Good Girls, by Isabel Yap

This story contains scenes dealing with suicide and violence relating to infants, which some readers may find upsetting.

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You’ve denied the hunger for so long that when you transform tonight, it hurts more than usual. You twist all the way round, feel your insides slosh and snap as you detach. Your wings pierce your skin as you leave your lower half completely. A sharp pain rips through your guts, compounding the hunger. Drifting toward the open window, you carefully unfurl your wings. It’s an effort not to make a sound.

girls-pull1You’re a small girl, but it’s a small room, and though your boyfriend is snoring you can’t risk being caught. You look back at him, remembering how he’d breathed your name a few hours ago, pouring sweat as you arched beneath him – Kaye, baby, please. You wonder if he’ll say it that way when you eventually leave.

The half you’ve left behind is tucked in shadow: gray, muted pink where your intestines show through. The oversized shirt you’re wearing hides the worst of the guts that hang from your torso as you glide into the sticky night air. You suck in a deep breath as the living bodies of your housing complex flood your senses. A girl sobs in her bedroom while her father hammers at the door. A pair of elderly foreigners lie in each other’s arms. A stray dog licks its balls outside the iron gates while a security guard dozes in his cramped sitting room.

Manila is a city that sleeps only fitfully, and you love it and hate it for that reason.

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The first thing taught at the Bakersfield Good Girl Reformation Retreat is the pledge: “I’m a good girl. A good girl for a good world. And while I know it is not always easy to be good, I promise to at least try.” The girls are made to repeat this three times at orientation, and one girl seems moved enough to shout “Amen!” at the end. Or she could be mocking it; Sara can’t tell. The girls on either side of her are listless, mouthing the pledge without care or conviction. One scratches her knee then digs underneath her fingernails, puckering and unpuckering her mouth like a goldfish. Sara suspects she’s wearing a similar expression. She frowns and squints at the clear blue California sky, the same one from the home she was just forced to leave.

Afterward they’re herded onto the field for physical exercises and split into groups. Sara’s group starts running. She quits on the second lap out of five, short of breath and thinking nope, not worth it. She jogs off the field and is trying to disappear someplace when Captain Suzy, who is in charge of PE, catches sight of her. Captain Suzy frowns and starts heading for her, except the flag football team erupts in a hair-snatching free-for-all. Captain Suzy surges into the brawl and flings girls away from each other, so that by the end mud and grass is strewn everywhere and more than one girl has fainted from the heat.

Later, Sara learns the fight was because of a butterfly knife that someone had snuck in and stupidly showed off. Lots of girls wanted it.

They’re given Exploration time after lunch, with the stern reminder that they have to be prepared for Group Sharing (4:30 PM), followed by Journals (6 PM) in their respective rooms before Dinner (7 PM). After leaving the dining hall, Sara surveys the abandoned schoolhouse where all Good Girls are forced to stay. It’s mostly dusty classrooms with chalkboards. Tiny white bugs swirl in every sunbeam. Most chairs and tables are child-sized, and colored mats cover the floor. A mesh-wire fence circles the entire yard, and past it, a tall rusted gate. Beyond them lie endless fields, roasting under the sun. The fence is too tall to climb, and Sara is neither agile nor motivated. She heads back to her room and decides to Explore her bed.

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There are meals all over the Metro, so many routes to explore. You’ve mapped them out over years and months of nightly travels: countless delicacies, different treats for different moods. The only difference is your start point, your end point. You never last more than a few months in the same place. You always need to find someone new to take you in–to believe you’re human, just like them.

Tonight your hunger is confusing. You don’t know what you want, what will satiate you. You decide to start upscale and work your way down, so you veer toward the part of the city with its lights still on.

Music pulses loudly from a club. Three high school girls totter out on four-inch heels, standing awkwardly on the carpet to avoid the potholed road. One of them is holding a phone to her ear. A car comes up; a maid hops out of the front seat and opens the door for the girls, and they climb in, unsteady from lack of practice or too many vodka Sprites. You think about dancing, about what it’s like to occupy the skin of a beautiful party girl, something you can do with ease–-slipping into a bar with confidence, slipping out with someone’s fingers twined in yours, ready to point at the stars and laugh then lean in close for a kiss.

They can never smell the blood and sputum underneath the liquor in your breath. Humans make up wonderfully intricate rituals, pretend to have such control–-but they easily devolve into animal longing, just heartbeats flaring in their cage of skin and bones.

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Something is knocking at Sara’s door. A monster of some kind, an overgrown baby bleeding from the chest. Its clawed fist is tapping in a way that’s supposed to be quiet, almost polite-–then Sara realizes she’s asleep and scrambles out of bed.

She opens the door. It swings into the hallway and bumps into the girl standing there. “Sorry,” Sara says. Her shirt is soaked in sweat.

“No worries. I’m Kaye! Nice to meet you.” The girl’s hand is cold and dry in Sara’s gross sticky one.

“Sara,” Sara says. “So I guess we’re roommates?”

“Yep,” Kaye says. She is petite and gorgeous, with shiny black hair and flawless honey-colored skin. Asian, but Sara can’t guess which. She wears an easy, friendly grin as she wheels in her luggage. She stops to note which bed Sara has occupied, then throws her backpack onto the empty one.

Sara shuts the door and sits on her bed. She picks up her regulation Pen + Diary in a halfhearted effort to prep for Group Sharing, but ends up watching Kaye unpack instead. Kaye unzips her overstuffed luggage, displaying piles of neatly folded clothes and small colorful snacks: Sweet Corn, Salt and Vinegar Chips, Boy Bawang. Notebooks and papers are wedged between socks and shoes in plastic bags. Kaye fishes out a pair of slippers and slaps them on the floor triumphantly.

“So what’s your deal?” Sara asks, as Kaye peels off her shoes and socks and sticks her feet into the slippers.

“I eat fetuses,” Kaye replies. “If I feel like it, I eat organs too.”

Sara frowns and shuts her notebook. Kaye doesn’t elaborate, and starts sorting clothes on her bed. Sara leans forward so that she can better inspect Kaye’s luggage. There are stickers all over it. One says Fragile, another says Delta Airlines; three are written in Chinese Characters; two read Wow! Philippines. They’re faded, the edges picked off as if someone with long fingernails was extremely bored.

“You came from abroad?”

“A few months ago.” She opens a pack of chips and holds it out to Sara. Sara peers in; they look like shriveled corn kernels. She shakes her head.

“So you were flown all the way out here to stop eating babies,” Sara repeats. Her gut churns, and a voice in her brain goes no, no, no.

“Unborn babies,” Kaye clarifies. “But it’s not like I can help it.” She starts laying out her clothes on the bed, methodically. “I would tell you what they call me, but you wouldn’t be able to pronounce it anyway.”

“Try me,” Sara says.

Kaye smirks and rips out a page from her regulation Diary, then scribbles something on it. She holds it up for Sara to read.

“Manananggal?” Sara tries.

Kaye collapses onto her bed laughing.

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The sky is outlined by skyscrapers, some still in construction. A half-finished high-rise condo is fenced off with boards bearing the image of the newest starlet. She’s wearing a red dress, hair fetchingly arranged over one shoulder, glass of champagne in hand. The flowery script next to her head reads: Where luxury and comfort reside.

The giant open-air shopping complex next to it is almost empty. A few cafes remain lit, although the chairs inside are turned up. A barkada of young professionals staggers back to the parking lot, high on caffeine and the adrenaline of overwork. They are laughing louder than the silence calls for. One man swears he will kill their boss the following morning.

You like these declarations. They can only be made at this hour–-witching hour, your hour. You like them because they’re not true.

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The Group Sharing discussion leader is named Apple. Sara ends up on her right, legs curled on the pink-and-orange mat. Apple greets everyone with a giant smile, then takes attendance. There are five girls in the sharing group, including Kaye. Apple begins by saying how happy she is that everyone has come to the Good Girl Reformation Retreat, where all girls are expected to be supportive and encouraging in their journey toward goodness.

“In order to get to know one another better, I would like each of you to tell the group which particular circumstances brought you here. There is no need to be shy or secretive about it. While we know it is not always easy to be good, we are now at Retreat, and we are going to try.”

Tamika, seated on Apple’s left, starts: She knifed her last boyfriend in the ribs. Trang has a habit of setting small fires because they are very pretty. Lena stalked her favorite lab teacher and sent threatening messages to his wife. Dana doesn’t say anything, but she pulls up her shirt and shows everyone a scar that cuts across her extremely toned belly. Sara notices Kaye looking at the pinkish flesh marring Dana’s brown skin with a sad smile.

“You have to tell us, Dana,” Apple insists. Dana says, “It hurt,” and that’s all she can be persuaded to say.

“Maybe next time then,” Apple says, with too much hope. “And you, Kaye?”

“I was brought to the US to marry someone,” Kaye says, the perfect mix of defiant and ashamed. Someone gasps. Sara’s mouth drops open, but Kaye doesn’t notice, and adds: “I’m not as young as I look.” She gives a tiny, tired grin, before proceeding to tell them about the drug bust at her husband’s place, her illegal papers, how no one will pay for her flight back to Manila. How the US government took matters into its own hands, and sent her here. How she’s homesick and rattled and maybe it’s for the best that her husband of two months OD’ed, but really mostly she’s glad to just be here, it seems safe. Everyone nods solemnly, and Dana reaches out and holds Kaye’s shoulder, briefly.

Liar, Sara thinks, but no, this is the truth. Of course this is the truth, and Kaye was just messing with her. Kaye was just having a little fun.

Then suddenly Apple says, “Sara? What about you, Sara?”

“I-– “ Sara says, and wonders how she can explain.

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girls-pull2Manila’s gated communities, home to the rich and famous, swanky as fuck. You flap past some consulates, flags drooping from their balconies, but you’re not interested in foreign food today. You sweep closer, lower, appreciating the distinct features of each house: angels cut into columns, black iron gates with gold accents, circular driveways sweeping up to meticulously lit front doors. Gardens overflowing with gumamela blossoms and palm trees. All the houses are humming with electricity, air-conditioners running at full blast. The humans moving inside them are less electric: house-helpers clearing leftover party dishes, children stuck on their game consoles, everyone else asleep. It’s all boring boring boring until you smell tears–-so much sorrow in the saline–from the odd modest house, a little decrepit for the neighborhood. The sound of sniffling is amplified. You stop and circle the air with interest.

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Sara explains it like this:

“It started after I dropped my sister’s baby. Nobody knew if the baby would be okay. Then the baby was okay, after they’d checked it out at the doctors ‘cause everyone was convinced that the bruise was some kind of tumor. I was just playing with it. I just wanted to hold it for a little while. So anyway after that, I was forbidden to touch the baby. That was okay. I could deal with that.

“The problem was, I started always thinking about babies. Because a baby is this terrible, fragile thing, you know? And so many things can happen to it. I just kept theorizing: if you keep pushing your thumb into its head, won’t your thumb actually sink into its brain? Or if you hold it upside down for too long–-like those dads on TV you know, always swinging their babies around?—like, maybe all the blood fills up its little brain and it gets a mini-baby-stroke. It got so bad that whenever I saw a baby, any baby, I got the sense that, like-–me being alive–-like it could cause that baby to die. Them or me, you know, and why the hell should it be me?

“So I started thinking I should fix that. I started looking out of windows and thinking I’m better off-–you know–-out there. Like when I’m in a moving car. Or when I’m on the fourth floor corridor of my school building. I get this sense that I can jump out and all the babies in the world will be saved. I kept trying, but something would always stop me, and when they asked me what my problem was-–you see how hard it is to explain? So I would just tell them-–I want to fly. That’s all I could say. I want to fly.”

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She is pregnant, the private-school princess in her immaculate bedroom. The tiny thing growing inside her is incredibly fresh–-six or seven weeks old–-and she’s just found out, or just admitted it to herself. She doesn’t know what to do. She’s composing an email to her boyfriend, or maybe her best friend. She types in quick bursts, interspersed with falling on her bed and beating her pillow with impassioned fists. You imagine the taste of her child in your mouth; you consider sucking it up and sparing her the agony of waking tomorrow. Wouldn’t that be a mercy to this child? Not having to live with the shame of bearing her own, so young, and her parents so disappointed, and her schoolmates so ready to talk shit about her?

You settle on the roof, testing the tiles, positioning yourself above her bedroom.

Then she starts playing a Taylor Swift song. It’s blaring from her iTunes and she is wailing on the bed, and suddenly it’s so hilarious that you can’t bear to end it. Besides, you don’t want to wait for her to fall asleep. She might not fall asleep at all.

You sigh, take off again, and decide that it’s time for a change of scenery.

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“So that’s your story,” Sara says that night, eyes gazing into the pitch darkness (Lights out at 9, 9 is so early, do they think anyone can actually sleep at 9?). “Mail order bride. Drugs. Gross old man. That sounds really terrible, but that…makes more sense.”

“That’s why I’m here, but only you know the truth about me,” Kaye says, an undercurrent of laughter in her voice. She sits up in bed, looks across at Sara, and Sara’s just imagining the weird light reflecting in her irises. “Hey Sara, I’m glad the baby was okay, by the way. It wasn’t your fault you were careless. Well I mean, it kind of is, but can anyone really blame you? Babies are such fragile things. I don’t know why you girls keep having them.”

“Says the baby eater,” Sara says, with what she hopes is humor, but she’s exhausted and suddenly imagining a baby tumbling down the stairs.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” Kaye laces her arms across her knees. “That’s okay. I only told you because I thought maybe you wouldn’t–-haha. If you did believe me you probably wouldn’t like me, and I’d have to say it’s in my nature, and then we’d fight, and god I’d have to leave again, when I’m not even hungry yet. When I’ve got nowhere to go.”

“You’re weird,” Sara says, because clearly Kaye is more messed up than she lets on.

Kaye laughs. There’s so much laughter in her, it surprises Sara. Kaye crosses the room and sits on the opposite end of Sara’s bed-–so quickly, suddenly she’s there and Sara sits up and draws her knees back reflexively. She should be freaked out, but after weeks of being treated like broken glass back home, in school–-this proximity is not entirely unwelcome. Everyone sidestepping the baby issue, Dad and Mom hissing about suicide treatment in the kitchen after dinner, her meager friends suddenly evaporating.

A person who treats her like she’s real? It’s an odd relief. Kaye leans closer. She smells nice, and her eyes crinkle.

“Tell me about your home,” Kaye says.

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You head for a shantytown: homes made of hollow blocks, roofs of corrugated metal. It’s hardly a mile from the fancy neighborhood. The nearby river is peaceful, although the banks are still torn up from the last typhoon. From a distance you can already smell people, piss, dogs with festering sores, wet grass, shit, washing detergent. The earth is always damp here, soaking up rain, and the proximity of the houses makes everything feel warmer, more alive.

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They do this nightly talking thing a lot, exchanging stories, doodling on each other’s Diaries then laughing and ripping out the pages. Then shushing each other. There’s no TV and no nail polish and no ovens to bake brownies in–-only these, their words, their memories.

Sara finds herself in Kaye’s beloved Manila: garish colors everywhere, clogged highways, grimy naked children running next to spotless cars, in which the bourgeoisie sit with a driver, a maid, sometimes a bodyguard. Sara doesn’t have much to say about her own suburban neighborhood in Pleasanton, but Kaye seems fascinated by America anyway, so Sara tries. She explains the difference between Democrats and Republicans, and the nuances of California slang: Hella bomb, they repeat. Hella sick.

Kaye describes the parts of the body she likes best–-she eats the fetus pretty much whole because it’s the tastiest (“I take it down my throat, and, uh…it’s a little hard to explain,”), then the heart, liver, stomach. Kidneys are surprising flavorful. It must be the bile.

When she talks about her monster self Sara just holds the thought apart from her brain. It’s too weird. It’s almost funny, how earnest Kaye is about it.

Sara recounts her sister’s wedding in Vegas, which they couldn’t really afford, but it was cool to act touristy and kitschy, posing next to the unsexy French maids in the Paris Hotel casino. It was stupid, and that’s what made it fun.

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You count the number of warm bodies in each house you pass, considering the possible damage. Family of four, six, another six, three (absent father), four (absent mother), five (including grandmother). That one won’t manage if you eat the mother, because Lola is sickly and Tatay beats the children. Interesting drama, but you seem to be craving something else. Entrails won’t do tonight–-you want a baby.

You’re enchanted by the amount of closeness you find in many homes: sweaty couples pressed together, children crowded on either side, useless electric fans whirring. It’s love and hunger bound up in acceptance, minute joys punctuated by a mostly typical dissatisfaction, the longing for something better, some way out of this.

They’re not exactly unhappy, despite everything. You think you understand that.

girls-pull3Very lightly, you settle on a gray roof with a gaping hole in the corner. You look down at the man and woman tangled and snoring on a bed, their two-year-old squashed between them. The scent of fresh mangoes is just enough to entice you. There’s only so much time left to properly enjoy your meal, so after a brief consideration you open your mouth and let your tongue slip through the ceiling.

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The Retreat is all routines. After the first day, it’s only variations on a theme, and it gets harder to remember when they started, although that’s what the Diaries are for. Sara isn’t too worried. It must be expensive to run the retreat. Girls come in batches, sponsored by donations, desperate family or community members, and government money; they can’t stay forever. Three weeks, she figures. Four. In the meantime: free food, thirty other girls that are just as fucked up as she is, and even the daily exercise is starting to become manageable.

She figures things out. The cooks are on rotation, and the one every third day actually makes edible food. If you wake up at 5 there’s still hot water left in the showers. It’s okay to walk quickly instead of running during laps, as long as you finish all five. Apple expects you to write at least a paragraph in your diary every day, or else you’ll have to do a long-ass recap at the end of the week. If only there was more to say.

Most girls stay in their rooms during off hours. If the retreat is for repentance, Sara’s not sure how effective it is. At night she can usually hear sobbing down the hall, or hard objects (bodies? heads?) smacking against the walls (sex? Fights? A mix?). Girls who act out are given warnings and punishments. There are no field trips, but they do painting and basket weaving, and learn an alarming number of songs in different languages. If not for the fact that someone always showed up for music class with a burst lip and a black eye, it would almost be like summer camp. Even the Captains turn nicer, only harsh when someone gripes about exercise or doesn’t finish her tossed greens.

Still, despite the moderated peace, restlessness is starting to build beneath the monotony. Someone claims that on their last day the teachers will clear out, and they’re going to gas the place, kill all the girls. It’s a stupid claim, but it has its effects.

“What the fuck are we doing here?” becomes a common question, a chant: in between tooth brushing, or eating soft-but-actually-hard rolls, or making honest-to-god charm bracelets.

Sara asks it, herself, sprawled out on her bed. It’s Going to be Okay! is the motivational statement Apple has assigned them this week. It’s pretty weak, as far as encouragement goes. “What the fuck are we doing here?”

She doesn’t really expect an answer, but Kaye says, “Learning to be good girls. Right?”

“Well when do we get to say okay already, I get it, I’m good?”

Kaye shrugs. “What are you going to do when you get out of here, anyway?”

Sara doesn’t answer, but she pictures it: going back, holding up her nephew triumphantly, the mediocre joy of normalcy after so much exposure to other people’s shit. So she’s thought about killing herself and has a weird thing about babies. She’s never actually hurt anyone. I’m not like these girls, she thinks, and it makes her feel both proud and disgusted. Then she sees herself climbing onto a balcony, feeling the salt edge of the wind, wondering if there’s still a part of her that wants to leave everything.

“Hey Sara. Were you serious about wanting to fly?”

Sara feels jolted. Kaye’s eyes are opaque on hers.

“What do you mean?” Her heartbeat quickens. Kaye smiles and looks out their window.

“You get to decide. Are you going to be good when you leave here? Are you going to turn out all right? You could, you know. You could. There’s no need to stop trying.” She stands and stretches, then clasps her hands over her stomach meaningfully. “But not me. I don’t get to pick. I never get to say I’m good. I can try, but I’m powerless against my hunger. I mean, we all need to eat sometimes, right?”

Sara swallows. Her saliva sticks in her throat. She isn’t afraid of Kaye. Kaye is her friend. Her gorgeous, crazy, baby-eating, compulsively lying friend.

Kaye crosses the room, lightning quick, until she is standing before Sara. The setting sun turns her face a weird shade of orange. She crouches down so that she’s level with Sara, stretched on her bed.

“You know,” she says, face contorting, like she’s holding back tears. “I’m getting hungry. I’m going to need to feed soon. Promise me something. We’re friends, right, Sara?”

Sara pauses, maybe too long, before nodding. Then, to increase her conviction: “Yeah. Of course.”

“When I feed–-promise me that you won’t care. You can just-–sleep. It doesn’t really change anything. I’ve always been this way, you know? And all you girls-–” she shakes her head, stops herself. “You do that for me, I’ll let you fly for one night. It’s nicer here than in Manila. It’s cooler.” She pats the top of Sara’s head. Which is funny, because she’s shorter than Sara.

“What do you think?” she asks. “I can fly, you know. I’m pretty fucking great at it.”

Sara thinks of falling, of landing on the pavement and hearing her shoulder shatter, seeing her own blood streak out past her vision. Her mother sobbing by her bed at the hospital, saying I can’t do this anymore, honey. It has to stop. And after being released, how she’d had no idea, how the van had come one day, and in a haze of anti-depressants she’d stepped onboard. She’d come here.

If Kaye could fly–-hold her, dance her through the air–-she’d be able to see. If it’s safe to go back. If she’s tired of being this way, at least for now.

But more than that, Kaye just wants her to pretend everything’s fine. She can do that. She’s had a lot of practice.

She reaches up and puts her hand on top of Kaye’s, not feeling scared or threatened or awed. Just tired. Bonesucked tired. She squeezes Kaye’s hand and says, “Okay.”

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Your tongue settles on her stomach, and you start feeding, sucking greedily. You’re starving, and it tastes so fucking delicious. The woman squirms, and the child next to her utters a short, soft moan. You don’t want this. You do.

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Sara wakes up sweating. It’s sometime past midnight? It’s too early. She needs to go back to sleep. She shuts her eyes. The sound of her breathing is too loud. She decides to get a glass of water and stumbles out of bed, bumping into something in the middle of the floor. She falls backwards, landing on her ass.

The window is open, the metal fastenings they installed after some girl attempted escape somehow undone. A cloudy moonbeam streams through it, illuminating the lower half of Kaye’s torso and her legs, her feet still in their slippers. It is standing erect, perfectly immobile, like someone sliced a girl in half and left it there for fun. The insides are shimmering, grisly, unreal.

Sara crawls back under her sheets and goes to sleep. Sometime later something slides in next to her, nudging for space on her pillow. Something wraps its arms around Sara and puts its forehead against the small of Sara’s back. Sara smells blood mixed with the faint tinge of–-mango?-–and after a moment’s hesitation, she holds those arms against her. The back of her shirt grows damp with what might be tears.

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When you’re finished, when you’ve shriveled up everything inside her stomach so that your own is full, you spool your tongue back into your mouth and breathe deeply. The horizon tells you that you have about an hour before the sun rises. That’s just enough time to head home, rejoin your lower half, shuffle back into bed. Good girls don’t get caught with babies in their bellies; good girls don’t lie; good girls don’t sneak out wearing only their boyfriends’ shirts.

You know what you are; you know what you aren’t.

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In their twentieth session, Apple says they’ve all been exceedingly Good Girls, and they’re going to be moving on the following week. The girls have demonstrated that they’ve absorbed the values of the retreat and are ready to rejoin the good world. Once Admin gets their paperwork done, the Captains do their sign-offs, and the discussion leaders file their reports-–the girls will be free.

“You get to go back home,” Kaye says, while they’re packing.

“So do you,” Sara says, but she’s suddenly not sure.

Kaye flashes her teeth, feral. “I told you, girl, I don’t have one. I go where the wind takes me!” She flings out her arms, dramatically, and flops backwards on her bed. “This was nice,” she says. “Even when it sucked it was okay. I should hang out with girls more. They don’t want as much from you as guys do. I can stay full for longer! Girls are like fiber.”

Sara doesn’t like the wistful tone in Kaye’s voice. Sara doesn’t like how her own heart squeezes, or how lonely she feels. How afraid she is of going home to find-–but no, it’ll be okay. She’s different now. She’s going to do better.

You get to decide, Kaye said. It’s not that easy. But she can try. Some girls will break their promises, lose their homes, keep on rattling against the gates, biting and sobbing and breathing. Sara, if she wants to, can change.

Kaye rolls over on her bed, arm covering her eyes. She lifts it to peer at Sara. “I still owe you. How about tonight?”

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You’ve never detached with someone watching. You’re so fascinated by her gaze on you that you hardly notice the pain. Sara’s big blue eyes are an excellent mirror–-how there are stringy bits when you twist off, how the way your spine tears from sinew is fluid, almost graceful. Your shirt is short this time so she sees your entrails hanging out, nearly glowing with all the slick against them.

To her credit, Sara doesn’t vomit. You move slowly over to the window, keeping your wings folded, and undo the latches with your knifelike fingers. You drift out and motion for her to stand on the desk. She climbs up, shakily, and says, “Can you really carry me?”

You like to think your smile, at least, is familiar-–even if the pointed tongue between your teeth isn’t.

“Yeah,” you say. “Trust me.” This is you: this is your life, the strength that fills you as you fly, feed, move on. Spanning provinces, cities, countries, continents. Finding new homes to leave, new bodies to keep you warm when you’re not hungry, new strangers to suck dry when you are. And you’ll keep on doing this, as long as you can make it back in time. Before the sun rises, or someone finds the parts you’ve left behind–-something must always be left behind.

This is how you survive.

Sara will get to go home. You’ll just have to find a new one.

“You ready?” The trees are crowding out most of the wind, but you can still taste the breeze, drifting over the dormitories where so many girls are sleeping like wolves, retreating from the world. Just waiting to bare their fangs.

Sara nods. You can’t read her expression–like she’s about to scream or laugh or cry. You squeeze her hand as hard as you can without hurting her, and spread your wings.

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isabel

 

Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. This story is an ode to two places she calls home: Manila and California. Her work has appeared in The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005-2010, Tor.com, Interfictions Online, and Nightmare Magazine. She is @visyap on Twitter and her website is isalikeswords.wordpress.com.

 

 

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