By Julie Stayton
She sits alone on the floor, in the middle of an empty, cement room. There are no doors or windows. All she sees is dull gray, the smoothness interrupted by rubber scuff marks and small spatterings of dried blood. Her eyes are closed, legs crossed, hands resting calmly on her knees.
She breathes, listening.
She wears black, faded jeans, combat boots with rubber soles, and a black sleeveless shirt. Her chest around her collarbone and her shoulders are bare, and her long, dark hair is pulled back in a braid. The room is cold, but she is long past the feeling of temperature. She is poised for a fight.
She breathes, anticipating.
Finally, she hears the creaking of sliding panels and the ceiling opens above her. Her body remains still as her heart beats faster, and she braces for whatever might come. She is not afraid because she knows she will not fail.
She breathes, planning.
It falls from above. Slowly, clumsily, getting caught, billowing in the air, floating. She hears the swooshing over her head and tenses her muscles, prepared to stand and defend herself. But not yet. Time has taught her to be patient. The scars that mark her body are reminders that her defense is most successful at the very last moment.
She breathes, waiting.
When it finally reaches her, it settles over her shoulders. At first, she hesitates dangerously. She’s confused. And then she’s on her feet, her brown eyes open and dark, her fists held out strongly in front of her, her knees slightly bent, ready. The sunlight, still streaming into the room, momentarily blinds her.
Her breathing stops.
The room has never stayed open before.
The light clouds her judgment.
It’s still touching her, surrounding her, threatening to consume her.
For the first time in a long time, she is afraid. She doesn’t know how to defend against this new enemy. She stands tall, closes her eyes, and forces an exhale that allows her to open her mind.
She breathes, searching.
It is soft and warm. Too warm, at first, but then she shivers at the cold in the room and instinctively pulls it tighter around her. It feels like comfort, safety, security. She doesn’t trust it, but the warmth seeps into her, filling her chest with a fire she can’t contain.
At the realization, her eyes spring open, and she drops the blanket. She watches it fall, pooling on the floor under her feet. The once familiar chill nearly knocks her over. She shivers and wraps her arms around herself, feeling suddenly vulnerable and exposed in an unsettling way she had not known before.
She crouches down, still wrapped around herself for safety, to examine it. Its color is a welcoming blend of dark gray and navy blue, and it smells like the first day of Spring. It is full, vast, fraying at the corners from heavy use. It beckons to her, crying out for her acceptance. She reaches to touch it once more, but quickly recoils, worried it might strike at her like a snake.
She is, in one moment, angry that this simple object could so unsteady her, and in the next, utterly saturated by the grief of its absence. She can’t deny that she wants it. She wonders if she takes it, how long it will be hers before it, too, betrays her. She wonders whether its previous owner will come looking for it. She wonders how securely she could depend on it. She looks up to the blue sky, still inexplicably stretched out above her. Listening. Anticipating. Planning. Waiting. Searching.