Fight or Flight

The room was full of women. Hands fluttered around Clementine, like a swarm of butterflies. They pinched her waist, rubbed her wrists, and tangled themselves in the netting of her hair.

Insects, Clementine thought, waving them away.

Someone pulled at the belt of her robe and the front fell open. Clementine felt the hands retreat from her naked body, afraid to touch her there, that way. She pushed herself through the crowd until she reached the window. The glass was cool against Clementine’s skin. Her body tingled.

Across the street, several stories up, two gulls argued. The larger bird shook its mate vigourously and dangled her over the edge of the building. The big gull strutted back and forth, dragging its squawking companion with him. Finally with one last vicious rap to her head, he dropped her.

Clementine watched the bird plummet. It was as if she had forgotten her wings or had decided somewhere in her tiny gull brain, that there was no going back, the pavement offered a better answer. It was only when she spotted Clementine pressed against the glass that she remembered herself, stretched her wings to their full span and drifted over to the ledge.

The bird stood there for a minute, exhausted. The red dot on her beak glowed with embarrassment and she eyed Clementine suspiciously. Clementine tapped the window, and the bird bobbed her head; tapped back.

“Be careful!” Someone screeched and the room came alive again with worried murmurs and hands grasping at her back, pulling her from some unseen danger, as if the cool glass, or maybe even the gull, was a weapon she could use against them, or against herself.

Clementine swung around angrily and faced a room full of worried eyes and mouths in tiny open “ohs”. She swatted at the faces that were too close, and they shuffled back, not frightened though, just sad, tearful, apologetic. Clementine could see herself in every face, her mother, her aunties, her older cousins, each one a mirror. A family so incestuously entwined that only wrinkles, the odd grey hair or extra pounds set them apart.

Even Devin, who wasn’t related by blood, but was the most important, had begun to take on the family’s slightly bruised and pinched look, just like Clementine herself.

This tightly packed room, suffocating with the mix of competing perfume, was all Devin’s doing. Clementine could see her pushed flat against the far wall, hoping to become invisible, but being plucked and cooed at tenderly by Clementine’s relatives all the same.

“Sit down, Clementine.” Her mother slid into the foreground, petted her little girl’s tangled hair and did up her robe. Swiftly covering up the bandages, and the ghastly scars, both new and old.

Clementine folded over herself and tried desperately to catch her breath. All these women, here in her house. The air was thick with them, with their worries and judgments, their tskking, hushing voices and clawing hands.

But they had come, even though Clementine hadn’t called them. Some of them had traveled miles to be here, to comfort her, to watch her, as closely as they could.

Devin had been her corruptor, her tainted companion, the one who had stolen her from their clutches, but in the end, Devin had delivered her back to them. Too much work, even for her. Clementine, with her ups and downs, her back and forth, her light and dark. So Devin had called them, all these women, and brought them here to help.

Help what? Clementine leaned into her mother’s arms; let this one woman envelop her, save her from the rest. She drifted, settled into the hum of her mother’s breath. She remembered life before she had grown and made her own choices. Devin slipped out of view behind the broad shoulders and heavy hips of her family.

This was all Devin’s fault. Clementine had begged her to stay, had demeaned herself, lay at Devin’s feet. Just to have her hold her, like this, like a mother would. That was all Clementine had needed. Everything would have been fine if she had just done as Clementine had asked. But Devin couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. Instead she made noises that sounded like words. Words like “too much” and “for your own good”.

And so she had released Clementine back into the arms of her family. Let her go, just like that.

Of course, Devin would blame her. Already Clementine could hear her telling her secrets.

“I just didn’t know what to do.” Were those tears? Crocodile tears. One of Clementine’s aunties had her arms around Devin, shushing her, rubbing her back.

“I, I, I, I … Listen to you! Devin. Devil. You are such a fucking coward. This is all you, all you. You. You.” Clementine felt her mother’s hand over her mouth, pressing her lips hard against her teeth.

“No, little Chou. No, no.” Her mother’s eyes were wet, like big black marbles. Clementine settled, ground her teeth, and waited for those eyes to fall out, slippery, onto her lap. She breathed heavily into her mother’s hand.

The women began whispering again. Circling like vultures. Clementine twisted in her mother’s arms. She could hear the gull pecking at the window. She flapped her wings and strutted back and forth on the ledge, angry at something. So angry, she tilted her head back and screeched. Clementine felt her own voice screeching in response.

“Oh!” Clementine’s mother pulled her hand back as if she had been bitten. “Clementine, sweet bird, there’s no need for that. We’re here because we love you. We love you, Chou. Devin loves you. Devin, please, tell her.”

Devin circled the edges of the room. She looked warily at Clementine and wouldn’t come any closer despite the prodding of some of the woman following her back and forth. From her mother’s lap, Clementine could see Devin’s bruised eyes, blaming her and taunting her at the same time.

“She doesn’t want to. Don’t make her.” Clementine stared at the window and the gull. The bird’s head bobbed back and forth, as if she was deciding which woman was more interesting. Clementine or Devin. Devin or Clementine.

“You’re just tired, Clem. You’ll see better in the morning,” Devin’s voice was empty, exhausted.

“Are you leaving? You can’t leave me with these people. I can’t, I won’t stay here with them.” Clementine struggled against her mother’s grip. “I want to be with you Dev. Dev? Don’t go. Don’t leave me.”

Devin stepped closer. So close, Clementine could feel her breath on her cheek. Clementine braced herself. It felt so close. The truth, right there on Devin’s breath.

“Baby, you’ve got to get better. I don’t know what to do when you get like this.” Devin picked up Clementine’s wrist, caressed the bandage there and kissed the pale skin on either side.

Clementine watched Devin’s fretful expression and felt her whole body collapse on top of itself. The wailing came from outside her, it filled the room. It ruffled the feathers of the gull who had settled on the ledge, its head tucked under one wing.

Devin lowered her head. She stood up quickly and pushed her shoulders back. Decisive. Done. “I can’t do this,” she said and left.

The room shifted again and the space left by Devin was quickly filled by other women, pouring forward, their eyes wet and their voices coddling.

“You’ll come home with us now, Chou,” Clementine’s mother pressed her deeper into the couch.

Clementine’s aunties and cousins busied themselves around her, fluffing pillows, straightening her hair, wiping away her tears.

The gull tapped on the glass. Clementine watched as she danced angrily in the puddles on the window ledge and shook herself until all the twisted feathers smoothed themselves out.

It had been Clementine who had reminded the gull that she could fly. Clementine had tapped on the glass. The bird tapped back. And now, even with Devin gone, the bird stayed. Clementine knew there was something to that, there had to be.

About the author:

Robin Evans lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her stories can be found in a variety of places including: Eclectica, Pindeldyboz, Outercast, Ken*Again, Thieves Jargon, and the upcoming anthology Lust for Life: Tales of Sex and Love (Vehicule Press, 2006). Her non-fiction work will soon appear in the anthology, Get on the Bus produced by San Francisco's CitySpace. If the writing doesn't do it first, Robin has a husband, a teen-age daughter and a small dog who promise to drive her crazy.