This story is by J.A. Hanks and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The blindfold comes off. My eyes burn and water from the bright. My senses accounting for the bruise on the back of my head. I don’t touch it. I am tough. Street tough. There is worse.
They push me through a simple white door. The room is all white. Bright, shocking, squint your eyes white. A narrow hall to the right goes past a brief glimpse of a small girl in a room-sized shower. I don’t ask questions. Don’t want to know, but fear I already do. She is fetally curled up under a punishing spray of water as a white lab coat looms over her prone form outside the glass partition.
We go around a tight turn and doorway into another room. I don’t ask about any of it, the fear and misery keeping my mouth shut and voice mute. Another white room.
We pass a girl, her brunette hair stringy over her red, raw face. Gathered in her arms is her naked red body. She looks into my eyes and in a split second I know my future.
Cleansed. Scrubbed clean. Harshly raw and removed. The future of the first girl I saw in the shower.
I walk numb, as if viewing a disturbing film that I am being forced to watch. It is a sick kind of knowing. I want to escape, look away, but I have to know. Have to see.
There are many like the red girl, but I only have minor blips of them as we pass by.
We enter the next room filled with beds. White walls, white floors, white sheets, white girls. Some are crying, some sleeping, some in shock. An older girl, her age unknown, reaches up to hold the hand of a smaller girl who is crying. The shared strength calms her wimpy moans.
I don’t want to go on; I have seen enough. A shove sends me forward, a not-so-subtle no. There is more than enough.
A white bathroom where I am stripped, evaluated by a white lab coat with a clipboard. Poked, inspected with legs spread, arms out, mouth open, all ins and outs.
The white lab coat leads me back through the white bedroom, past the red girl, into the white glass shower room. She opens the glass door; the water punishing my skin. The white lab coat directs my cleaning from outside, marking her sheet when I fail to comply. 6 marks.
Naked and raw from scrubbing, I am the red girl in the place where they scrub the rest of me raw and red. Give me six red lashes. There is worse.
Time. I am taken to a white bed with white sheets; they place me in my white bed gown.
Night, the white walls turn black as ink. The dark oppressive holding each of us captive on our beds, consuming everything except our thoughts of things to come and worse. We whisper to those near, not seeing their faces or tears or fears.
“Mary. My name is Mary.” I say in a tiny voice as other tiny voices name themselves. Violet. Hope. Natalie. Others so small I can’t make out their names.
“I’m scared.” I hear the tiny Violet voice say. I see her color in my head, a bouquet of violets, no, a field of violets. I place her there in my thoughts and watch her thrive.
“I am too,” tiny Hope. She doesn’t belong here. Not the place where Hope can be found. I plant her in the field with Violet.
Whispers. Sobs. Sniffles. Hours I listen, naming each one and placing them somewhere other than here. The violet field for us all, I conclude. With Hope and Natalie, Whispers, Sobs, Sniffles.
We wake to white. I cover my eyes with my arm, the bright hurts.
To the bathroom, teeth brushed, hair brushed to the point of pain and pulled back too tight. My white bed gown ripped over my head, my nakedness inspected, covered with a white gown of so soft cotton. It feels like a fluffy cloud, but this is no heaven.
Lined up in groups of ten, all ages and sizes. We don’t ask; we wait. The first row of ten begins to walk through the door straight ahead. Girl eight is crying. One of the Sobs I heard last night. White lab coat yanks her out of line, taking girl one in our row to be girl ten now.
The door shuts with the ten gone, a baton whacks the back of girl eight’s knees, and she crumbles to the floor. She screams and kicks and sobs angry tears as two of the white lab coats drag her by the arms into the door behind us. Back into the bathroom, the bedroom, the white rooms beyond. Back. Back. Never out. Uprooting her from the violet field where I planted her. There is worse.
Time. I count. Street tough is always unknown-ready. We don’t look at each other. We wait. I rub the white, so soft cotton gown between my fingers.
The door opens and the ten, my ten, walk in line into a white room. We stop, stand on big red x’s on the floor. We turn to the right, a glass partition separating us from them.
They are all the same, but different. Not welcome in the violet field where we are planted. Greasy, slimy, slick old men. Their eyes glisten with an unsatiated hunger. Their smarmy smiles make my skin crawl with snakes of revulsion. Their power and desire bulging in their pants and puffs of tight excitement.
One points at the girl on the third red x. A white lab coat grabs her, taking her through the door to the left. The pointing man goes to a white lab coat, handing a stack of paper, and goes through a door the same way as the girl on the third red x.
Again. 9th red x. Again, man hands paper stack to white lab coat, exits same side as 9th red x.
Again. 5th red x.
Again. Again. Again.
My red x.
The man. The greasy, slimy, slick old man with the bulging pants and tight excitement. Gives papers to the white lab coat, my last glimpse before going into the left room.
A white room. The man is here. No glass wall. He smells of cigar smoke and cheap cologne.
A white lab coat clenches my arm, her nails digging crescents of pain. She spits rules into my ear. Yes, I know. A reminder of worse if I don’t comply. Don’t submit. Don’t go with greasy, slimy, slick old man.
I nod once, feeling the street tough mask my white, so soft cotton fears.
I trail them through another door, down a long hall of doors, white, white, white. We turn a corner, more doors, more white.
We stop, white lab coat opens a white door into a red room. The greasy, slimy, slick old man goes in, I go in, the white lab coat shuts the door, a lock clicks.
Red room. Bed with red sheets, I see red in the red room. The greasy, slimy, slick old man turns his bulging pants and tight excitement toward me. He is close, the cigar smell and cheap cologne impale my lungs, I take sharp breaths.
He raises the white, so soft cotton gown over my head. I stand before him with my street tough veneer, my feet tenuously planted in the violet field.
His greasy, slimy, slick self touches me. I feel his tight, bulging excitement inside and outside. The cigar smell and cheap cologne are on the red sheets, on me, in me, my lungs coated with his stench, my mouth coated with his filth.
The red rages through my blood, surging through my red, raw body. Red blood drips down my leg, smears on my thighs, stains the red sheets. I dig deep, burying the red hatred.
Time. The red room is a rose plucked off the vine and crushed, crushed, time and time again. Over and over. I breathe, thinking I am dying, but once more, and once more again. Time.
I lie on the red sheets in the red blood. The greasy, slimy, slick old man gets dressed and knocks. The crushed rose still alive in the red room.
A white lab coat picks me up, covering me with my white, so soft cotton gown now soiled with red blood, cigar and cheap cologne smell, and of course, greasy, slimy, slick old man.
We walk down the white halls, through the white room with the glass partition, the white bathroom, the white bedroom, the white everything, into the glass shower.
The white lab coat takes my white, so soft cotton gown. I stand, street tough, planting my feet firmly in the violet field, welcoming the punishing rain.