My mother believed she would never escape our small apartment on the ground floor. We had a view of our parking spaces instead of the river that she always wanted. Whenever a car parked close to the windows, the headlights flooded our living room with a white glare. We didn’t move once. Not even when her sister, who was married to a prosecutor, offered us their prized downtown unit with a river view, all for nominal rent, while she and her husband went deep into the countryside, to breathe clean air and grow peppers and reconnect with nature and reverse the course of his stomach cancer. My mother pleaded for us to accept this arrangement, but my father instructed her to refuse. He distrusted prosecutors who traded their power for wealth. That’s what he said, but I knew his decision had nothing to do with justice. He needed to keep my mother far from her family, from her life before him. Soon, that prosecutor uncle had to be hospitalized after all, and so they returned to Seoul, and although my mother pleaded some more, she wasn’t given the money to buy presentable clothes and ride a taxi to join her sister for the long waits at the hospital. Nor did she get the money to send a crate of ginseng essence, or a crate of rare Japanese medicinal mushrooms, or some warm cotton slippers. When my uncle finally died, my mother confessed to me her regrets. That she had agonized over wearing the right clothes and showing up in the right kind of car, when she should have been there for her sister, even if that meant taking three buses in her usual discount dresses. She should have sold our crystal cocktail glasses, which we never touched anyway, and bought something that would prove useful at the hospital, anything at all. But when it came time for the uncle’s funeral, she kicked up the same dust again. She begged for new funeral clothes, it was really necessary this time, but my father reminded her bitterly that she was his wife and should get used to looking like his wife. She tried on a bunch of her old things, asking me to inspect them in sunlight with my sharp young eyes, but in the end she concluded there was nothing suitable. She skipped the funeral. All day she stayed in bed, and asked me to bring ice water, which I did, and that day the ice seemed to melt faster than ever in her glass. She apologized for making me freeze ice all day, exhausting my soft rice puppy hands, but I had to keep going because each time I refreshed her glass she sucked it all up in one breath. In the evening, the phone rang. We both knew it was my aunt. We didn’t pick up. After that, my aunt never called again. And my mother never spoke of her again – of her beauty, or her luck in marriage, or the birthmark they shared, a pale blue kiss on the shoulder. That’s the story of my childhood: my mother slowly surrendering hers. Maybe that was all her own doing. But it was my father who gained the most from her loss. He finally had her in total isolation, like the blankets he kicked around with his dirty sweaty feet while he played with his Game Boy until he passed out.
I fantasized about leaving home because it seemed like the kind of thing a smart child in my position would do. This child would be cold and self-serving. She would try her luck at fleeing her mother’s path. She would pack a bag and run to the central market and become a stowaway in a truckload of cabbages.
Some days these fantasies felt so good that I didn’t return from school until dark. Even my father noticed my lateness. What would happen if I really vanished? Would he throw her out, and order her to find me? Or would he just get rid of her too? Her weakness made me sad, and then it made me angry, and to my own surprise, it was the anger that always led me back home. That’s where my anger belonged, close to hers.
As much as I wandered in the afternoons, I couldn’t find enough distraction. I couldn’t buy cigarettes or alcohol. I couldn’t even buy movie tickets yet. But I could steal cheap earrings from the underground mall inside the train station. I never got caught. I took as many as I wanted, and sold them to classmates the very next day.
That’s how I met Yena. She appeared in my classroom, wanting to buy earrings. When she walked, her uniform swished against the back of her thighs. Her bangs fell over one eye. I thought she was the prettiest girl in our school. No one else seemed to think so. She didn’t have any friends.
I showed her the earrings I had left. She stroked the pink ones, long pointed spears. They were meant to look like stones, but only looked like painted plastic, which is exactly what they were. She weighed them in her palm. She parted her hair to hold the hooks against her ear, touching, or not quite. I saw both of her eyes for the first time. The plump fold of each lid.
You little bitch, she said. This shit is cheap as hell. You’re going to infect my ears.
Very cheap, I responded. Even cheaper than you.
She bought them anyway, because it was an emergency. She had a date, she explained, that very afternoon. I took her three weathered bills and wished her a good time. But after the final bell of the day I saw her walking alone, on a path that didn’t lead to anywhere worthy of a date, not a karaoke room, not a video-game room, not even a bakery. I followed her. She didn’t stop until she reached a phone booth. She went inside, picked up the receiver, but didn’t punch any numbers on the dial pad. After a few seconds, she began to talk. Her hands, her feet, her slinky bangs, her new dangling earrings: every part of her seemed animated by an urgent conversation. But she hadn’t fed any money into the phone.
The longer I watched, the more I liked her. And the more I liked her strange performance. When had it begun, talking into a phone by herself ? Did she imagine a real person on the other end? Was it the same person every time? Did she give this person a name, a body, a family? Was she in love? And what were the earrings for? Did she even want them? Or had she given me money just to talk to me?
By the time she hung up and stepped out of the booth, and wiped her hands on her uniform blazer, and tossed her new ugly earrings into a trash bin, I knew we would grow close. Close, the way any two girls around here grow close, because there isn’t much else to do, and anyone who makes you forget how little there is to do, anyone who makes your heart race, is someone you suddenly cannot live without.
How was your date, you slut? I asked her the next day.
Terrible, she said. He got shit-faced and kept trying to drag me to a love hotel.
Did you go?
Yeah, I just needed the money.
How much money did he give you?
She paused. I don’t know, she stammered. I spent it all.
The next time I saw her in the phone booth, I pressed my palm into the greasy glass door. She hung up and stepped outside.
Did you follow me here? Like a creepy whore?
Are you in love with me?
Want me to give you real money?
But Yena didn’t want cash. She wanted cans of hairspray and computer cleaner spray. She showed me how to huff them at the riverside. After a few cans, we bought cartons of coffee milk, strawberry milk, banana milk to soothe our coughs. We sat on dry grass. To watch a Seoul sunset, just some smog, scattered light in cream. The brown river lapped away with all kinds of trash, municipal signboards and bicycle seats.
We drifted under one of the seventeen bridges of our city, counted pigeons, huddled in the nooks, shivering, sleeping. We threw stones at them and watched them flee in panic. They beat their wings into thunder. We laughed. We began with pebbles but soon we hurled chunks of brick. We said it was the cans of fumes fucking us up, but we knew it wasn’t. The pigeons always came back. No matter how hard we threw, how often.
When the sprays hit us a little too hard, we dozed off by the levees. We learned to sleep outside without fear. We learned to sit with legs wide open. We learned how much we needed these small steps, that they felt colossal next to nothing.
Our arms and legs grew dark in the sun. We would wake up when cops came by, yelling at us to go home. Or when someone threw crap at us, like the older girls from our school, or passing cyclists. We cussed out the older girls. We cussed out the cyclists, too.
We cussed out our teachers. We cussed out botany, which we never understood because we had to learn it in a forgotten garden at the back of our school grounds.
And then we began to smoke with the older girls in the garden. We watched, as the older girls discarded their cigarette butts into a pile the size of a rat. They spat on the weeds. It didn’t matter how often they got caught and lashed for smoking. Or for skipping class. Or for talking out of turn. Or for reading comic books. Or for wearing makeup, for dyed hair, permed hair, any hair that extended more than three centimeters below the ears. They simply took their lashings in the front of the classroom. Sometimes they took them in the middle of the soccer field, so that every student in the building was forced to watch. The loud cracks echoed off the brick walls. Our teachers threatened them with more violence, expulsion and stories of fallen women they had witnessed over their careers.
Think you’re the first to feel invincible? They yelled while they beat the girls with wet towels and kendo swords. Aren’t you afraid of the sky? Think you’re the first to get beaten like this and never learn?
Yena never stole anything with me. Instead, she waited outside. She wore a backpack that looked exactly like mine. As soon as I exited the shop, we traded bags and walked fast without looking back. That way, even if the shopkeeper noticed me, or saw me on security footage, and chased me down, he would only find Yena’s things, her lip gloss, her face powder, her aerosols. But I never got stopped. Each time, the shopkeeper received my smile with the same nod. You dick, I thought, how does a slow sad dick like you get by?
We cut our hair in the school bathroom, trimming the ends to a perfect straight edge. The older girls laughed at us, but soon they asked to borrow our scissors. They worked with quiet concentration, to the thick sound of blunt blades scraping together. It spread like a disease, the pleasure of beautifying each other.
At the last minute, Yena grabbed the front of my hair and lopped off whatever didn’t fit into her fist. Now I had bangs too. She trimmed and shaped it into a leaf over my right eye.
What are you doing?
I’m giving you my look. Our look. Now no one else can have it.
I examined myself in the mirror. My right eye was gone, buried. Only my left eye remained to take in the entirety of the world. It looked bigger on its own. Bigger, and even brave. I thought of my mother, and the sister she no longer saw. I had always taken after both of them. Even my father had commented on our likeness. But now, with only half of my face on display, the resemblance was also halved. I thought I looked smarter than either of them, with my own slimy secret tucked under my hair. I decided I would keep this look, our look, for the rest of my life.
Some of the older girls tried to discourage me from continuing my friendship with Yena.
We know you love her, they said in between their endless puffs in the garden. And we feel a little shitty maybe for what we’re about to say. But basically it’s this. She’s not someone you want to take care of.
So stop it. She’s pretty but that just hides the problem.
And what’s her problem? I asked. I heard a wavering in my voice I didn’t recognize. I tried to swallow it, but it wouldn’t budge. What problem is she hiding?
Look she’s creepy as shit and it’s not okay. She doesn’t look right. She doesn’t talk right. She lies. She’s untethered. She’s rotting inside. And if you take all those things they add up into a big fucking problem. She’s the kind of girl who’s going to snap one day. The kind of girl they make all those psycho schoolgirl horror movies about. You’re not listening to any of this, are you? You don’t see it? At all?
Well there’s plenty wrong with me too, I said. And with all of us.
But one afternoon, I woke up on the bank of the river, alone, surrounded by our used and unused cans. I called out for Yena, but she didn’t answer. Had she stumbled home? The afternoon traffic remained quiet and easy on the bridge. It couldn’t have been that long. She had to be somewhere close by.
I found her in the phone booth. She wasn’t talking into the receiver. She was just curled up on the floor of the booth, leaning against the glass. I banged on the door with a fist.
Get up you dirtbag.
She looked up. You need to help me, she said.
She moved her legs so I could join her inside. She raised her arms to show me a pigeon tucked behind her, into a grimy corner of the booth. There was a gash on its head.
I did this, she confessed. I’m a cruel piece of shit.
I pulled her up, and she stepped outside of the booth to keep watch. I knelt by the pigeon to examine its condition. I looked into its wet red eyes. When I leaned closer, an odd smell made me recoil.
Hey, we heard someone shout from the footpath. He looked like somebody’s father. He was dressed in a helmet and cycling spandex but we didn’t see a bike.
Hey, you girls okay? What’s going on here?
We ignored him and he slunk away again.
What’s wrong with me? Yena asked. Why did I do this?
I tried to reassure her. Come on. We throw shit at them all the time. Everyone does.
She squinted up at the gray clouds.
Dogs, she said. They’ll eat it up, won’t they? They’ll go nuts. Let’s put it in the river.
She was afraid to touch it by herself, so we did it together. We rolled the pigeon into the open face of my geography textbook. I touched its head, a warm acorn. I couldn’t tell if it was breathing anymore. We carried the book to the river and released it onto the waves like a barge. The book sank almost immediately, but the bird floated away, swept up by the current. I watched it become the size of a fist, then a finger, then a fingernail, until it disappeared.
Why did I do that? Yena asked again.
Don’t worry about it, I said. I reminded her of how dirty this river already was. From all the crap we kicked into it. Broken bottles, leftover noodles and, according to the news, the occasional human life heaved over the edge in despair. In comparison, a bird seemed clean and uncomplicated. We washed our hands at the fountain and walked home.
Before we parted, I gave her my uniform blazer so that I could take her bloodstained one. It was a barely noticeable mark, it even looked ornamental, like a stamp, but I wanted Yena to forget today as quickly as possible. We squeezed into each other’s clothes. She finally broke into a smile.
You’re never getting this back, she said. Yours is so much warmer.
They’re the exact same.
Yeah but you take good care of yours. You know how to make this last. Not another useless cunt after all.
That night, when the apartment fell quiet, I took Yena’s blazer into the bathroom. Once I unfolded it, alone, I noticed all kinds of stains and spills on the fabric. Today’s blood would come out easy. But the other stains looked deep. It looked like she hadn’t washed it since the beginning of the school year.
I filled the bathtub with cold water. I submerged the blazer, then rolled up my pajama legs to stand in the tub. I stepped on it. Left, right, together, right, left, together, the way my mother stepped on mine, while she kept my underwear boiling in a pot on the stove.
The splashes woke my mother. She tried the knob on the door.
What are you doing in there?
I’m washing my feet, I said.
Is the water warm?
Can I wash them for you?
It’s okay. Just go back to sleep.
Let me see your little feet. I haven’t seen them in such a long time.
I’ll show you later.
I waited for her to return to bed before carrying the dripping blazer back to my room. I flipped it inside out, and then I ironed it, over and over, until the hiss of steam went away.
Oh my God, Yena exclaimed when I brought her blazer to school. She scrunched the fabric into her face and took a deep breath. It smells better than the day I bought it. She shoved the fabric into my face as well. You are so totally in love with me aren’t you?
I just want my blazer back?
She helped my arms into the sleeves. It felt looser in the shoulders, and around the waist. I wondered if she had worn it to bed, tossing around all night, stretching it out. I looked for other changes. There was a new stain on the front pocket. It could have been mascara, breakfast, a mosquito squashed in her sleep. It could have been anything, but I didn’t mind. Don’t ever wash it off, don’t even touch it, I promised myself.
W hen it got too cold to huff by the river, Yena came over. For once I was ecstatic about our ground-floor apartment, because all I had to do was slide my window open to let her climb inside.
I wanted to hide her in my room, but she was determined to meet my mother.
You have a nice mother, she explained. I’ve never lived with a nice mother before. I want to see what it’s like.
My mother cut up a pear and an apple, fanning the slices on a plate. She brought out cups of grape juice, and then she sat with us and asked Yena about her family, her schoolwork, what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Anything, was her answer. I just don’t want to be a housewife. Boredom is poison.
My mother was hurt, but she hid it well. Of course, she said. Your generation, you have so many possibilities now.
What would you do? Yena asked her. If you could do it again?
I think I’d be right here, with you girls.
What if you didn’t have girls? If you had boys instead?
I guess I’d be running around, cleaning up their mess.
Your back would break like fuck from all that cleaning.
My mother laughed. Yes it would. That’s why I said I’d rather be right here with you.
When we had the apartment to ourselves, Yena poked through my mother’s clothes. Nice mother clothes, she called them. She finished with the shabby dresses and went to the bathroom, where all our bottles of makeup and cream were squeezed to the very last squirt and disposable plastic gloves were hanging up to dry. She went through the kitchen, and held up the bottle of washing-up liquid, formerly a deep blue, now colorless, because we had diluted it with water over and over again.
Dogs, Yena said. You remind me of dogs licking an empty bowl forever.
I got angry. Stop looking, I said.
Okay fine. I’m sorry.
You’re still looking.
I’m sorry, okay? I can’t help it.
How about next time we go look at your stupid dog-bowl life?
Ha. Yena spat into the sink. You wouldn’t know what to do with my dog-bowl life. You wouldn’t last a day.
I stared at her saliva. I thought about saving it, the way I had saved her stain on my blazer, and the dirty old bills she had given me. I could scoop up her spit and freeze it into a cube. I could keep it to remind me of how much we needed each other. But all of a sudden, I didn’t want to be reminded of that anymore. Was it true that I wouldn’t last a day in her life? How would a day of hers even begin? I didn’t know. She was essentially a stranger. And yet I had invited her into my home. And now I was fantasizing about enshrining her spit in ice, all in order to feel close to her. I hated how stupid I had revealed myself to be, how stupid my loneliness had made me.
I ran the tap and let it flush the sink. We flopped onto my bed. We shared a pillow and split a can, and then we blinked our eyes. Yena’s pupils dilated into wormholes. We split another can, sucked on ice cubes, and finally calmed down. When we ran out of cans we looked for something else to sniff. We unwrapped the soap I had swiped before, a round bun that promised purple flowers from France. We felt silly holding it, but at least we had something nice to smell.
Just so you know, she slurred. You’re going to end up like this. Like her. Like your slave.
She’s not my slave. She’s my father’s slave. He’s the asshole.
But you’re the one she endures him for. She’s sticking around for you. You’re the one she’s trying to save. And it’s not going to work.
We dozed and drifted. When she got out of bed and picked up her shoes and climbed out of my window, I pretended I was still asleep.
The next time I passed a convenience store, I went inside and bought a bottle of washing-up liquid. The cashier didn’t look up. I knew I could have stolen it, but this time it felt better to pay. At home, I mixed it with the old watery bottle. It was much harder than I thought, blending two full bottles of liquid together, pouring one into the other, back and forth, and then shaking them, and then waiting for the foam to settle until they finally became equal.
When my mother came back, I showed her what I’d done. She was so delighted that she rushed out to treat me with fried chicken for dinner. She watched as I ate the pieces, stripping them down, leaving nothing to waste, not even cartilage. She lifted my bangs to rub her palms all over my oiled face.
Are you my slave? I asked her.
Do you want me to be?
Then I’m not.
We saved the pickles in cling film and sprawled out in the living room until my father came home. He parked his car hurriedly, facing our unit. But he didn’t come out. The headlights stayed on, and for a while all we could see was the harsh light. But then our eyes adjusted, and we made out the streaks of rain on the windows. Soon we could see into the car, where my father remained in the driver’s seat, engrossed in his Game Boy, hunched over to finish some squeaky game.
I felt, for the first time, that I would never run away. I would stay right here after all, close to my mother. I would hold on to her until she was empty, like a spray can or a cigarette. By then I might have my own husband, who would try to use me up. I could sense who my husband might be, the kind of man I avoided on the bus, eyes bleary from video games and alcohol.
I lifted my arm. It fell on my mother. Her eyes were closed, because it made her sad to see my father spellbound by his device.
I dropped my arm on her again.
Mmm, she said.
I’m going to have a pretty disgusting ordinary life, I revealed to her.
It’s not so bad, she said. I’m not so bad. Compared to so many of my classmates. So many girls I lost touch with. I think about them all the time. They would be so happy to have my life right now. I hope they’re okay.
What if they’re not okay?
What if you have a friend who is not okay? Right now? What do you do?
I don’t know, daughter. Maybe you help them. Maybe you drift apart. It’s hard enough to keep one person afloat. One person still floating anywhere is a miracle. And they know that too. So maybe they understand.
I wondered if she was thinking about her sister, who might be all alone now, in her downtown unit, or maybe her daughter was with her, pressing her face into her neck. When my mother fell asleep, I listened to her snores. I tried to smell her heart through her chest. It was something I had always tried to do. I was convinced I would smell it there one day, a cool mass the color of her tongue. Then my father walked in.
Hey. He nudged her with his foot. Hey. Wash before you sleep.
She washed already, I lied.
Bullshit. I could smell her from the parking lot.
I bundled her in my father’s blankets, even though I knew he would pull them away from her. He required all the space of the living-room floor, the warmest spot in the flat. I waited for him to fall asleep too. I wanted to smell his heart, which I had never tried before. I looked at his chest, and the hairs swirling into a dark cloud. I hovered closer. One degree at a time. I held my breath so it wouldn’t tickle him. I didn’t want him to open his eyes and see how close we were becoming. How close I was to his secrets. No one had ever gotten this close. Not my mother, not even his mother, because they already knew what I sensed right now: that even as he slept his heart never stopped watching us. I breathed in. There it was. Loud. Slippery. Unforgiving. And it wanted to outlive me. I knew this would likely never be the case, that any reasonable person would bet that I would outlive him. I was already outliving him, I just didn’t know it yet. But his heart didn’t care. It wasn’t finished growing, and I smelled how much bigger his heart wanted to become. It promised me we would never be done.
I couldn’t sell cheap earrings for the rest of my life. If I wanted money, real money, to get a new dress for my mother, and a gift-wrapped crate of sweet pomegranate essence, and then call a taxi for her to carry the crate with ease and elegance to her sister at her river-view flat, where they could reconcile, and order fried chicken and some beer, and hold each other in the blue glow of the most dazzling bridge in our city, I would need a lot more. I would need a job.
I interviewed at every convenience store in the neighborhood, but they wanted a boy, tall and strong enough to intimidate shoplifters and carry large boxes. I even approached the shopkeeper I’d stolen from all year. But he couldn’t hire anyone because the shop was folding. The rent was tripling. He confessed he needed a job himself, and the conversation ended with him asking me a favor instead, I was to find out through my parents and my neighbors if anyone worked in an office building or a school or a mall in need of a new security guard. I promised I’d ask everyone, but I didn’t.
At the end of the month, the shop closed and got replaced by a dress store, and the young woman who ran it tried her best to elevate the cramped space with a chandelier and delicate wallpaper.
My classmates were changing, too. They were getting serious about university. Serious about exams, cram schools, boyfriends, husbands, skincare, haircare, dental care. They were trickling into school with new eyes and new noses, sometimes still wrapped in thick bandages. They were acquiring taste. Their Prada backpacks didn’t match their old cheap earrings. From now on they needed yellow-gold hoops, or rose gold, or white gold, or small diamond studs.
When my mother offered to send me to cram school, I told her to save the money. I convinced her I’d top the rankings on my own.
I stopped seeing Yena. We barely went to the river, even after the ice melted. When we passed out, I woke up before she did. I abandoned her on the riverbank. It didn’t feel good, leaving her unconscious body on a slab of concrete, but at least there was no one to see me do it.
Afterwards, I told her I’d gotten too fucked up, that I’d stumbled home.
Are you falling out of love with me?
She wasn’t really joking.
What if we get raped out here? I asked in return. And then they just roll us into the water?
I pinned my bangs away from my face, and waited for them to grow out.
When Yena tapped on my window, I didn’t get up to let her in. I stayed put at my desk with my stack of homework. She jiggled the stiff frame, but I had already locked it a long time ago.
I’m busy, I mouthed to her. We could have easily heard each other through the thin glass. I didn’t want us to.
You’re not busy, she mouthed back at me. You’re not doing shit.
Yena stayed at the window, daring me to look away. Her skin had darkened from the long afternoons by the river, even though it was barely spring. I wondered how she kept warm. She licked her lips, chapped from dry sandy winds. Her bangs were caught in the gust too, her tattered flag, flapping and pointing every which way. The skin between her eyes showed, the most beautiful part of her body, but this time I did not want to touch it at all. She looked back at me, but also at my bed, my desk, my reading light, my new awards framed on the wall, for debating and sewing. Soon I would also win awards for poetry and English and paper-boat-making. I was learning that there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish. It was easy, now that I lived with the shiny purpose of one day saving my mother so that she could stop saving me. I had almost let Yena come between us, but not anymore. Now I had a reason to breathe in each gulp of air. Not even Yena could laugh at me. It might even make her cry. I wanted to make her cry, for thinking she could ever be family, for thinking she could ever pull me into her burrow.
Look away, I mouthed at her. And she did.
Maybe that should have been it. Maybe that’s when we should have drifted apart. But after a long day of boring classes, I went to the school garden to smoke with the older girls. They were pressed together, nursing the ear of a girl who had been caught with her gold-plated hoops in the middle of class. The teacher had smacked her head around, and then she’d pulled one hoop right out. It tore through the lobe, and now the girl was bleeding, and she was also never going to get her eighty thousand won back, and we took turns pressing a water bottle to her bandaged ear, and we were weighing how best to take revenge on the pathetic cunt who would do this to a child, how to take pictures and file a complaint with the police, or maybe just follow the teacher home and corner her in an alley and let our instincts take over.
As we smoked and plotted, a girl lifted her shoe. She bent over to study the stale hardened soil, and then she dug her toe deep, until she kicked up something.
What is this?
We dug together, with all of our toes, until we unearthed a pigeon. It was very dry, and very dead, we knew right away, but we stepped back, in case it took flight. We tossed an old pack of gum, just to see it land on the limp neck.
Who did this? What psycho fuck did this? What chicken testicle fuck is fucking with us?
Before I could stop myself, I said, Yena.
I clasped my hands over my mouth. I knew that wasn’t true. I knew Yena would never do this, that she would never pollute or intrude upon my new life, because in some unthinkable way, she still needed me. Don’t lie don’t lie don’t lie, I thought to myself. But then I also thought, don’t be so sure. Don’t kid yourself. Don’t wait. So I dropped my hands.
It’s her, I said. And there was another one before. An even smaller one.
It didn’t take long for the older girls to decide what to do. Even the one with the torn ear, the one who was headed for the police station, agreed to join this operation instead. I took them to the tunnel that led to the bike path and the reed bushes by our spot on the river. Yena was alone. When she saw us, she got up. The older girls pulled her back down. We pulled her by her hair, by the collar of her blazer, by her shoes. When she kicked them off, we grabbed her ankles. You little cunt. You murdering shitbag. We crammed dirt into our fists, and pushed it into her eyes. We pushed it into her nose. We pushed it down her throat. No one could stop us. Not Yena, who only curled her head down to her stomach, trying to slow her blood. Not the cyclists, who braked into a sudden crowd, craning, yelling. No one is worth it, they shouted at us. No one.
Photograph © Eric Reichbaum