Mandy’s husband, Brian, turned her master sergeant in for making a pass at her. They were in the Air Force, worked in a hospital lab, and her master sergeant was Raymond Taylor. Mandy was a sergeant, twenty-eight, working in the blood bank and Brian was a captain and worked in chemistry. While dating, they had to keep things quiet since he was an officer and she wasn’t and that was illegal fraternization. A week after they were married, Mandy slept with a guy named Paul, who also worked in blood bank.
She never told Brian about that, or about any of her history, because she didn’t know how he’d react. Mandy was afraid if he found out that she’d been raped before she met him, and then kind of got slutty after that, he’d never have married her.
While Mandy was doing blood types, shaking clear glass tubes, holding them up to the light to check for agglutination, out of the corner of her eye she saw a figure, and smelled cologne, and she knew it was Sgt Taylor.
He carried heavy boxes of saline and sweat fell from his forehead. He put the boxes down, then hooked up the saline to the cell washers. “That should take care of you for a while,” he said. “I don’t want your pretty body carrying heavy things around.” He put his hands on the back of her chair, and she could smell his perspiration.
“Thanks,” she said.
He lifted her hand to his face, rubbing his sweat on her fingers. “I’ve got something special planned for you before I leave,” he said. He had orders to Greece and would be leaving in a couple months.
As he walked away, she brushed her thumb across her fingers, feeling what he’d left behind. Then she rubbed his sweat onto her neck.
Another blood banker, Krista entered the department, putting on her lab coat. She was red-haired, skinny, with a blotchy scarred complexion, and Mandy knew Sgt Taylor never had the hots for her because he never watched her the way that he watched Mandy.
“You run today?” Krista said, putting on a pair of gloves.
“Just got back,” Mandy said, grabbing an O from the fridge so she could do a crossmatch. She usually went running on her lunch breaks, since anyone who worked out during lunch got extra time. Sometimes Krista and Mandy would run around the flight line, where there was a lot of open space.
Sometimes while Krista and Mandy ran, they talked about someday having kids. Mandy wasn’t sure if she wanted children, but Brian wanted to start a family, and she guessed since he was a good husband, he’d be a decent father. For the past few months, since Mandy had agreed to go off birth control, Brian seemed so happy. She tested herself once a week, and the signs were always negative. She didn’t tell him about the abortion she’d had after she was raped. There were a lot of things she’d kept so quiet, sometimes she had to try to figure out if they were real, or if she’d seen them in a movie, or read about them in a book.
Since the guy who had worked weekends got orders, for the first time since she’d been there, she was working on a weekend. It was Saturday and she was in the cookie room, the place where blood donors replenished their bodies after giving blood. She was eating with Brian, since he’d brought her a Subway six-inch like he always did when she was working. Since it was a weekend, the donor room was closed and no one else was there.
“Who’s the supervisor today?” Brian asked.
“Taylor.” She tore her sandwich in squares.
“There’s a slacker for you,” Brian said.
“He’s not so bad,” she said. She got up and looked in the fridge for apple juice.
“Not as bad as you.” Brian put down his sub and came up behind her and put his arms around her. They started making out, but after a few minutes he had to slow her down. “Easy there, girl,” he said. “We can finish when you get home.”
“Thanks, pal,” she said, dumping her sub in the trash bin.
Sgt Taylor didn’t come in Saturday, but Sunday, while she was thawing fresh frozen plasma for a patient, standing by the plasma microwave, she heard footsteps, and smelled the strong cologne he always wore.
“Busy?” he said.
“Not bad,” she said. After she finished with the units, she scrubbed down all the counters.
“I’m going to miss you when I leave,” he said. “I’m buying you something special so you’ll remember me.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she said, and smiled.
“Come to the cookie room. I have something to show you.”
Mandy followed him, going past the donor room, past the rows of chairs, to the cookie room, which was tucked away in back. He stopped and sat down in a chair, and she sat next to him, crossing her legs. “You going to give me my evaluation?” she said.
“That was last month, remember? I was hoping for something else,” he said, touching her arm.
She looked at him and noticed he didn’t look so bad, and she looked at his lips, noticing they were dark and full, and that made her wonder what it would be like to kiss them. He smiled, and she watched his lips curve up and stretch across his teeth, and then she noticed a small crumb above his lip, so she leaned over, getting close as she brushed his upper lip with her index finger. “You have a crumb,” she said, then got up and fetched a napkin from the counter. She let the napkin drop down to the floor, and she bent over to pick it up, then threw it in the trashcan and got another one, handing it to him. He got up and hovered over her and looked down at her face.
“You’re pretty,” he said, touching a long strand that had fallen from her ponytail. She felt the roughness of his finger on her cheekbone.
She knew what was happening, knew he was coming on to her, that she’d encouraged him. Then she thought maybe he was being nice, that he knew she loved attention, and maybe he felt sorry for a girl like her, and knew she needed reassurance. She knew she better stop herself, so she turned her head away and said, “I better not.”
He backed off and opened a box of Chips Ahoy and took a bite, and she noticed his big hands, and she studied his face, and she felt sorry for him in some pathetic kind of way and she tried to think of what to say, but there was this uncomfortable silence and he just looked at her while chewing on his cookie. He smiled and said, “Hope I get some of you before I leave,” then passed her and walked out the door and left the lab. She spent most of the day in this trance that made work fast and almost fun, wondering if he was coming back.
That night, she felt like making love. She took off all her clothes and marched into Brian’s office in the den, where he was sitting behind his desk, typing on the keyboard of his Gateway. She lay on the maroon sofa that was up against the wall. “Make love to me,” she said.
“In a bit,” he said, staring at his screen.
She got up and leaned against the doorway. She stood there for a few minutes to see if he’d look up. But he kept on working. She thought about Sgt Taylor, who made her feel attractive. “Sgt Taylor tried kissing me today.”
He stopped what he was doing. “You’re kidding,” he said, turning away from his computer. “Why would he do a thing like that?”
“Maybe he thinks I’m kind of cute,” she said, walking down the hallway to the bedroom. She heard Brian’s footsteps trotting right behind her.
In the bedroom, she got under the covers.
“You’re going to have to turn him in,” Brian said, standing in the doorway.
“All he did was try to kiss me,” she said.
“If you don’t turn him in, I will,” he said. Then he walked away.
On Monday she was off. She was picking weeds from the garden, and Brian came home from lunch, hopping out of the Intrepid. He stepped up, staying on the grass. “I told Major Vargas about Taylor,” he said, hands tucked in his pockets. “He wants you in ASAP.” Vargas was Taylor’s boss.
“Why’d you have to tell him?” she said. She picked up the hoe that had been lying on the ground and started chopping up the dirt. “Jesus.” She hoed harder and deeper, then stopped, looking up at him. “That was really dumb, you know that?”
“It’s the rules,” he said. “You know how that works.”
She brushed the dirt from her body, then marched to the house. He watched her as she took a shower and got dressed, and after she slipped her shoes on, he plopped down on the bed. “You’re not cheating on me, are you?” he said.
She sat next to him and squeezed his hand. “No,” she said. “You know I’d never do that.”
Major Vargas told her to write down everything that happened, talk to the commander, and file a complaint at Social Actions, the place that promoted equal opportunity and dealt with discrimination and sexual harassment.
After Major Vargas called Social Actions and told them to expect her, she walked across base, where a man sat behind a desk, papers in front of him in order. “Every detail,” he said. He got up and pointed to the bottom of the sheet. “Sign down at the bottom.”
“What happens if I don’t?” she said.
“It’s you or him,” he said. He paced across the floor, rubbing his fingers over his red moustache. “If you don’t do it, you’ll be reprimanded.”
As Mandy sat staring at the paper, clicking the end of the pen, she listened to the boards vibrating under his shiny combat boots, and then she wrote, “Maybe Taylor was going to kiss me. But I don’t know, I could be wrong.”
Then she had to see the Chief, the guy in charge of the lab. After she told him it was absolutely nothing, he leaned forward, and she thought he was going to spit right in her face. He said, “When I first joined the Air Force, women weren’t allowed. You can’t go crying just because some guy wants to kiss you. You should have kept things quiet.”
“Tell that to my jerk of a husband,” she said. She crossed her arms, staring at a scuff mark on the tip of her right shoe.
The next day, Krista and Mandy ran around the flight line. The airplane fumes were potent and made Mandy feel alive, just like the smell of coffee. Big C5s and wicked fighter jets descended, and she imagined jumping high enough to touch them — when the planes took off, she’d get depressed for just a second, wanting to hang onto a wing and fly along. They were like powerful, angry gods compared to the birds who seemed so delicate and sweet. Sometimes, if she ran long enough, she’d get a runner’s high that made her feel like she was flying.
Now the ground was wet, and it smelled like spring, and sprinkles fell onto Mandy’s nose and dampened her blond hair, making her curls frizzy. After a couple miles, since Krista asked again, Mandy told her what had happened with Sgt Taylor, telling her the same things she’d written on the form at Social Actions, leaving out the parts she really wanted.
“He’s a jerk,” Krista said between puffy breaths, her blue Nikes pounding on the pavement. “I’m glad he never hit on me.”
“I wonder why he didn’t,” Mandy said, stopping to tie her shoe. She finished the knot, then got up and ran again, catching up to Krista.
“I’m not exactly Miss America,” Krista said. “Mandy, look at you. Blonde. Big boobs, tiny waist. You’re a walking Barbie doll screaming out for sex.”
“He could be exciting, don’t you think?” Mandy listened to the rhythm of their breathing, unsynchronized like the cadence of day one in basic training. “Brian’s the one who turned him in, you know. I only told him to make him jealous. I can’t believe he was such a dud, sitting behind his dumb computer, ignoring me while I stood there, asking him for sex.”
Mandy wondered about Sgt Taylor, about being with him, knowing he’d probably let her do anything she wanted, and there’d be nothing she could lose except her inhibitions, and maybe Brian, but lately he only wanted sex when she was ovulating, which made her feel like a machine that was only made to manufacture children.
Mandy wasn’t supposed to talk about it, but everyone at work knew. It went on for weeks, people stopping her in the lab, asking her about it. Every now and then, Chief would call her to his office to give her some lecture about the military, saying he had connections and a lot of power, so she’d just sit there feeling helpless, trying to take his talk. Sometimes he’d stop by the blood bank, telling her that she was out of regulation, that her ponytail was too long or her dress was too short and if he had to tell her one more time, he’d write her up for bad appearance.
Her pregnancy tests were always negative, and she and Brian were fighting all the time. He reminded her that if she wasn’t such a tease, all this stuff with Sgt Taylor wouldn’t have happened.
And then, a few weeks after all this stuff started, Krista said her husband had found a record on Sgt Taylor from six years ago at a base in Guam for harassing a co-worker. And now there were rumors going around that he’d hit on other girls who worked in the lab, asking them for sexual favors, paying them with days off and other things. Mandy wondered why he never did those things to her.
That night, when she was hoeing the garden, Brian was on the porch, sitting on a wicker chair. She stopped what she was doing and sat across from him, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them. She studied his blond curls, at the sunset glowing on them that made them shine in certain places. He was quiet and kept staring at the floor.
“Something wrong?” she said.
He shook his head and said “no.”
“I can tell when something’s wrong,” she said.
“I was passed up for promotion because of this stuff with you and Taylor.”
She told him she was sorry.
“Well, I guess it’s my fault. I’m the one who turned him in.”
“Yeah. That didn’t work out so well.”
He looked up and shook his head. “It really isn’t my fault. You know that. And it isn’t all his either.”
She wished he would get over it, and stop reminding her. He made her feel dirty, like old luggage rolling around in circles on the annoying belt, people watching, wondering who’d want a bag so worn and tattered. “Fuck you,” she said, getting up. “If I wanted I could fuck him. At least he’d give me that.” She marched into the house, letting the screen door slam behind her.
“Someday you’ll be sorry for saying stuff like that,” he yelled as she walked down the hallway.
But she wasn’t sorry. She went to the bedroom and masturbated, fantasizing about fucking Taylor in the cookie room.
The next night, Brian was at the gym playing basketball while Mandy was at home, baking cookies. She found Taylor’s number in the book, then picked up the cordless. He answered the phone, and she told him she was sorry for everything that happened.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said.
“Maybe we can talk about it?” She grabbed a cookie from the sheet and it was still soft and warm, so a corner broke and she blew on it, then put it in her mouth and sucked on it, savoring the chocolate chips.
He gave her directions to his house, so she left a note for Brian, telling him she’d gone to get more eggs, and she went to Taylor’s. He didn’t talk about the trial, or about the report she had to file, but he invited her inside, and he kissed her right there inside the front room. They went to his master bedroom, and while they had sex, she finally felt like she was free. Most of the time she closed her eyes, but when she opened them, she was reminded of who she was really with, which fascinated her, and she’d smile at him and then he’d smile back and squint his eyes and ooh and aah, and it was then she knew she had him.
And after he came inside of her, he reached over to his nightstand and lit a cigarette, then handed it to her. She inhaled the Kool, then gave it back, laying on her side, her big toe tickling his calves. “For a girl as quiet as you, you’re pretty good,” he said. “Surprising.” It was the same thing Paul had said.
“Thanks,” she said, turning on her back and spreading out.
“I never thought you’d sleep with me,” he said.
“Why’s that?” she said, staring at a cobweb in the corner of the ceiling.
“I’m no Casanova,” he said.
She turned toward him and he put the smoke out in the flimsy ashtray that looked like it was from McDonald’s. He reached over and enveloped her as if she were a fragile letter that carried an honest, heartfelt message. She liked the way he touched her. He made her feel like she was special. He held his hand up to her face and ran his fingers through her hair and smiled at her and told her she was pretty. She got close, and buried herself in his arms, then closed her eyes and felt his warmth against her cold and shivering body. They lay there for a while in silence, and she knew she had to go home.
She got up, dressed, watching herself in the mirror of Sgt Taylor’s dresser. She straightened her hair, rearranging her soft curls with the tips of her long fingers. She touched up the mascara under her pale eyes, and traced her lips with the red gloss from her purse. She turned to the side, eyeing her figure, and she asked Sgt Taylor if she looked OK. He said she looked too good to be true.
Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections Oh Baby, Pretty, Pistol, Veer, and Shot Girls. She is a regular contributor to NOON, Denver Quarterly, and other journals. She edits New World Writing and ELJ, and is an associate professor at SUNY Buffalo State.