Relax by Katharine Bost

*Featured Artwork: “Gravity” by Nicole Small

Relax,” he says against my ear.

His breath smells of cigarettes and weed. I don’t like the way it feels on my skin: like I haven’t taken a shower in weeks.



The bar we’re seated at reeks of stale alcohol and body odor. It doesn’t help my nausea, and I stare at my empty beer glass, wondering why I feel so abnormal.

I’ve only had one beer. I’ve gone nights where I’ve had twelve and felt fine. Fine enough to avoid any awkward encounters or regretful hookups, and even to drive home.

I want to tell him I can’t relax. But my body is heavy and weighted and won’t listen to what my mind says. My mouth won’t move.

And more than that, I don’t want to relax. I don’t want to be here.

I want my mom.

I want to know where my friends have gone. Why have they left me?

I want to know why I can see his hand on my thigh, fingertips slipping beneath my shorts, but I can’t feel the contact.

I don’t feel the clamminess of his palms or the pads of his fingers, like I did when my friend—or, I thought she was my friend—introduced us.

I don’t even remember his name.

I barely remember my name.

It’s Katharine. But I don’t want to be Katharine anymore.

My thoughts are fuzzy and my vision fuzzier. There’s three of the guy next to me, and I don’t know which one is real. All I know is that that means three of his hands are on my leg.

He leans in and places an elongated kiss on my neck. Though I can’t feel it, I still cringe.

He tells me, “It’s time to get out of here.”

If I attempt to twist around in my seat to get away from him, I’m worried I’ll fall. I don’t want to be that drunk bitch at the bar that everyone laughs at later in the night when they’re home safe, eating Checkers.

I’d give anything to be home, eating any fast food. Even doing chores. I’m not picky.

Anywhere but here.

It takes all my energy and power to keep my head from slamming to the bar top. I rest it on my fist, elbow on the edge of the counter, but it still sinks, and I jerk the base of my neck up to keep from slipping.

Please, God. Please don’t let this happen.

How did this happen?

Why did I decide to go out tonight? Of all nights, why tonight? Or any night? I could have been home with my parents. Home with my cat. Watching Food Network with my mom or complaining while my dad watches the news.

Instead, I gave into peer pressure and went out with friends. And I regret it. Because they’re gone, and I’m trapped.

My mouth is numb, like I’ve just gotten out of the dentist after having teeth pulled. Am I drooling everywhere?


I can’t help but wonder how this guy could ever find me attractive in this moment. With my eyes rolling back into my head so the whites probably show, dribble dripping down my chin and onto my wrinkled blouse, my disheveled hair sticking up at odd angles.

Maybe attraction isn’t the driving force behind it all. Maybe it’s power.
And I’m powerless.

Even breathing is tough. I overthink the simple movements of taking air into my lungs. I choke and splutter and spit.

My body begins to regain feeling, but not control. I am aware of the sweat caking my hair to my neck and the collar of my blouse, the hairs on my forearm prickling up like I’ve stuck a safety pin in an electric socket, the tightness in my lungs and chest from lack of air.

Nausea rolling in waves over my body and stopping where his fingertips explore my inner thigh.

The bartender confronts us, addressing the guy next to me and saying, “It’s probably time to get your girlfriend home.”

The guy agrees and slinks his arm around my waist. “Let’s go, babe.”

I couldn’t fight away from him if I tried.

He lifts me off the stool; my knees give out. His grip pinches my underarms and he traps my body against his. Though my body is paralyzed, my mind still functions. I’m in the flight mode of fight-or-flight, but I can’t move.

His syrupy-sweet cologne clings to the insides of my nostrils. The smell is so thick that it coats my skin.

It’s just as dark outside the bar as inside. He lights a cigarette, supporting me with his other hand.

“You’re about to have the time of your life, Katharine.”

I try to scream. Whatever pathetic squeal comes out is ignored by all bystanders. I think that to them, I must look like just another girl who can’t handle her alcohol.

Just another girl who needs her boyfriend to rescue her.

Can’t they see that something is wrong? Can’t they hear my nonexistent screams? Doesn’t my face portray the epitome of fear?

He hails a cab and drops the cigarette to the ground, where he promptly stubs it out with his worn shoes.

“Get in the car, slut,” he says, shoving me into the back seat.

I tumble onto the floorboards, but I’m too weak to drag myself onto the actual seat. Everything is dizzying, with my thoughts jumbled and vision tunneling.

“Make sure she doesn’t throw up in the car,” the driver says.

“Not going to be an issue.”

I lie there during the drive. I can’t move. His foot digs into my ribcage, pinning me in place. I whimper as my ribs crack from the pressure.

I don’t remember the drive to his place. We’re in a neighborhood, at a house on a hill at the end of a cul-de-sac. There are no cars in the drive, but a light is on at the front porch.

I don’t recognize the neighborhood.
We could be anywhere in Jacksonville, and I wouldn’t know.

He opens the car door for himself, tosses the driver a few bills, and yanks me off the floor and out of the car. My arm catches in the seatbelt he left loose on the seat. It burns, but I don’t dare make a sound.

He’s leering at me in a way that suggests it’ll be worse if I do.

“Are you sure she’s okay?” the driver asks.

“She’s fine. She’s just had way too much to drink,” the guy responds. His grasp on my bicep intensifies. “She has something of a problem.”

I want to shout that I had only had one beer. I want to jump back in the cab and pray that the driver takes me home even though I don’t have any cash for him.

But my body won’t cooperate.

Instead the cab peels out, and the guy tugs me toward his front door.

I can’t blame the driver for not saving me. How could he possibly know that I’m not this guy’s girlfriend? How could he possibly know that I’m incapacitated and not inebriated, or at least not willingly inebriated?

The guy fumbles with his keys at first, then throws me through the open door. His body is flush against my back in a matter of moments.

There are no pictures in the house. No paintings, nor photos. Not even dishes in the kitchen sink, which is visible from the foyer.

With his body pressed against mine, he leads me through the first hallway; bare and bland paint on the wallpaper acts as a runway. We cross through an almost empty living room—there is one couch and one chair, both looking as though the person who picked them up at a thrift store was paid to take them off the property, and a single flat-screen television with no stand.

I stagger into his room, where he promptly closes the door behind us. He doesn’t lock it.

The room is as bare as the rest of the house, with one vanity, a mirror hung over it, a dresser, and a bed. No bed frame, no headboard. Just a mattress in the corner of the room.

He thrusts me backward, and suddenly I’m flying. Then my calves bump into an immovable object and I’m falling, landing on something I think should feel softer than it does. There’s no mattress cover on it, nor are there sheets.

I hear more than feel my blouse being ripped off my torso. It flies, just as I did seconds before, and lands on the vanity.

My shorts are next.

My wrists are restrained beneath my body, and it brings even more awareness to the quickness of my pulse. The sensation throbs through my back.

He’s on top of me, commanding me to stay still and stop squirming. A momentary rush of adrenaline shoots through my body and I’m able to force myself up, knocking him backward in the process.

This angers him.

His eyes flash with an exceeding amount of hatred I’d never seen before, and stars infiltrate my vision. Blood seeps from my nose and trickles down my neck, settling beneath my jawbone and in my clavicle.

It’s slow motion as I’m forced into the mattress again.
I want it to swallow me so I can be free.

Relax,” he says. He holds both my wrists above my head with only one of his hands.

The searing pain from the seatbelt earlier becomes prominent again under the pressure of his grip.

He settles between my legs again, and my ribs protest underneath his weight.

I don’t know what I did to deserve this. If deserve is even the right word. I don’t know if I’m paying for a cardinal sin I’ve committed in this life or the last.

Maybe I’m just a terrible person and eventually terrible people get what they give. They get what they deserve.

So I do deserve it.

I want God to know that I’ll change. If He can rewind time and take this experience away from me, I’ll change. I’ll be better. I’ll save myself. There’s still time.

I don’t want to be a lost cause. I don’t want to be subhuman anymore.

I want to hug my mom and tell her I’m so sorry for not listening to her. I want to tell her that I’ll be a better daughter. I won’t ever disappoint her again.

I want to tell my dad that no matter what happens tonight, I’m still his baby girl. I’m still a good person.

I want to tell my sisters that I love them. I want to tell them that even though I’m the youngest, I’m so proud of them and all their accomplishments.

I want to apologize to my friends for pushing them out of my life. I want to tell them that I should have tried harder to keep them.

But I can’t do any of those things.

So I pray what I remember of the rosary, my lips moving without sound and my eyes screwed shut to the point where spots appear in the darkness behind my eyelids.

I start with the Act of Contrition. And then the Our Father.

Halfway through my third Hail Mary, I black out.

When I come to, it’s still happening. He’s still on top of me, grinning, lips curled up in a sneer that reveals his squalid teeth. His eyes are black holes that reflect my frightened face back at me.

I pick up where I left off, restarting the third Hail Mary.
I black out again while reciting the fifth Hail Mary.
When I come around the second time, it’s over.

I think his name is Andrew.
And I’m no longer Katharine.


Katharine Bost holds an MFA in creative writing from Miami University. In addition to non-fiction, Katharine writes young adult fiction, focusing on the themes of self-acceptance, mental health, and sexuality.

Nicole Small specializes in the art of self-portraiture and black and white fine art photography. Devoted to working with vintage style Pinhole Cameras in a variety of formats, Nicole is fascinated with the natural rawness of the human face both in her self-portraiture work and when photographing others. The unordinary, the unexpected and historical influences are the generators behind her self-portraiture work along with working non-digitally, often in solitude, alongside the dimensions of light in time and stillness in light. She lives in Montreal, Canada and you can find her at


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