The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar

We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles and miles of dark, rolling water.

“This,” he continued, pointing at the ocean, “doesn’t give a fuck about this.” He shook the necklace in front of my face. Your gems are nothing but washed up grit to me. “Pity,” he said more softly, holding the locket up to the sun. “Such a pretty little thing.”

My father couldn’t decide what color of stone to get my mother. He told me he had chosen alexandrites because they were like the rainbow. They went through dramatic shifts in color depending on the light. Indoors, they looked reddish purple, but here in the sun, they sparkled with a bright, greenish hue. Their light glinted off Damian’s face.

“Such a pretty little thing,” he repeated quietly, almost sadly.

“The stones are very rare. The pearl too. You’d never want for anything. You could go anywhere. Disappear. Do whatever you like. And if you want more—”

“How much do you think your life is worth, Skye Sedgewick?”

He knew my name. Of course he knew my name. He’d probably ransacked my handbag. That, or he’d been stalking me, in which case this was a deliberate act, not some random abduction.

“How much do think my life is worth,” he asked, holding up the locket again. “The length of this chain? The pearl? These two rare stones?” He looked at me, but I had no answer.

“Have you ever held a life in your hands?” He dropped the locket in my hand and closed my fingers around it. “Here, feel it.”

He was nuts. Stark-raving nuts.

“Do you know how easy it is to destroy a life?” He took the necklace from me and slowly, deliberately, dropped it.

It fell by his feet. He played with it for a while, sliding it back and forth over the smooth deck, with the toe of his shoe.

“It’s really, ridiculously easy.” He stepped on the necklace and ground down with his heel, all the while looking at me.

The glass started cracking under his weight.

“Don’t,” I said. “It’s the only thing that’s left of my mother.”

“It was,” he replied, not letting up until the locket shattered.

The way he said ‘was’ creeped me out.

It was.

I was.

Things that came on board.

Things that never left intact.

He picked up the broken keepsake and examined it.

I felt a rush of triumph because the stones and pearl remained unscathed. Of course they did. It must have shown on my face because he grabbed my neck and squeezed so hard, I was gasping for air.

“Did you love your mother?” he asked, finally letting go.

I bent over, trying to catch my breath. “I never got to know her.”

Damian walked to the railing and held the necklace over the water. I watched, still on my knees, as it floated in the wind. I knew what he was going to do, but I couldn’t look away.

“Ashes to ashes . . . ,” he said, as he dropped it into the ocean.

I felt like he’d thrown a piece of me overboard, like he’d dishonored the love my parents had shared, the memories they’d made—the two rainbow alexandrites, and me, their pink pearl. Damian Caballero had destroyed what was left of our pretty, glass world.

I couldn’t cry. I was too exhausted. My spirit was crawling through tunnels of sandpaper, being skinned alive. Scrape off my freedom. Scrape off my hair. Scrape off my dignity and my self-worth and everything I possess, and cherish, and hold dear. I lay there looking up at the sky, looking up at the sun that I’d been yearning for, and I didn’t care.

I didn’t care when Damian forced me to get up and shoved me back downstairs. I didn’t care about counting windows or marking the exits. I didn’t care when he locked me up or when the engine picked up, taking us farther away from my home, my father, my life.

All I knew as I lay in bed, watching fluffy white clouds morph into strange, hideous forms through the overhead latch, was that if I ever got the chance, I wouldn’t hesitate a single second before killing Damian Caballero.

IT WAS DARK WHEN DAMIAN came in again.

I was dreaming of pink-frosted cake and pi?atas and Esteban.

Touch her again and I’ll see you in hell, he said, as they dragged him away.

He’d been my self-appointed protector, but there was no protecting me from the man who stood in the doorway now.

The light from the hallway outlined his form, casting a sinister shadow over my bed. I wanted to hide somewhere it couldn’t reach me.

Damian placed a tray on the bed and pulled up a chair. He left the lights off, but I smelled food. He’d brought me food.

I approached the tray cautiously, keeping my eyes averted. I remembered what had happened the last time I’d defied him, and I was going to be a good girl. I was going to be a good, conditioned girl. I could barely contain the hunger pangs that were rolling through my stomach in short, tight contractions, but I forced myself to slow down, to behave, to be civil and not bury my face in the plate like I wanted to.

It was some kind of fish, simply grilled, with rice on the side. God, it smelled good. There was no cutlery, which was fine, because all I wanted to do was rip into it, but I knew he was watching, so I pinched off a piece with my fingers, and the oil and cooking juices mingled with the rice.

“Not so fast?” he said.

Oh God, not again. Please just let me eat.

I wondered what he’d do if I licked my fingers.

I could taste the fish so bad.

“Stand up,” he instructed.

I swallowed the dry lump in my throat, the one that wanted to scream and cry and whimper and beg. I swallowed the tasteless, fishless lump and stood.

“Take your clothes off,” he said from the shadows.

I had been expecting it. Sooner or later, one way or another, it always came down to their dick. Suck it, lick it, stroke it, fuck it.

Because my mother didn’t love me.

Because my father hit me.

Because my teacher fondled me.

Because I was bullied.

Because my wife left me.

Because my kids don’t talk to me.

That’s why I drink.

I gamble.

I can’t stop eating.

I’m addicted to sex.

I cut myself.

I pull out my eyelashes.

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