Fiction
12.1 / FALL / WINTER 2016

UNDER THE CANOPY

We stopped to take pictures on our way back to the airport, even though I had advised against it. That sounds lawyerly, doesn’t it? “I advised against it.” It’s funny the things that stay with you, the things you hold on to, so you won’t go mad. After being locked in a room with Maggie and those other women, I began reciting case law in my head. People vs. Martini. People vs. Sandoval. People vs. Llewellyn. All of the cases I had been studying during the trip were still fresh in my head and I told myself that if I could remember all of the details I’d still be okay. I wouldn’t crumble and my kidnappers wouldn’t win.

Maggie wanted to stop so that I could take her picture in the middle of the empty road, framed by the trees that were forming a protective cocoon around us. I didn’t feel comfortable there; the sun was already setting and we were two women travelling on the dusty, southern roads of the Dominican Republic, alone. “Let’s wait until we reach the next town before we stop,” I suggested. But Maggie wanted her picture with the trees.

The morning paper had reported on some disappearances in the area, and our B&B hostess regaled us with tales of home invasions while serving our cafecitos. “Pues aquí son animales,” she said, attributing beastly qualities to the criminal element in her little town. We’d seen many men in uniform posted up on the corners; it reminded me of the airports back home right after 9/11—filthy with military, making me more nervous than if they weren’t there.

“Ay por favor, this is my home! Nothing bad is going to happen!” Normally I admired Maggie’s bravery, but at that moment I had prayed for the strength to get her to really hear me and get back in the car. For as long as I knew her, which wasn’t very long, I could never get Maggie to really hear me.

“Maggie, let’s go, please.”

“No one’s even on the road! Don’t be such a pussy!”

She made me so angry I could barely hold the camera straight, an old Nikon I’d bought off of the internet. I remember thinking I didn’t even want to come to this stupid place. I have exams to study for. I hate this island! But Maggie was oblivious to everything I was feeling as she posed up in front of the car with her arms raised triumphantly in the air.

But that was Maggie. She was always the one who took the front seat on rollercoasters, or barked back at angry dogs in their own yards. Maggie could coax a baker’s dozen of free drinks from men at the bar for all of us and send them all home alone without worry or repercussion. She could even get me to stop studying for the straight A’s I coveted, long enough to join her in a bath for almost an hour, and not care that I’d lost valuable reading time. I suppose that’s how I ended up on a road I was afraid of, in a country I didn’t like, taking an ill-advised photo of Maggie underneath a canopy of wild foliage at dusk.

To her credit, the road was beautiful. There was just enough concrete to invite cars in and out of the small border towns near La Descubierta, but wild enough to make one romanticize about the good old days before resorts and development. On our right, the lake sat quietly, creeping up to the edges of the road under the platano groves. We’d heard so many horror stories about how dangerous the lake was—crocodiles, flooding, sinkholes—it was hard to look at the stillness under the night sky and know it was the same lake that devastated the area just a few years back by drowning part of the town under its unforgiving waters. Over on the left there was a thickness of bushes and trees leading up to the mountains, hiding all the horrors our hostess warned us about.

It was all very picturesque, and Maggie, with her mess of dark-red curls and enthusiastic face, was perfectly framed by the night and the lake and the trees. She was an ad for all things happy. Maggie belonged in this place; not me. I was just the observer, documenting her walk in the clouds.

Right after I snapped the sixth photo—Maggie was standing on the hood of the car at this point—I felt someone grab my arm and muzzle my mouth just as a long, muscular brown arm appeared, grabbing Maggie by the legs.

***

When I opened my eyes it was dark. The room felt damp and there was a strong sewage smell attacking my nose. It was the stench that woke me up, something like hot garbage sitting on an East Village curb during one of those unbearable New York summers. As I drifted into consciousness, I held on to the fantasy that maybe I had slept through the spring and was waking up in my apartment off of 127th Street in Harlem, and being snatched off a road in La Descubierta was just a bad dream induced by too much caffeine and law school textbooks.

But opening my eyes to pure darkness told me otherwise; my apartment had huge windows. This was not Harlem. This was a place with barely a connection to the outside world. This was a room where people held you for a while until they decided what terrible thing to do to you. I didn’t want to move or sit up; I didn’t want anyone to know I was aware. But I suddenly wondered Where is Maggie?

There were other thoughts racing through my head at that moment too—how long have I been here, asleep; who took us; what was their end-game; and did they do anything to me while I was unconscious? But mostly I worried that I was alone in that dark room, that waiting room, and that Maggie had already served her purpose and had been discarded among the platano groves or into the depths of the lake, feeding crocodiles. Would anyone ever know what happened to us?

I started to think about my Tía Nani in the Bronx, running her little café, expecting to hear from me and about my trip to Santo Domingo. How long before she’d begin to panic? Before she called her cousin in Los Minas to ask about me. “¿Adriana no llego a verte? ¡Yo no e oído de ella!” But her cousin wouldn’t have any information, she wouldn’t have heard from me; Maggie and I never bothered to visit. As far as anyone in my family knew, I’d never even come to Santo Domingo. No one would know to look for me in the south.

I’m going to die here. I’ll never get to graduate from law school. I’ll never get to fight for the little guy. I’ll never ride the Cyclone at Coney Island again, or lay on the beaches of the Rockaways. I’ll never have a great slice of pizza from that place in the Village or escape the heat by ducking into Macy’s to window shop. This dank, smelly room is where my story ends. In a country I didn’t want to visit, and without the girl I came here with. I’m going to die here all alone.

I let out a small whimper, amazed that it wasn’t, instead, a loud sob.

“Adriana?” I heard someone whisper from somewhere in the dark. “Adriana? Please tell me you’re here,” continued the voice. Maggie.

“Maggie?” I whispered back, and she began to cry quietly in whatever corner of the dark room she sat. I felt tears hurry up and spill over my eyes, too. Maggie was alive! “Baby, are you okay?” Neither one of us made a sound besides the whispers. Neither one of us made a move toward the other.

“Adriana,” she sobbed. “Adriana they raped me. They raped me!” I cried a little harder now; Maggie was alive in body, but her spirit, I could tell from her voice, had died.

***

When I met Maggie I knew we were temporary. She was one of those women your girlfriends tell you not to get involved with because they’re “not really gay; just experimenting.”

“When she’s had her fun, she’s going to go back to St. Nicholas Avenue, find herself a college-educated cibaeño, and churn out a bunch of beige and curly-haired Dominican babies.” Yolanda chided me the most of all my best friends. We’d grown up together near Fordham Road and, even though I was afraid she’d never speak to me again, she was the first person I came out to. Her response was something along the lines of “So?” and we resumed our French-fry and psychology-studying evening. “Then what are you going to do?” she continued, trying to dissuade me from keeping a date with Maggie. “After you’re all deep in love and she’s straight again?”

But I had chosen to ignore Yolanda, knowing she was right but not caring. I wanted this adventure. I was ready to welcome any heartache attached to Maggie’s exit from my life if it meant I’d get at least a few months of her attention. My days and nights revolved around academia and work and volunteering for the ACLU and Legal Aid. A bit of drama was not a detriment, especially when it was packaged so attractively: deep brown eyes, full lips painted red, a wide smile and a dancer’s body. She burst into my class’s law school reception, the guest of someone else, practically twirling. I might be remembering that with bias, though. But I do remember her skirt twirling around a pair of strong, tanned legs. I remember wishing her skirt were shorter.

“I’m Maggie, hi!” She walked right up to me and introduced herself. Just like that. She saw me looking and came up to me. I was never the kind of girl other people sought out or picked out of a crowd. I was awkward and tall, with too-thick thighs and thin, greasy hair, wide-set eyes and no breasts to speak of. It was hard for me to overcome my self-loathing and meet her eyes, this beautiful girl who came up to me and graced me with her handshake. I made no assumptions that I could be with her—she came with a guy—but as soon as she held out her hand to shake mine I began planning dates in my head. She looks like she’d like to go salsa dancing. And to museums and fancy cafés afterward, to discuss the art and how it makes her feel. She probably lives in Brooklyn. I’d ride my bike across all the bridges to take her to a museum, then a café, then for ice cream on the Promenade. I’d go to Brooklyn for her.

Maggie wasn’t from Brooklyn, though, and she wasn’t from St. Nicholas Avenue like Yolanda kept saying, either. She was from Santo Domingo, educated in Spain, and sent to New York as a graduation present; not to study or work, just to gallivant. There was something exciting about being with someone who appeared to have no worries and no struggles. Her family didn’t have to escape the Dominican Republic during Trujillo’s reign as mine had, because they were in his pocket. And they didn’t have to fear for their lives after El Jefe was assassinated because they threw enough money around to redeem themselves. They’ve had money since they first came to the island, and continued to have money when no one else did. Their whole life, I learned, was candy clouds and unicorns while the people around them were hungry. And they lived this life unapologetically and out loud. Maggie reaped all the rewards of that and I, in turn, got to enjoy a summer with her and her old money while I struggled through my first year of law school.

“I can’t believe your family let you put off college,” I told her on our third date. We went to the last of the Cuban-Chinese restaurants in upper Manhattan, a throwback to the 1950s when that set of immigrants was heavy in the neighborhood.

“I have my dad wrapped around my finger. He lets me do whatever.” She used a Castilian accent when she spoke both English and Spanish, and it made her more endearing in the beginning, but a bit pompous by the time the garlic bread was brought to the table.

“And your mom?”

“What about her?”

That’s how Maggie lived her life: batting her eyelashes at her dad and turning her nose up at her mom. It all translated to a paid apartment in New York City for a whole year, with a bottomless bank account.

“What does your father do?”

“Whatever it takes to make me happy,” Maggie said, smiling, letting me know that I was not getting a clearer answer than that.

***

“Maggie, who are they? Did you see their faces?” I tried my best to distract her from her trauma. Neither of us had made any moves toward each other in the dark, still, I was afraid someone would hear us. I don’t know why Maggie chose to sit still.

“I saw them, but I don’t know them,” she continued to cry. “Unos haitianos sucios! SUCIOS!” she yelled out into the dark. “Wait until my father gets a hold of you filthy, black, malditos!” A rage rose in her, and ugliness spewed from her lips, the kind I’d never heard her say before but often suspected lived beneath the surface of her conditional tolerance and acceptance. This is the part where, if we were home, Yolanda would have turned to me with an I told you so in her eyes. I’d give anything for Yolanda to rub my mistake in my face, to be home, to live in a Maggie-less world.

I listened for footsteps, my heart beating faster. “Baby, please don’t do that. Don’t antagonize them. Don’t make them come back in here,” I pleaded with her.

“Oh, because this is all my fault, right?” I could hear the venom in her voice. Maggie had moved past sadness and fear and lashed all her anger at me. “I made us come here, I wanted to take pictures on the road, so go ahead and say it: I got us taken. I got myself raped. SAY IT!”

“Maggie, please, baby, I need you to calm down.” I didn’t know what to do or say. I’d never seen this side in the six months we’d spent together like human velcro. She wasn’t making any sense and her voice was a deep guttural noise I’d yet to experience. “I’m not blaming you, babe. Just please keep your voice down. We have to figure out how to get out of here.”

“How are we supposed to get out of here? I’m chained to the fucking wall, Adriana!” Maggie’s words confused me. Chained? Am I chained, too? Where? I’d been so afraid to move a muscle that I hadn’t noticed the weight of the shackles around my wrists and ankles. The cold metal against my skin horrified me more than waking up in a dark, smelly room. My breath quickened and I flailed my limbs about to see how far I could move or if I could pull free. Why am I chained? Where am I? Jesus, where am I?

I screamed at myself in my head, until my head could no longer contain the fury. I let it out, crying for god and my aunt and even Yolanda. I screamed for mercy, for answers. I pulled at the chains and wailed and screamed. I screamed in Spanish, English, even in the bit of Kreyol I could remember from my childhood visits to my Haitian grandmother in Florida. But no one answered me, except for Maggie, whose rage was now reduced to quiet whimpering and sniffles. Now it was her turn to see my bad side.

We would not come out of this ordeal a couple. Right there, with me screaming and pulling at my chains, and Maggie resigned to her fate, we broke up.

***

A month before Maggie had coaxed me on this trip, I was stressing about my studies. I had a job, was a resident assistant on campus and needed a certain grade point average to keep my scholarship.

“You worry too much. Come with me to yoga,” Maggie said to me one day after I told her, hair frazzled and clothes disheveled, that I wouldn’t have time to see her that week.

“Are you listening? I have work to do.”

“Work will always be there. Your youth will not.”

“Maggie…”

“I won’t have you become a bitter old judge, sitting on a bench and over-sentencing people because you never took time to enjoy yourself. Work will always be there!”

“Life is so easy for you, Maggie, but if I screw up then I’m out of school.”

“And why would that be so terrible?”

“Because then I wouldn’t be able to practice law.”

“And why would that be so terrible?”

We went back and forth like that for a solid ten minutes before I gave in. Despite my looming midterms, I took my first yoga class that afternoon, went to the Bronx zoo, ate fresh lobster on City Island and made love to Maggie on her worry-free bed. As soon as she left her apartment for another adventure with one of her fellow trust-fund babies, I snuck out and acquainted myself with a pot of coffee and my criminal law paper. Maggie was a nice distraction, but I usually managed to come back down off the cloud before things went too far.

I don’t know what happened with this trip. This definitely went too far.

***

More than a few hours passed, after I lost my voice, before I heard a door open somewhere nearby. There were more than one set of footsteps, but I didn’t know how many more. I could hear Maggie taking deliberately quick breaths, preparing to scream, and I wanted to care. But I was in survival mode, and exhausted from fighting the chains; all I could do was say a prayer that our captors would forget I was there.

One set of feet walked very close to where I lay my head, and my eyes, which had remained closed this whole time, opened wide, pupils struggling to find even a hint of light around us. The feet disturbed the dirt around my head, causing a few specs to fly into my eyes and nose. I squeezed my eyes shut again, hoping the tears would clean out the dirt and hold off a sneeze. I was still hoping the feet didn’t know I was there. I was clenching my eyes and shrinking inside myself, praying to a god I didn’t worship that this would all pass over me.

I remember being a kid, and thinking that hiding under the covers or keeping my eyes closed would make the boogie man disappear. Mami used to say if I went to sleep el cuco couldn’t hurt me. This was the worst time to discover my mother was lying to me.

“What to do with this one?” I understood the feet next to me say in Kreyol.

“Kisa ou vlé? KISA OU VLÉ?” I yelled out, my voice still fading from the tantrum I threw earlier, hoping to earn brownie points by speaking in their native tongue. All of the feet just laughed at me.

“Ha! This one wants to know what we want, Sebastian. Should we tell her, or show her?” He continued on Kreyol, knowing I understood every word.

“Tanpri pa fê moin mal!” I yelled out anyway, as the feet’s arms grabbed at me in the dark, tearing my shirt open. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. I repeated it in my head like a prayer, but I could hear laughing on all sides of me, and the slow, muffled crying Maggie was doing in the background made me angry. Shut up! This is your fault! You did this to us!

There were strong hands holding my legs still and another set holding my arms. An entire body straddled me and I could feel and smell his hot, stale breath near my face. “Souple, please, souple…” I kept pleading in between sobs, but my skirt was lifted and my underwear ripped off. This was happening, and all the Kreyol and begging and crying in the world wasn’t going to stop it. “NO!” I screamed out when he forced himself in me, falling back to my native tongue because it didn’t matter anymore. All I knew at that moment was pain and fear, humiliation, despair, hatred, and English. There wasn’t room in my head—or my body—for anything else.

I counted three different men attacking me, but suspected a fourth was present. They made loud jokes, in Kreyol, to my face, and laughed hard enough to match my sobs. One of them slapped me repeatedly across my face and told me to shut up. Another spit at me and told me to stop acting as if I wasn’t enjoying him.

Toward the end I could only muster a faint “Please, stop… suspenn tanpri…”

When they were finished, and I was left on the ground, chained, naked and raw, I heard them walk away, presumably toward Maggie, who let out loud yelps as if she’d been struck, repeatedly. Then she was completely silent. Not even soft breathing or muffled crying. The feet all laughed on their way out. All of the shuffling feet, walking away from the worst day of my life, laughed. This was a joke to them. We were a joke. Maggie and I were a joke that had a set up and no punchline, and we would never see the light of day again. And I didn’t even want to come on this stupid trip.

***

At Las Americas airport, Maggie and I got off the plane hand in hand, but I let go when I saw a police officer staring at us. I was afraid of Santo Domingo the moment the plane landed safely, the moment we stepped into the airport and waited in line so that I could pay the tourist tax. Maggie said I was being dramatic. “No one’s looking at us. No one cares.” But I didn’t imagine that police officer. He eyed us from the line to the airport exit, where Maggie’s father’s driver was waiting for us. As I handed him my small suitcase, I looked back and made eye contact with the officer, attempting to smile. He shook his head and looked away. In the car on the way into the city, I initiated what later became our first fight.

“Do your folks know I’m with you?” I asked.

“Why? It doesn’t matter. My parents are cool.”

“Maggie, don’t brush me off. That police officer in the airport…”

“Here we go again…” Maggie interrupted.

“THAT POLICE OFFICER IN THE AIRPORT,” I continued, yelling, “was looking at us funny. Your own driver seemed shocked when I walked up to him. I want to make sure I’m not walking into an uncomfortable situation.”

“I have tons of friends, Adriana. My parents won’t care that you’re here too.”

“So on this trip I’m a ‘friend’ and not a lover?” I tried to look her in the face, but Maggie was staring out the window.

“Don’t be so dramatic.” Maggie turned to face me finally. “We’re not enemies, OK, because I wouldn’t buy a plane ticket for an enemy. We’re friends. My parents don’t need all the details. Don’t be so dramatic.”

I could hear Yolanda, in my head, judging me. You left New York, your studies and your job for two weeks with this chick, and she didn’t even tell her parents about you. Fifty bucks says she’s never mentioned you at all.

“But do your parents know who I am?”

“What, are you famous in Santo Domingo and no one told me? Why would my parents know who you are?” Maggie was annoyed, and it pissed me off that she thought herself the injured party in this argument.

“No, as in, when you speak with them every week, do you mention me? Because we spend almost all of my free time, and not-so-free time, together.” I waited for Maggie to say something but she didn’t. “Maggie, do your parents know who I am?”

We rode the rest of the way into the city in tense silence. Every once in a while I would catch the driver peek into the rearview mirror and lock eyes with him. He knew who I was, I could tell. At the time, it was something to hold on to.

***

“I think they killed your friend,” I heard a quiet voice say from somewhere in the dark. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed since my attack, but I was still sore. My face was throbbing where I’d been struck, and other places deep within still cried out for release from the fear and the pain. And now there was a voice telling me Maggie was dead.

“Who are they?” I pleaded with the woman in the dark.

“I don’t know. I’d never seen them before. They grabbed us from a hammock at the swimming hole. We never saw them coming.” She had such sadness to her voice that I started crying again. There was another survivor who was barely surviving, and it made me wonder how much longer I had. “We were just cooling off and never saw them coming.”

***

Maggie and I had gone swimming at Las Barias our first day in La Descubierta. The noon-day sun was almost unbearable and the air conditioning at Maggie’s family home had broken down. “There’s a swimming hole nearby. You’ll love it,” Maggie said, so we locked up the big yellow house on the hill and walked the four short blocks through town in our swimsuits. A few kids ran past us, wearing only wet underclothes, laughing and yelling. It was the first thing that had made me smile since I landed on the island. The sweetness and innocence of it all, the carefree yelling and running, it all made me relax, at last.

But there were also street vendors in front of shanties, vying for our attention and pesos. Older women carrying large buckets of platanos and other viandas; young men with wheelbarrows full of tools and car parts. There were the occasional vagrants with eyes on us, vigilant, wonton, not unlike the men who sat in front of the bodegas back home who called me “Ma” and requested smiles from me that they hadn’t earned. This place was beautiful, and Maggie’s home was pure luxury, but there was extreme poverty right outside her door, juxtaposed with the trees, groves, lake and mountains. Maggie walked past all of it and never looked back.

And I remember seeing two women tying up a hammock in between some trees near the swimming hole—was this one of those women? Was the sad, quiet voice in the dark the slim woman in the red bathing suit or was she the tall woman in cargo shorts?

***

“Did they hurt you?” I asked. I didn’t know what else to ask. I just wanted to talk to someone and be alive.

She never responded. I suppose that was her answer.

In the silence, my mind began to wander. There was a place in Savannah, Georgia, that reminded me of the road leading out of La Descubierta, where we were taken. Worms-something. I visited the property after a tour of the famous Bonaventure Cemetery. It’s not everyone that travels to a random southern town during spring break. I just had those kinds of friends, I suppose. This was before Maggie, or course. Yolanda was there, and so was her boyfriend, James. We drove underneath the protection of the Spanish moss-riddled trees, catching glimpses of the sun whenever a soft breeze came through. “This would be a great place to set a scary movie, don’t you think?” Yolanda asked James, who was busy with whatever was on his phone.

“Yeah, I guess,” he mumbled from the back seat, and Yolanda and I looked at each other as if to say yeah, he’s past his expiration date. Time for an upgrade. That’s how Yolanda spoke of her liaisons: upgrades. When we were teens she dated a boy whose father owned two sneaker stores, but then left him for a boy whose mother came from old money in Texas. The rumor was, James was a Kennedy. I didn’t know where Yolanda was going to go from there.

“No, really, look at it. It’s abandoned, isolated, in a red state, near a cemetery, and look at all this creepy shit on the trees. What the hell is that?” Yolanda pointed out of her window emphatically. This trip was more her idea than mine, but I was happy to be there. James, however…

“It’s Spanish moss, and relax. No need to get all worked up.” He said.

“Well, it looks creepy to me. Right, Adriana?”

La Decubierta didn’t have any Spanish moss on the palm trees, but the canopy Maggie and I traveled under was just as ominous as the one in Savannah. Yolanda would have loved to see that road, to marvel at how Savannah had a sister-city in the southern regions of Hispaniola, especially since we found a tattered Dominican flag among the relics in one of the riverside museums. “Look, Adriana, your people made it to Georgia!” she had mused.

“Ugh, those aren’t my people,” I had responded, and I meant it. I was a New Yorker, from the Bronx, raised on hip-hop music and Kraft’s macaroni and cheese and “All My Children” on TV. I knew nothing of this humid, vicious island and had never cared to. And I was close to my Haitian grandmother; she spoke of this place as if it was the armpit of hell.

Yolanda would have listened to me when I objected to leaving the car under the canopy at night. Yolanda and I together would not have been kidnapped. Yolanda would not have gotten herself raped and killed.

***

I had lost track of time again when the shock of ice-cold water hitting my face woke me. “Wake up, Adriana,” I heard a familiar voice taunt me. He was the one who spit on my face during my assault. I didn’t know what day it was, or where I was being held, but I knew the grating voice of the bastard who spit in my face. Back in the Bronx, being the girl I used to be before my scholarship to prep school and acceptance to law school, I would have stabbed him for just that, never mind raping me.

Someone lit a torch and after the initial shock of brightness, my eyes were able to adjust and take stock of the room. There were windows—lots of them—but they were boarded up. The walls looked to be solid concrete—maybe this was an old factory or government building?—and the door was just a large slab with no knob.

That’s all I wanted to look at; I only wanted to assess my possible escape prospects, but my eyes had other plans and scanned the floor around me to the four bodies laid out near the other walls: chained, limp, dead. Two of them were the women with the hammock I’d seen at Las Barias. One of them was completely naked with dirty, graying skin, curled up in the fetal position. The other was slightly bruised and bloated, still wearing her cargo shorts but no top, and her head was slumped forward, exposing the rope wrapped around her neck. Both were still chained to the wall as I was.

There was another woman, incredibly bloodied and showing signs of decomposition. One arm looked broken. She, too, was still in chains. I wondered how long before the hammock ladies were taken was the broken arm lady snatched? Were we the first batch of taken victims, or were we the tenth?

And then I saw Maggie. I didn’t want to, but my eyes made their way to her at last. My gaze stayed with her for only a few seconds—her eyes were open—before I forced myself to look back up at the ceiling.

“Adriana, that is your name, right?” The spitter approached me as he repeated my name with that scratchy voice of his, Kreyol accent heavy. I didn’t want to look at him, but again, my eyes defied me. “Adriaaaa-na. You’re not supposed to be alive, Adriana.” I could tell he was baiting me, but I started to recite case law in my head to drown him out. People vs. Martini. People vs. Sandoval. People vs. Llewellyn. “I know you hear me, Adriana Garcia, law student at Columbia University in New York City, organ donor, member of the Natural History Museum; that’s you, right, Adriana?” I could only guess that he had my belongings and was using its contents to get to me, but only the tears dripping out of my eyes let him know I could hear him. I refused to respond and continued looking straight up at the ceiling.

The spitter came closer and bent over me until we were face to face and I had no choice but to look in his eyes. Even then, I stared into his forehead instead. I couldn’t stop my body from shaking, or my breath from coming in short, fast spurts, but I could control where my eyes went for once. I wouldn’t look at him. He couldn’t make me.

“You don’t have to look at me, Adriana, but I know you see me. I know you saw your little girlfriend over there, too. Maggie, right? Her father is that guy who owns that big yellow house, no? I know you saw her and I know you see me. But don’t worry; it will be over soon, Adriana. You’re alive by mistake. We thought your father was the one with all the money; how do you American’s say it—my bad! But it will all be over soon.”

Behind him someone laughed, and then the spitter laughed, too, right in my face, right before shoving his tongue in my mouth. Instinctively I bit him, and he slapped me hard across the face and repeated “It will all be over soon.”

Despite wanting to remain strong, I broke down crying again. He wasn’t joking around; I knew what was awaiting me. I saw the bodies. I smelled all of their deaths before I had seen it. All the case law I recited in my head wasn’t going to change the four corpses in the room, or the fact that I was chained to a wall, or that a group of men were standing over me, laughing, contemplating what else they could do with and to me before my time was up.

“Ouvlé que moin eten limyê?” one of the other men asked the spitter, clearly the leader of the bunch.

“No, leave the lights on,” he answered. “I want our little friend Adriana to see everything she’s been missing, being with her little girlfriend. Let her see what men can do.” I let out another “NO!” as the spitter opened my legs again and tried to close my eyes to brace myself. But someone else held my head still and told me in Kreyol to open my eyes or else. I wanted to die, I should have called his bluff, but I opened my eyes anyway and the man holding my head chuckled. “Good girl,” he whispered, and kissed my forehead.

People vs. Martini. People vs. Sandoval. People vs. Llewellyn. I think those were the cases I needed to know for my exam. Or maybe they were the only ones I could remember while the kidnappers used my body as a playground. I didn’t have the strength to cry out anymore. I didn’t fight. I just laid there and wondered how many questions would be on the midterm. And if Yolanda knew I was missing yet. Had she called my aunt? Was Maggie’s dad looking for her?

“Adriaaaaa-na,” I heard someone say, and it felt so far away. There was more laughing, and some chatter in Kreyol. The torch’s light made weird shadows on the wall and I remembered the first time Maggie and I made love. “Adriaaaa-na,” she had sung to me, luring me into the bed. “Put the books down, come, be with me.” I had a test the next morning; I should have ignored her, asked her to leave. Yolanda tried to warn me that Maggie was trouble. But I put the book down. I went to be with her. I followed her to this island. I got out of the car and took her picture.

People vs. Martini. People vs. Sandoval. People vs. Llewellyn. I might still get out, and then I could do make-ups on all my tests after I get out of the hospital. I had to remember all my notes. I couldn’t let a little assault stop me from becoming a lawyer. People vs. Martini. People vs. Sandoval. People vs. Llewellyn. If I just keep reciting the case law in my head, then they can’t hurt me. Then I’m not really dead. El cuco can’t get you if you’re asleep. 

I’m driving under the canopy of trees leaving La Descubierta, leaving Worms-something in Savannah, I’m laughing with my aunt about the family I’d met on the island, and letting Yolanda declare “I told you so” once I revealed that Maggie and I had broken up.

I might still get out, I think as another man takes his turn. I’m not dead yet.

 

 

Raquel I. Penzo is a Brooklyn, NY, native of Dominican descent who has carved a career for herself as a writer, editor, and literary event curator. She hosts the New Voices Reading Series each quarter in NYC and works as a copywriter at Brooklyn Public Library. Raquel authored the self-published My Ego Likes the Compliments…And Other Musings on Writing, and the short stories, “Grey Matter” (Blue Lake Review), “Perspective on a Murder” (Mason’s Road), “On a Blue Day” (You Should Be Here), and “Enfermos” (Rose Red Review). An anthology of works from participants of her reading series was released on April 2014; a second volume is due out in April 2016. Visit Raquel online at RaquelPenzo.com.


12.1 / FALL / WINTER 2016

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