The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar

I couldn’t think beyond emptying my bladder. I was reduced to nothing but hunger and thirst and bodily functions. And I was totally dependent on him. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ come automatically when you are at someone’s mercy. Even if you hate their guts.

He motioned for me to get up. My legs were wobbly and I had to hold on to him. I was wearing the same clothes—a cream, silk-georgette top and cropped cigarette pants, but they were barely recognizable. Isabel Marant’s Parisian chic looked like it had spent the night rolling around with Rob Zombie.

Damian led me through a narrow hallway. On the right was a small bathroom, with a compact shower stall, a vanity, and a toilet. I turned to shut the door, but Damian stuck his foot out.

“I can’t pee if you’re watching.”

“No?” He started pulling me back into the room.

“Wait.” God, I hated him. I hated him more than I thought I could ever hate another human being.

He waited by the door, not bothering to turn away. He wanted to make sure I understood the situation—that I didn’t count, that I didn’t have a say, that I wasn’t going to be afforded any privacy or mercy or grace or consideration. I was his prisoner, subject to his every whim.

I scooted over to the toilet seat, thankful that I was somewhat shielded from Damian’s view by the vanity. I unzipped my pants, noticing the scratches for the first time. My skin must have scraped against the sides of the crate he’d locked me up in. I touched the back of my head and felt an egg-sized lump that hadn’t stopped throbbing since I’d come around. My legs protested as I sat down, and there were deep, purple bruises on my knees from rattling around in that wooden crate for who knows how long. Worse, my pee would not come, and when it did, it burned like hot acid. There wasn’t much, probably because I was so dehydrated, but I kept sitting, taking a few deep breaths before standing to wipe myself. I pulled my pants back on and was about to wash my hands when I caught my reflection.

“What the hell?” I turned to him. “What the hell did you do to me?”

He continued staring at me impassively, like he didn’t hear me, like I wasn’t worth answering.

My eyes swung back to the mirror. He’d hacked off my long blond hair and dyed it jet black: butchered it with a blunt pair of scissors and poured some caustic store-bought color over it. Bits of blond hair still stuck out under the dark pieces, making it look like I was wearing a cheap, goth wig. My gray eyes, that had always called attention to my face, faded against the harsh dye job. Combined with my pale eyelashes and brows, I looked like a living ghost.

My nose was scratched, my cheeks were scratched. Dried up rivulets of blood were caked over my ears from where he’d ripped my hair out. Deep, blue hollows ringed my eye sockets and my lips looked as painful and cracked as they felt.

My eyes stung with unshed tears. I couldn’t reconcile this person with the girl I was a few days ago, the girl who was going to turn heads on her twenty-fourth birthday. My father had to know by now that I was missing. I would never have skipped out on the birthday bash he was throwing me. He must have talked to Nick, the last person I’d been with. I didn’t know how many days had passed, but I knew my father had to be looking for me. He would hire the best and he wouldn’t stop until he found me. If he’d tracked my car down to the quay, he would already have considered the possibility that I was on a boat. The thought comforted me. Maybe he was close. Maybe all I needed to do was buy some time so he could catch up.

I felt under my blouse and sighed with relief. It was still there—the necklace my father had given my mother when I was born. It had been passed on to me after her death and I’d worn it ever since. It was a simple gold chain with a round locket. The locket had a transparent glass window that opened like a book. Inside were two rare gemstones—alexandrites—and a pink conch pearl.

“Here,” I unclasped it and dangled it before Damian.

It wasn’t like I could trade it in for my freedom, since he could easily just take it from me, but if I could lure him with the promise of more, if I could whet his appetite with monetary compensation, maybe I could buy some time and stall whatever he had planned for me.

“This is worth a lot of money,” I said.

He didn’t seem to care. Then the indifference left him. His whole body stiffened and he took his cap off. It was an odd gesture, the kind of thing a man does when he’s informed of someone’s death. Or maybe he did it out of reverence, like when you’re standing in front of something big and beautiful and holy. Either way, he reached for it, very slowly, until it was swinging from his hand.

He held it up to the light and for the first time, I saw his eyes. They were dark. Black. But the kind of black that I’d never seen before. Black was One. There were no shades to black. Black was absolute, impenetrable. Black absorbed all the colors. If you fell into black, it swallowed you whole. Yet here was a different kind of black. It was black ice and burning coal. It was well-water and desert night. It was dark tempest and glassy calm. It was Black battling Black, opposite and polar, and yet still . . . all black.

I could see my mother’s necklace suspended in Damian’s eyes. It reminded me of what it’s like to stand between two mirrors, staring at the seemingly endless line of images fading into the distance. There was something in his eyes, in his face that I couldn’t place. He seemed mesmerized by the locket, like he’d fallen into some kind of a daze.

He had a chink in his armor after all.

“There’s more where that came from,” I said.

He tore his eyes away from the necklace and looked at me. Then he grabbed me by the arm, dragged me through the galley, up a short set of stairs, and onto the deck. I stumbled after him, my legs still wobbly and weak.

“You see this?” He gestured around us.