“Will you calm down?” the older woman asked her daughter. “Don’t take everything so seriously.”
“Like hell I’ll ‘calm down’,” the younger woman responded. “He tried to assault me. That’s not a ‘calm down’ kind of offense.”
The mother looked around, obviously embarrassed by her daughter’s loud admission. “Do we have to talk about it here, then?” she asked, trying to pull the younger woman off to the side of the busy New York City street sidewalk. Maybe if they could make it into the park or an alleyway, there wouldn’t be so many people so obviously looking at them.
The daughter angrily pulled her arm from her mother’s grasp. “No, Mom; you don’t understand. We’re talking about it here because it happened here. Right here”—she pointed to the ground in the middle of the sidewalk where she was standing—“under the streetlamp on this busy street, and nobody did fuck-all about it.”
“Will you please not curse?” her mother asked. “There are kids around.”
The passersby had taken to giving the two women a wider berth than was really necessary, and a mother with her young child looked stricken that her son had just heard the F-word, hurrying him away to the subway as though the conversation was catching.
“Mom, stop listening to how I’m saying it and start pay attention to what I’m saying. I’m saying I just barely escaped being assaulted, and you’re worried about the scene I’m making in the street?”
“Are you sure you weren’t just misinterpreting his signals?”
“No, I wasn’t. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation right now.”
“What were you wearing, honey?” the mother asked gently. “Did you provoke him?”
“Seriously, Mom? No,” the younger woman threw up her hands and turned away, nearly hitting a group of teenagers as they tried to get around the two women. “This is just like that argument about whether or not it’s okay for men to comment on the appearance of women in public. Which, by the way, it’s not.”
“What you’re wearing tells people a story about who you are,” the mother said patiently.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing a bikini or a burka, Mom,” the daughter said, “I’m not ever asking for a man to assault me.”
“Well, of course not, but—”
“I know you were born in a different era, and you lived through Second Wave Feminism and all that. I know you don’t think women are less than men and that women have the right to vote and do the same work for the same amount of money. I know.”
“Sweetie, now, wait a minute—”
“No, you wait a minute. Even knowing what I know about you, you’re still standing here telling me that I could’ve done something to prevent what happened instead of telling him not to be an asshole in the first place.” She stabbed her finger into the air beside her, indicating the absent man.
The mother raised her hands in surrender. “All right, all right; I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come off that way at all. I just want you to be safe.”
“I know you didn’t mean it; of course you didn’t, but telling me I misinterpreted what happened after the fact is hardly the way to go about telling me to be safe.” The younger woman put a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “If you want me to be safe, Mom, you need to help make the consequences worse for person committing assault than the person being assaulted. You need to make it so that men don’t rape instead of hoping women can stop someone from raping them.”
“But you did.” The mother latched on to her daughter’s words and continued, “He only tried to hurt you, you said, right? You stopped him. And if you hadn’t taken self defense classes, then maybe you—”
“Mom. No,” the daughter said, and in that moment, she looked years older than her mother.
This post is part of Flash Fiction February.