Check out the second-place winner of our summer fiction contest below. (Note: This selection has been edited for clarity.)
Alexis Jaya, 19
His piercing green eyes stared menacingly from under his tattered baseball cap. She, however, did not register that the stare was from a wicked, vile place as she only saw green. A lustful, stunning green. A green that encapsulated her and drew her in until she found herself captive in an emerald prison, drunkenly dancing around his playful banter and making love to his artful conversation. And from that night, the remnants of his piercing green eyes settling on her skin, upon her face, on her breasts, and into her eyes was all she could remember. She didn’t remember the pain, so lustful, so dangerous — the only thing that clouded her mind. It ate her screams and amplified her fears. She was trapped. So, when the woman from the flat on Cheshire found her body on the steps — hair matted, dress torn, face bloodied — and asked what happened, the girl remained mute, for her voice had been taken from her. When the hospital staff poked and prodded and collected what they needed to obtain substantial evidence, she lay limp, for her body no longer belonged to her. When the police asked who had done this, the only detail she could recall were the green eyes and the suffocation accompanied by the surrounding four green walls which she now settled into. She was in his prison, and there she lay reflecting on the impossibility of escaping.
The green walls were soon covered with the purest white, and it was more tolerable, but she wanted so badly to soil them with her pain, to paint them with her blood and ensure she never again felt the green. The white room was just another prison, but here they called her a patient and here, she had things. Four white walls were home to one small bed, a desk with paper, a cup of markers — no sharp objects — and a window. A small window that opened to the grassy pasture where people in tan-colored clothing mulled over the greenery and trudged up the pathways.
She would jump out the window, but the metal bars stopped her. She would walk out the door, but the deadbolt lock stopped her. So, she lay in desolation in her bed and watched the ceiling flicker from white to green the further she sunk into her subconscious and her memories of that night flooded her mind. She only dared to move when the nurse brought her food or medicine or when it was time to go to session. But lately, she resisted session and received a shot instead. “You have to want to get better in order to get better.” They would push these words down her throat. But how could she want to get better when everything that she was, was stolen from her in a single moment, and the thief roams free with no thought of ever being apprehended? She wanted to suffer in hopes that the warden to her eternal prison would feel it and suffer, too.
“There’s a new program,” the nurse stated as she handed the girl a small cup with two small pills. The girl did not move.
“It’s for women like you,” she continued. “Rape victims. They got some motivational speaker or whatever the hell she is. Smart woman. Harvard graduate. It’s supposed to be like a group thing, and I know you don’t talk much, but I think it’ll help. I’ll leave the flyer here.” The nurse sat a piece of paper on the girl’s bed and walked out, locking the door behind her.
“It’s for women like you … Rape victims” still lingered in her ears and stuck to every inch of her skin, seeping into her pores, briefly paralyzing her. “Rape victims.” She had never been called that before, and rejected the word because it was not a rape that she considered herself the victim of. It was an act of evil, a robbery in which her body and her freedom were stolen. And she was doing the time for the crime that she did not commit in a place where people locked her doors and barred her windows and threw around phrases like “rape victims” and “I think it’ll help” in order to make her fall deeper into the chasms of self-loathing. She threw the flyer on the ground. And it drifted under her bed where she assumed dust would collect, and eventually, the paper itself would dissipate.
The girl peeled herself from her bed and walked toward the window to watch the passersby, but she only saw two people through the bars. A frail elderly woman slowly pacing with a walker and a man glancing up from his book every few moments to watch her. He had on plain clothes. He was a visitor and the elderly woman a patient. And being so small, so old, the girl wondered what she had done to end up in a place like this. Her mind quickly left the woman and settled on herself. What had she done to end up in a place like this? The simple answer was nothing. She had done nothing, but act against what had been done to her by the man with the piercing green eyes. The self-harm, drugs, the four attempts to end her life and free herself. She was trying to escape, and instead of helping her, the ones that she loved locked her away. While her mind wandered, the sky shifted from blue to orange to purple as the sun hid behind a building. Time was escaping her and would continue to do so if it wasn’t for two small knocks which rumbled the hollow sounding metal door signaling to her the time — dinner.
The girl heard the jingling of keys then a small click and turned away from the window. The door opened slightly and in walked the nurse carrying a large brown tray that she had retrieved from a plastic cart that was once white but now soiled with the remnants of old caked-on food and spilled red punch.
“I know you don’t like veggies, so I got you extra potatoes,” the nurse told her as she sat down a plate on the desk. It was a half plate of grainy, soupy mashed potatoes and a piece of baked chicken — each covered with copious amounts of brown gravy. The girl turned her nose up in disgust at the sight of the meal, but she knew she had to eat it anyway, so she reached for the tray and uncovered the cardboard fork and dug into the slop that sat atop her plate.
“Are you going to the meeting?”
The girl glanced up at the nurse and shook her head.
A look of sheer disappointment was plastered across the nurses’ face “You’ve been here for a while, and you’ve been doing much better than you were doing when you first got here. But your doctors have to see progress. They have to see you actually trying to fight for your life. And I think these sessions would be good. It’s only an hour every Thursday. You don’t have to say nothing, just go.”
The girl looked at the nurse’s pleading eyes. She had never considered the possibility of leaving. She always assumed this place would become a part of her existence. Leaving here, however, would rid her of one of her sources of confinement. And without further thought she whispered “I’ll go” as she reflected on the mere thought of having freedom. And two hours later, the nurse walked her to the meeting room.
Everyone in the room was adorned in the tan uniform aside from one woman. She had on a bright yellow dress which stood in perfect contrast to her smooth dark brown skin. A mass of curls fell from her scalp and nestled perfectly on her chest. Her full lips painted with a maroon lipstick were slightly opened, exposing straight white teeth. She watched the hands on the clock chase one another around until the minute hand landed on the six. She stood.
“I am Saraiya Slater. I am beautiful, powerful, and strong. I am no longer his. Does anyone know why I say this?”
“It’s okay if you don’t, but you soon will. It’s my freedom statement, and I say it to declare that I am taking control of my body and life. I belong to no one. Soon you all will have one too.” A smile spread across her face. “I have a friend. He came to me before this meeting and asked if he could share his story. I figured a story would be the best way to start. I’ll let him take the lead.”
A man with sandy brown hair and apricot colored skin stood from his chair.
“A mother is supposed to be a protector. She’s supposed to make sure no harm comes your way and love you unconditionally. And I believed she did. No one could touch me, except her. No one could kiss me, except her. No one could hold me, except her. And when I asked her what it meant by the age of 6, she said it meant that she loved me and wanted me to feel good. And it became normal,” the man said. “At ten, I got my first girlfriend. Her name was Sarah, and everything my mother did to me, I did to her. And when she asked why, I said I loved her. One day, at school, I was called to the office where Sarah and her mother sat in the front in red chairs watching the security guard guide me to the back. A counselor and child services officer questioned me until they came to the conclusion that my mother had been molesting me. It took me some years and about 300 visits to a therapist to understand what had been done to me, what I had started to do to Sarah. And I let it control my life, change who I was. But 19 years later, I feel comfortable to say my name is Edgar. I am strong, hopeful, and loved. I am no longer hers.”
Silence consumed the empty space as everyone attempted to process an unfathomable situation. Saraiya stood and walked to Edgar and embraced him, and in that moment, it appeared as though she took all the pain he housed inside his body and made it her own. An eruption of claps broke out from the group.
“I admire your bravery,” Saraiya proclaimed as she let go of Edgar.
“Edgar’s story is important. Does anyone know why?” she asked as she sat back down in her chair. Silence. “It shows something real that we don’t usually address or try to ignore because it attacks our perception of masculinity. Edgar identifies as a man, and he was taken advantage of by a woman. We always see fathers and men portrayed as sexual assailants — never mothers and hardly ever women. But it’s real. Very real. Sexual assault has no one, true face nor one, true nature, and I thank Edgar for setting this tone.”
Another eruption of claps.
The girl sat, her legs clenched to her chest, feet resting on the chair. It was her first time hearing the story of another — the assault of another. Edgar was captive in his mother’s prison just as she was captive in her prison. Empathy was what she felt, but having her mind forced into Edgar’s space made her numb. The remnants of rape rolling from the tongues of others did not appease her. Saraiya’s voice, however interrupted her thoughts and wrapped around her, forcing her into comfort’s embrace.
“Healing is a process, and we’re not all on the same timeline.”
And at that moment, that was enough.