Authors: Miranda Simon
By Miranda Simon
Text copyright © 2012 Miranda Simon
All Rights Reserved
“Hey, girl, c’mere.”
I should never have answered him. I should have pulled my hand-me-down pea coat tighter against the night air and kept on walking. Instead, I paused and peered into an alleyway smelling of
“Hey, Jamie. Yeah, you know me.” He grinned,
in the light from a street lamp.
I did know him, a lanky, quiet kid who sat in the back row of my health class. Robert something? No, Ricky. Ricky Jones. He never said much, never did much except doodle in a spiral-bound notebook, but he wasn’t one of the rowdy ones, either – the bad boys who carried knives in the pockets of their sagging jeans
“Yeah, you, I got something to show you,” Ricky said, and when I hung back, afraid, he laughed softly. “What, you scared of me or something? You’re kinda cute when you’re nervous.”
And those words hooked me like a fish on a line, because nobody had ever called me that before. Smart, sure. I made every honor roll. Reliable, absolutely. “I can always depend on Jamie,” my mother liked to say. “I get us into messes, she gets us out.” Usually this was after one of her binges, when I fixed up a payment plan with PG&E or stood in line at the church that gave out free groceries. But cute? Never once.
I took a handful of nervous steps into the alley and stopped. “Hey, Ricky.” My voice sounded small and squeaky; I cleared my throat. “What’s up?”
He motioned me closer. “Nothing much, just wanted to say hi. You going home?”
I nodded and thrust my hands deeper into my pockets. “Yeah.”
“You work at the library, huh? I seen you there.” His tongue crept out of his mouth to lick his lips. “It must pay pretty good there.”
“It’s all right.” I rocked on my heels, my heart all of a sudden thumping in my chest. I glanced over my shoulder. No one on the street. I should have let Otto, one of the library techs, walk me all the way home, but it was out of his way and I’d urged him to turn back a few blocks ago. It was our late night, the one day of the week we stayed open
til nine, and I knew he was eager to be home with his girlfriend and month-old son.
I glanced back at Ricky, who took a sudden s
tep toward me. “I – I have to get home
,” I said, my mouth dry, but he caught my arm, hard, and wouldn’t let go.
“Not yet,” he said, “not yet,” and he pulled me deeper into the shadows. Even through the wool of my coat his fingers pressed bruises into my flesh. In my mind I started screaming, but the sound wouldn’t come from my throat. He pinned me against the brick of one of the walls. I struggled – I was bigger than him, and almost as tall – but he was all wiry muscle and it did me no good. His mouth pushed up against mine without tenderness. He’d been drinking; his breath stank of beer – sour and yeasty. His front tooth cut my lip and I tasted blood.
My first kiss.
Sixteen and never been kissed. My best friend Maria said I was too serious for romance, too focused on the A’s I need for a college scholarship, but then she was always too kind. She swore up and down that with the right diet, the right zit cream, a new hairstyle and the perfect outfit, I’d look like one of the girls in Cosmo. I knew better. Boys didn’t look at me, not in that way.
But oh, God, I never thought it would happen like this. Not in a stinking alley, not with the wall cold against my back and Ricky’s mouth grinding into mine. When his fingers tore at the button on my jeans I began to cry, huge gulping sobs.
I groped for my phon, but it wasn’t in the one coat pocket I could reach.
, his face twisted and ugly, “shut up, girl. You’re lucky I want you. Fat bitch, lucky any man will have you.”
When I cried harder at that, he slammed my head back into the wall and then pushed me down on the ground, onto the damp, filthy street, and still I couldn’t quite believe this was really happening to me.
Ricky tugged down my jeans and I just lay there, my head throbbing and aching, my eyes clouded with tears. When I blinked they ran down into my hair and I could see the sky – clear with a handful of stars. Between the fog and the city lights we hardly ever saw stars in San Francisco. Or had I simply never noticed, walking around all the time with my eyes on the sidewalk?
Ricky knelt over me and fumbled with his own pants. I shut my eyes and waited for it to be over. Soon it would end and then, and then. . .I would get up and go home? Pretend it never happened? Go to the police and have everyone know, at school and at work and everywhere, and feel sorry for me?
“No,” I said. The word came out choked and quiet, so I said it again. “No!”
“Shut up, shut up!” He nearly screamed the words. I saw fear on his face, and it gave me hope.
“Ricky, please, you don’t want to do this.” I couldn’t quit crying, but I pushed the words out between gulps. “Please stop now. Please.”
“Shut up,” he said again, and struck me. A fist to my cheekbone this time, a pain so sudden and shattering I couldn’t even cry out. And then when I could I screamed so loud the sound grated in my throat and echoed in the dark. I screamed and kept on screaming until Ricky’s fingers closed around my throat and I had no breath left.
Funny how the world narrows down when you can’t draw your next breath. Suddenly that’s all that’s important. I felt Ricky push into me and thought the pain would tear me apart, but somehow that hardly mattered. I couldn’t breathe and if I didn’t soon I wouldn’t survive. It was that simple.
I clawed at his hands on my throat until a pool of black spread before my eyes, dark and thick as spilt ink. I’d never imagined this kind of crushing agony. I wasn’t sure I believed in God but at that moment I prayed anyway to whatever force in the universe might hear me.
“I don’t want to die,” I said, “not now, not yet.” The words fell silent from my lips, but the wish was as urgent and true as any I’d ever made.
I woke with my throat on fire and sour vomit in my mouth. With great effort, I raised my head. I was lying on a chilly, unfamiliar tile floor, in an unknown bathroom, with a puddle of puke in the bathtub and a half-empty bottle of vodka within arm’s reach.
“Oh, God,” I moaned, and the voice in my ears was a stranger’s voice, lower and dee
per than my own. I wasn’t dead, but
my head throbbed to the tempo of jungle drums and my body felt bruised, pummeled, abused beyond repair. I grabbed the edge of the sink to pull myself up. My fingers brushed a plastic prescription bottle and sent it clattering to the floor. I caught it before it rolled behind the toilet. Xanax, according to the label, prescribed for a Sarah Elizabeth Winslow. Empty.
I set the pill bottle back on the sink, turned on the faucet, and cupped my palm to catch the spill of cold water. That’s when I realized, staring at my hands, that they weren’t my hands at all.
My own fingers were short and stubby, with bitten-down nails and peeling cuticles. These were long, tapered, and elegant, with pretty oval nails painted a deep blood red. These hands wore several and turquoise rings.
Okay, then. I stared at the strange nails, the jewelry, the pale, smooth fingers and delicate wrists. So I’d been unconscious after what had happened in the alley. A shiver shook me as the images swarmed back – the smell, Ricky's mouth twisted with fear and rage, the impact of his closed fist on my cheekbone, his hands tight around my neck. But I was alive now, wasn’t I? So I’d been in a coma. My nails had grown out. Someone had given me a manicure, and slipped the rings onto my fingers. Sure.
But this was all just a way to delay the inevitable. More than anything, at that moment, I didn’t want to raise my head and look into the mirror above the sink. Because I already knew, on some level, that I wasn’t me anymore. After 16 years, you know your own body and what it feels like to wear it.
Slowly, reluctantly, I lifted my chin. There she was,
the stranger in the mirror. Early
twenties, I guessed.
eyes. Creamy skin, sooty lashes. Black hair, cut
in a bob
short enough to frame
a flawless face
and a model’s sultry pout. It was
a breathtakingly pretty face.
Chic. Sophisticated. The opposite of the old me.
I looked down. I wore a pair of pale blue silk pajamas, the fabric fine and soft that it floated on my skin. The pajama bottoms hung on slim, almost boyish hips. In a daze, I unbuttoned the top to reveal breasts were small enough to cup in my palms. A small silver loop pierced my belly button. I touched it tentatively, as if it might hurt, as if the true owner of this body might slap my fingers away. I ran my palms over a belly flat and taut as a movie star's.
I couldn’t argue with the truth. I was somebody else.
And Sarah Elizabeth Winslow, if this was her body and her bathroom – where was she? Waking up in a hospital room, wondering why the nurses kept calling her Jamie Lumley? Why she now wore glasses
and had red-brown hair hanging limply to her
Cold water still gushed from the spigot. I scooped up enough to wash the foul taste from my mouth, then turned off the flow with a sharp, angry twist of the handle. My throat still felt as if I’d swallowed a knife with jagged edges. My stomach hurt; my whole body ached as if I’d been beaten, but from the inside out. Part of me wanted to lie down again on the cool tile floor, close my eyes, and sleep until I could wake up in my own bed at home, under my fuzzy pink blanket, with my clock radio tuned to my favorite pop station. I’d hit the snooze button once or twice, curling deeper into my warm cocoon, before reluctantly swinging my feet over the edge of the bed and into frayed but comfortable Bugs Bunny slippers. I would pad out into the living room, where my mother slept on the couch, and – if she was working – shake her shoulder until she groaned and muttered, “All right, all right, I’m getting up.” I’d turn on the coffee maker, and pry my eyes fully open once the smell of brewing java filled every nook and cranny of our tiny flat.
But no, that wasn’t an option now. I washed my face and dried it on an impossibly fluffy towel hung next to the sink, then pushed open the bathroom door. I moved through the rooms, quiet as a cat burglar, touching nothing. I was half certain that someone would come storming in and ask what I was doing where I didn’t belong. It was clear I didn’t belong here, in this apartment with its hardwood floors, white leather couch, high ceilings and a view of a quiet, tree-lined street bathed by early-afternoon spring sunshine. On the kitchen counter I found
, a set of keys and a wallet next to a stack of mail thrown carelessly on a counter. The counter shone so white and clean I couldn’t believe anyone had ever cooked a meal there.
I fumbled the wallet open. It held stack of twenties crisp from the ATM, and so thick my stomach turned somersaults. For sure, more money than I earned in a month of shelving books. A platinum Visa in the name of Sarah E. Winslow. American Express, ditto. A membership card for a gym downtown. And – bingo – a California driver’s license. Same name, and a photo of the girl in the mirror, her eyes rimmed with black kohl, her expression sulky. According to the date of birth, she’d turned 24 just last month. Her address was on Hayes Street, San Francisco, apartment No. 4.