Hunted by Ghosts
Michaela felt like she had woken up walking down Leith Walk. She was barefoot carrying one shoe, like an amulet for the protection she had needed a few hours before.
The sun was coming up and Storrie’s was still open, selling pies to shift workers and partygoers heading home. Her mind raced furiously trying to reach the part of her brain that would explain what had happened. She caught her reflection in a shop window. The person staring back wasn’t her.
In the days following she had held the space where her memories should have been as a secret. Shame was pouring out of her pores. When she walked to work everything looked off kilter. The worst thing had happened and it hadn’t caused a sizable shift, just a slight tilt. Like she could no longer trust her surroundings.
The sky was still blue wasn’t it? Traffic lights still distracted from the chaos of the universe by reliably changing to the right colours. Men walked past her, all of them with the same face; was it him, or him? Would he even remember her she wondered. Or did they share a mutually convenient amnesia of the bad thing that had happened?
Michaela could remember getting ready with Sarah. The ritual of lipstick and loud music, the selfies at the beginning of the night, the excitement of what could be.
They went to the usual places with the usual people nothing was out of the ordinary. Could she remember being watched at the bar? Or was that just a memory she had falsified to give meaning to what had happened.
Did that mean the man that had banged into her as she left the toilets wasn’t real either? She could remember grabbing her arm when she felt a sharp jag and giving him mankeys but thinking nothing of it, eager to get back to her friends.
After that there was nothing. What had happened had been stored somewhere deep inside her, pulsating in her muscles. The bruises on her thighs and arms were a gross archeology of the recent past, a shallow grave.
She walked past the police station on Constitution Street and wondered what to do. The police didn’t deal in ghosts, she thought.
Michaela remembered the bruises on her body and recalled reading about a woman who had reported a rape, being accused on the stand of enjoying rough sex. Her phone had been taken and the contents had been used as evidence of consent. She imagined her own thigh length dress being held up in court like a sequined shroud – the judge shaking his head at her shame.
Michaela had shuddered and gone home, she got straight into bed, needing the weight of the duvet around her to make her feel safe. The teddy her Mum gave her when she was little back under her arm again, like it used to be when she had nightmares.
When Sarah called, Michaela realised they hadn’t spoken since that night, usually they spoke a million times a day, a constant flurry of hilarious memes and updates about their day to day. She felt a shock of anger towards her best friend, why had she left her? They had an unspoken deal that they were to always have each other’s backs.
They met in the Links. Sarah looked like she hadn’t slept for days, her hair still wet, hung round her face. They hugged as they greeted each other. Michaela noticed how Sarah had hung onto her for longer than usual.
As soon as they sat beside each other, the lack of words and the look in Sarah’s eyes told her that she knew, she knew because it had happened to her too. She rolled up the sleeve on her sweater. A dark bruise encircled her wrist.
Michaela through tears pulled her arm out of her cardigan and showed her the fading palm print around the top of her arm. Sarah reached out and gently traced the bruise as if looking for clues. They held hands.
Together Michaela and Sarah looked at the off kilter world they had found themselves living in without their consent. Taking it in now, knowing they were being hunted by the same ghosts.
They started to walk.
They knew what they had to do.
Illustration: Elise Boath