Comfort Food

By: Kitty Thomas

I wondered if I'd been interviewed. I was known to give several talks a month. Had he been at one of them? Pulled me aside? Asked me charming, disarming questions? Pegged me as a lamb? A Red Riding Hood?

I didn't know. But surely I would have remembered those eyes. And if I hadn't seen him for the predatory animal that he was, I would have noticed his good looks. Would I have gone to dinner with this man? If he'd looked at me a fraction less coldly?

I wondered how long he'd stalked me and how easy I'd made it. Had I been careless with door locking, thinking no one was watching and just this once it was okay? Had he been in my home, rifling through my underthings? Making a checklist of all the items in my cupboards?

I had a lot of time to think about these things but not that first night. After being left alone in the cell, I escaped to dreams. I could feel the drugs still swirling around in my system, so despite the circumstances, it hadn't been that difficult.

I dreamed about the luncheon, that he'd been there. We'd made eye contact, and he'd flirted with me. I don't remember if in the dream I flirted back.

When I woke, it took me several minutes to separate fact from fiction. Waking in the cell was the real nightmare. The dream had been so vivid. Colors, sounds, and smells more alive and immediate than I'd ever remembered them in life. I drank them up to hold onto them, somehow knowing it was the only sensation I would get for awhile.

The cell was kept at a steady temperature, never too hot or too cold. There was a vent in the ceiling, but it was too high to reach even standing on my toes or jumping. I stood under it a few days in a row, just waiting for some temperature fluctuation, anything that felt like something.

Everything was too constant here. The vent existed only to taunt me over what I couldn't have: a simple brush of air on my face.

The second day set up what was to be the routine. I'd been up for what felt like several hours, pacing back and forth. Part of it was the fact that I had no idea what was in store for me. This man held the power of life and death and everything else in his hands, and he wouldn't even make verbal threats I could psychoanalyze.

I decided this was by design. If he'd stalked me for any length of time, he knew how I craved social interaction. To speak to me would be to give me something he didn't want to give. Toward what purpose, I didn't know. If his intention was to drive me insane, he had a winner of a plan.

It wasn't until the second day that I noticed the lighting. It wasn't bright or super dim; it was this monotonous low illumination that stretched evenly over the ceiling. Like fluorescent lighting, but not quite bright enough for that. Maybe fluorescent lighting that had dimmed some. I couldn't begin to guess at the psychological makeup of someone who would buy lighting and run it constantly til it had dimmed to just the right level to torment me. Maybe that part was all in my head, and I was already going crazy.

Finally, I drifted to sit in one corner of the room, farthest from the exit. I pulled my legs up against my chest, resting my chin on them, and watched the door like it was going to do a trick. It was. Eventually it would open. Some part of me wanted it to because then at least whatever fate awaited me could happen and then be over.

When the door opened I changed my mind, silently begging for more time alone. My heart hammered in my chest so hard I was sure it was going to burst out. I took slow, measured breaths, trying to keep a level head. I'd considered rushing the door, but I had no chance of getting there quickly enough.

The door shut behind him with finality. That was it. Game over. That shot was gone. Not like I had any real shot, but when you're in no-win situations, you have to play this imaginary game in your head, the fantasy where you beat the bad guy and escape.

The bad guy stood watching me with a metal tray in his hands. For a moment, I imagined beating him to death with it. But then I was back to how I would get his finger and eyeball up to the keypad. Plus there was the combination. I could starve to death trying to figure it out.

He smiled at me, not a friendly smile, as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. He probably did. I'd always had an incredibly expressive face; it's hard for me to mask my emotions even under the best of circumstances. If I have a nice fantasy, my lips curl up in a smile. If I'd done that, I was sure he knew what it meant, that I was running through various grisly murder scenarios that didn't feature me as the victim.

He crossed the floor and sat Indian-style across from me on the very edge of what I'd always deemed my personal bubble. Chicken noodle soup. Again. I stared at the bowl trying to determine what his game was. If it was time for breakfast, shouldn't he be feeding me something breakfast-like? Or was this another effort to confuse me on the time of day?

Did he seriously think soup was going to make me forget he had me locked up in what was basically a sensory deprivation tank? Or was this just a way to deaden the sense of taste so it was as deprived as my other senses?

He crumbled the crackers and lifted the spoon to my mouth. I'm not sure where my courage to speak came from. I was far past scared, but I was also angry, probably as much at myself for sitting and doing nothing as I was at him.