“Hey, what do you want me to do with this shit?”
“They’re vegetables, Shauna. We’re going to cook them and eat them. We wouldn’t do that with shit.” I smile and wink. Shauna continues to glare, but I sense the corners of her mouth draw up in the best approximation of a smile that she can do. I’m grateful just the same.
Shauna is 15 years old. She is a beautiful, young woman. She is tall and slender, intelligent and creative. She has been raped by her father since she was 12.
My name is Paul and we live together. In a sense, I work for her. It is my job to be strong when Shauna starts to crumble. When she needs me, I am there. When she’s OK then I keep to myself. She has come to depend on me but, I hope, not too much because some day I’ll have to leave.
I look down at the bowl of vegetables Shauna has been cutting. They are cut so small that they’ll only need 30 seconds to cook. I’ll have to stop her sooner next time. Today has been a difficult day because we’ll find out her father’s sentence. The charges apparently bring five to ten years. The lawyer is expecting eight. Shauna is very tense and, I confess that as cool as I generally am, even I feel the tension. We have been together in the kitchen most of the afternoon; talking, listening to music and the November rain on the windows, and preparing a nice dinner. We have been trying to keep Shauna calm. I don’t want her to fall to pieces today. I want this to be a day of victory for her.
I first found Shauna in the bathroom 18 months ago. She looked more like a skinny, white stain on the floor than the young woman that she is. She was half naked, with only a little T-shirt on. She was sitting on the floor and leaning against the bathtub. One leg was drawn up, exposing her crotch. Across her lower belly was a thin, red, bloody line where she had tentatively tried to cut herself. Looking in her hand, I saw the razor blade, whose edge had also badly cut one of her fingers.
I began to speak to her. She looked up, uncomprehending; she had taken several muscle relaxants. I kept my voice low and calm and firm and continued to speak to her. I still don’t know what it was that she wanted to do to herself. Did she want to deface herself? Did she want to cut off her sexuality? I don’t always know what she is thinking. All I know is that, some time later, with sighs of relief, the razor was flushed down the toilet. I had her decently cover herself while we spoke. I had her take a shower and disinfect the cuts. I continued to watch over her until she fell asleep that night and then I did the same. I’ve been with her ever since.
I talked her to sleep at night. I talked her into getting up in the morning. I talked her into eating and not feeling sick. And one night, after her father had been on top of her groaning and panting and putting his filthy hands on her, I stopped her from washing herself. Like building a staircase so she could climb out of a pit, I kept talking, arguing, convincing and finally, I talked her into picking up the phone. I talked her into dialling the emergency number. I talked her into saying, very clearly, to the emergency operator, ‘my father has raped me’.
Day by day, painfully, Shauna has made progress toward being a whole person again. But today is very special. As we talk and attempt to make jokes in the kitchen, suddenly there is a slam and bustle in the entrance way. With a slow click of heels, Shauna’s mother appears in the kitchen doorway, returned from the court and carrying a pie from the bakery.
“Shauna!” she say, “what’s going on here?”
I remain silent.
Shauna’s mother is just slightly shorter that her daughter. She is dressed in a business suit and overcoat. It is in her eyes that the real story is revealed. The story of a mother and wife who discovered late one night, amidst the wail of police sirens, that her husband had been abusing their only daughter. The eyes are large as though caught in a permanent state of surprise; on the verge of revealing hysteria.
“Mom!”, says Shauna, “Um, I was helping Pau….”, she trails off, caught and confused.
“I was helping prepare dinner”, I suggest, whispering.
“…prepare dinner!” echoes Shauna and falls silent, waiting for her mother to speak.
“You are a wonderful girl”, says Shauna’s mother, and takes the few steps to the kitchen table to place the pie down. She sighs, heavily; exhaling the evil that she has had to live in the courtroom. Finally, she takes a deep breath to speak.
“He got the full sentence, Shauna”, she says finally, “he won’t be around for ten years. I know that doesn’t do anything for you now but that’s the best they could do and I’m so sorry, Shauna, I’m so sorry, my poor girl, Shauna, oh my poor Shauna, I’m so sorry…”
The dam breaks; mother and daughter stagger toward one another, clutching in a desperate embrace as their tears and sorrow erupt outwards. The mother’s face rests against the daughter’s neck which is soon wet with tears.
As for myself, I roll up and retreat into that corner of Shauna’s mind that is reserved for me. Today has been a good day for us. Shauna is feeling so much stronger now and this can only help. They’re good people and I think they’ll support each other, but if Shauna needs me, then I’ll be here.
I just hope she keeps eating her vegetables.

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