In which a potential rapist feels insulted.

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When Deborah arrived at the office of Cutting Edges, the atmosphere was less than congenial. A heated discussion was underway, heated at least for office standards. Carrie stood next to Lyssa's desk, tapping a pencil energetically on the tabletop. Her remarks were obviously directly at Harry facing her, his arms folded in front of his chest. "Seen from a woman's point of view, all that statement means is you never know who might jump you. If you're walking down a street at night alone and a woman is walking down the same street alone, she's afraid of you. She should be afraid of you. You're a potential rapist."

"So you insist every man is a potential rapist?" Harry asked. Since the strike started, he was on the defensive constantly, and he didn't know what he'd done to deserve it. As a fairly liberated male who supported feminist goals, he considered the strike a slap in the face. Denise was all for it, so Harry did his best to go along, but it wasn't willingly. And now this--Carrie accusing him he was a potential rapist.

"That's logical enough," Roxana said, punctuating her comment with a bitter laugh. Harry could understand why Roxana would be aggressive. But the rest of them?

"That's not what I was saying at all," Carrie said. "I was merely saying that from a woman's point of view they are."

Lyssa was distressed by the argument. "Maybe it's just another way of saying that only men are capable of rape."

"No need to be so tactful, Lyssa," Roxana said. "All guns have the potential to shoot. All men have the potential to rape." Roxana wasn't looking at all well. Her precise costumes had been replaced by outfits which appeared thrown together, color-coordinated but slightly disheveled, the finishing touches lacking -- no matching shawls, no extravagant jewelry. A strip of grey was appearing at her hairline, she was smoking more, and she was losing weight. The overall effect was drab.

"Some men are psychologically incapable of rape," Harry insisted.

"Physically too," Marty added with a rather weak attempt at humor. The others were too intense to joke and ignored him. It was Marty's first and last contribution to the discussion. His feeling of guilt by association was getting more pronounced daily; the more he heard, the harder it was to look his female friends in the eye.

"I don't trust the psychological distinction," Roxana said.

"And why not?" Harry asked aggressively.

"Why are you so insulted by the observation that you have the potential to rape?" Roxana insisted.

"Because I don't, that's why."

"Yes you do. Why deny it? If you don't use it, the more power to you."

"That's not what that saying means," Carrie said.

"Then what do you think it means?" Harry asked.

"What I said before. It's a warning to women."

"Well, I think it's a deliberate insult to men."

Deborah was finally goaded into entering the fray. "I for one would never use it that way." Lyssa and Carrie agreed with her. Roxana remained silent.

"Do you use it?" Harry asked.

Deborah shook her head. "No."

"I do," Carrie said. "And I use it as a warning."

"And you never aim it at men?"

"Okay. The implication is there that men can be selfish animals, but that's not the emphasis I give it," Carrie said, obviously irritated.

"Carrie, Harry, please," Lyssa interrupted to ward off the impending storm she saw in the set of Harry's lips. "What we need right now is a little solidarity, not division along gender lines. Harry, do you object to what we're trying to do?"

"Well, no."

"Then are you with us?"

"I guess so."

"Good. There's a lot to be done." Trusting soul that she was, Lyssa assumed once a truce had been called, the disagreement would have no after-affects. Looking at Harry's wrinkled brow, Deborah wasn't so sure.

The skirmish over, at least temporarily, Deborah smiled and went up to Lyssa. "Here's the little piece I promised you," she said, handing Lyssa a final copy of the poem she had read to the potential poets.

"Thanks, Deb. So how did it go?"

"So so. I think I scared one of the participants off."

"Now why would you go and do a thing like that?" Roxana asked.

"I didn't mean to. They just all sounded so sorry for themselves."

"No growth of self-esteem from self-expression?" Lyssa said hopefully.

"Perhaps. Actually, the one I chased away was the best of the lot." Deborah looked sheepish.

"Oh, Deborah," Lyssa moaned.

Deborah shrugged. "Don't you think we might be losing sight of our goal with this kind of thing?" she asked. "It seems rather futile to be holding a writing workshop while a 'war' is going on."

"You'll never convince Lyssa of that," Roxana threw in. "Besides, it was Mercy's idea, so she's bound to defend it. Lyssa defends everybody."

"Not rapists," Deborah pointed out.

"But potential ones," Carrie said. Harry refused to be baited.

It was Lyssa's turn to look sheepish.


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