Starlight Black and the Misfortune Society
by Alison Ruth
Pages: 226 / Words: 64000
Age Rating: New Adult
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Crissy imagined instead the walls shining like the movie marquee near her hometown. In Asbury Park, there was always sparkle in the sky at night from stars, the flash of the boardwalk and cruising headlights, but it was a wave of neon that swept her into the cinema and washed over her skin, like the ocean did during the day. Crissy had been captured at that Asbury Park theater by a man who waited for girls like her. When she confessed her age, before the double feature rolled, Stacey caught her ignorance too. He told her that a girl of sixteen who looked eighteen knew what a fourteen year old did— maybe. To prove him wrong, she let his mouth slide down her neck during Bullitt. By The Getaway his hand rested on her bare thigh and he was telling her about Clyde Barrow, feeding her salted popcorn from his fingers. “You are more beautiful than your friends,” he murmured to her. She was equally seduced that he would think she had any.
But from the corner of her eye she was drawn to the corner of the room, where one anonymous sin waited, letting the silence spin itself into tension. The length of his legs crossed in the aisle. He too had been listening to the tales of misery, but his eyes had been affixed not to the tellers, but to the teenagers. He had watched as each boy was bitten by fear, almost as if he were counting their paralyzed bodies.
“They gave me fifteen years for homicide.”
He might have been reflecting on the revolutions of the Earth rather than on the passing of his own life. He rose from his chair, to stride by tag ends of men with whom he’d wasted irreplaceable time, until he reached the collective dread of the delinquency bench. Beetle-like, the boys retracted their balled-up bodies from the length of his reach. For surely he had come down from his height to spring upon one of them. Instinctual creatures, after all, she thought, but Crissy forgot to cover her contemptuous lips this time.
Homicide shoved the pothead over and seized Crissy to her feet.
Shocked, she jerked her fingers out of his grip at the cost of her balance. She forced the backs of her knees against the bench, as much to keep her steady as to avoid his rancid Afro Sheen.
“What can a prison do to you?” he asked.
Her peacock feather earrings trembled.
She held her breath to hear doors open by keys forged large as her hand, to slam shut with a force that would have crushed it.
“That’s what your mind sounds like after nothing to listen to for years.”
He raised his hand against her eye socket, as if he were demonstrating the sight on a gun.
“Look.” Her scalp crawled, but she blamed her morning yellowjacket, and let her fascination pull her face forward. She targeted sumo-sized Armed Robbery, still directly across, but now half his girth. He sized her back, assessing what she had worth stealing. She wondered if criminality was something that began as play and ended up as habit, and was more scared when she realized that she did not fear this happening to her.
“That’s the width of the view outside your window.”
She shut her eyes to Armed Robbery’s greedy sprawl, and let her mind wander, kite-like.
Homicide cracked his hands together. She jumped.
“Just a fly.”
Her eyelids fluttered down to see what had fallen at her feet. Only what remained of her bravado. In that pause, he snapped his hands shut around her wrists. She gasped.
Her blood retreated up her arms. She searched out the guard, who was as still as the steel door behind him.
“Get off—” She bent her elbows and pulled, but only her skin twisted in his grasp.
“That’s how you’re shackled to your bed.” He dropped her wrists and struck a match. “Selling dope still seem like a good idea to you?” Sulfur stung her eyes, but she brushed his smoke away from her face. He was a convicted murderer who had slept in his clothes. He was no kind of advisor for a college-bound junior. “I’ve got nothing to sell,” she sulked. She might have added that she was only in trade.
He aimed his finger at her contempt. “What can a prisoner do to you?” He pointed at a first aid box. Its red cross was a threat that even a fourteen-year-old could understand. “Where do you think you’re hiding?” The skeins of his neck muscles tightened, as if he were physically pulling her inattentive mind back into his web.
“Far away from here.”
Long feathered hair shadowed the other young faces as they leaned closer to catch his retort, fearful to miss it, when his mouth was nearly upon her own. “There ain’t no place to hide here where you can’t be found and dragged back.” In his eyes she spun downward into the blackness of solitary confinement. “The only safe place is a dark cell twenty-three hours a day.” He paused. “Where you feel roaches, but can’t see where they’re coming from.”
How had he killed, she wondered.
“I know where they’re coming from. My high school,” she answered.
And now all were still.