunt a place.
Violence only takes a moment.
The other day I saw a Confederate flag flapping from a black van. The driver was young and white—that’s what I saw anyway, through his tinted windows and sunglasses. I wondered if he was passing through or if he had always been there and I hadn’t noticed.
I climb over the low fence that’s supposed to keep cars from flying down the hill where the road curves. The dirt is wet from the rain but not slippery. There’s just the sound of my footsteps and quiet birdsong, a truck beeping as it reverses in the distance.
A white man with long red hair pulled back in a ponytail makes his way toward me. He carries a skateboard on his back. He’s much bigger than I am and has a thick beard concealing his face. I’ve taken self-defense, but you never know. I thought I knew what to do once but failed, and then I felt stupid for thinking I would be OK because I’d practiced.
The street up the hill is closer, but it would be better to run down. I’d have to aim for the groin, rake his eyes, fly down the slope, hope gravity carried me to safety. No one is around to hear me if I scream.
I could tell him that I’m pregnant but not showing—would that help or make it worse, me growing a fictional brown baby? If I told him that my partner is white, would it provoke him more because I was contaminating the race?
He sings as he approaches. He has a lovely baritone that sounds light and cheerful, but that doesn’t mean anything. There was a man at my door once. He left, finally, whistling like a bad guy in a cartoon.
I keep my eyes down. We’ll cross where it’s narrow. We can barely pass without touching.
My hands are balled tight by my sides.
“Hello,” he says.
Emi Benn’s fiction has appeared in Jellyfish Review, Day One, and other publications. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario. Follow her on Twitter at @emi_benn.