A man approaches a girl. Balding, plain and pale-eyed, fifty or so.
She sits alone, staled knuckles typing an essay, coffee cold, body terse. Her eyes dart back and forth, shut for a moment. Her shoulders stiffen. In broad daylight, today. With people around, in front of a Starbucks. They always find a way to surprise her.
“Hey,” A rough voice. “Wanna have a drink with me?”
This moment — his yellowed, sharp teeth bared; carnivorous eyes — unsettles the ground beneath her feet. The world spins in and out, the city caves in. She looks away.
“No thank you.” Be polite.
His eyes tear into her acne-painted face, the violet strain under her eyes, unruly hair and chewed nails. “That’s not very nice. You don’t want to be rude.”
Her palms sweat painfully, lips tighten into a grimace. Careful now.
“I’m not interested, thank you.”
The light conversation around her fades away when he looks at her. Those starved black holes gnaw at her, shatter her restraint. He’s pushing, pushing, pushing. Her voice drags out the words, mechanical: “I’m seventeen, you know. I’m trying to do my homework.”
That seems to encourage him. His acrid breath burns her eyes, itches at the fury treacherous under her skin. Not the first time, nothing new, but all these moments fracture the soft parts of her; the buildup of small contusions.
Her eyes traverse the rows of tables, young men with headphones on and important phone calls, no women, no one but these men and the invisible species she seems to be a part of. It is too great a desire, to scream raw and red at them, want someone to do something other than sit stupidly like that.
The man keeps at it, laughs to himself and pokes at her with familiarly grotesque words, sneering slurs. Her brain starts to fog as it always does in these moments. She goes to the faraway place in her head, remembers the nights she spent huddled under sheets, shaky palms and guttural gasps in the pit of her belly. Last year’s nights simmer in her head.
In the blue dawn, her hands would look strange, like they belonged to someone else. What am I, she thought. What am I now. Studied her hands in the sunken quiet of her bedroom, tried to keep her eyes open. The world under her eyelids brought bile up her throat. Her mother, in that silver dress, curls shiny, lips swollen with scarlet. Goodbye, sweetheart. I’ll be home by midnight. Don’t wait up. Of course she waited up. Ten years old. Her life would not be her life without the fierce sweat on her mother’s forehead while she cooked, birdlike laughter swelling up from the garden, special hot chocolate and forehead kisses every morning. The worry sagging under thick eyeliner and cheery adages, the tattered red-hot screams of the neighbors, late-night disappearances into the city, the ants that polluted the kitchen, none of it mattered then. Not the smell of mildew, broken locks, the uneasy liquor store laughter. Her mother would always make it okay, pull out a Norah Jones disc, spin her in circles, sizzle sausage and beans with happiness in her lips. Refused to let the dark in.
That night. She waited and waited. Midnight came and went but the street loomed still, motherless. Then gut-twisting and nail-biting. That cold morning, no eggs crackling or coffee steaming, soundless. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t breathe. Walked herself over to the police station, all those chipped, uneven blocks, her feet like jelly in her little Mary Janes.
They said her mother could be anywhere, maybe an impromptu vacation with a boyfriend, a drinking binge? My mother doesn’t drink. She doesn’t have boyfriends. Her pleas met with drawn-out sighs, hollow reassurances. Her head patted, crayons shoved into her small, finicky fingers. Don’t worry, sweetheart. This kind of thing happens all the time. She’s fine.
It took a week for the body to be found. In pieces, rotting in a musty motel room over the heads of people. People having cheap sex and drinking god-knows-what. People screaming tired profanities into the parking lot and shoving their lovers into the walls. People. Her mother festered like roadkill above their mayhem. For a week.
She was… involved with some bad men, honey. What she now knows to mean: your mother was a whore. She slept with men for money and even though she had no choice, even though she raised you by herself in a shitty apartment with broken plumbing and gunshot-congested nights, she did it to herself. A man gutted her like a fish, but some women are better off dead.
Now, she turns to the man, watches him in her blank way. Fingers her keys for a second.
“Stupid bitch.” He mumbles the words to himself, but she hears them, swallows them whole. Can’t stomach them anymore. Lurches out, screws the keys into his neck. The blood spurts into her face. People start to notice, all at once.
Sofia Sears is a writer from Los Angeles, California. She writes, organizes, and works to create inclusive, accessible creative and literary platforms for femme-identifying and LGBTQ+ youth.