The oriole lands on the measly branch outside my only window. I stare at it, stunned by the vibrant orange and stark black of its feathers. It perches there for a bit, running its beak over its body, grooming itself, languishing in the pleasure of preening itself. I miss that sort of routine.
In here, I am no longer allowed to preen. It is a sin, vanity. I can no longer enjoy my body, or the way others enjoy it. I must keep my head down, my hair severely braided down my back, not loose and flowing as I used to keep it. I am dressed in only “ladylike” clothing, simple cotton dresses and long socks or stockings to cover my developing body. Each night I am locked in here with nothing but the one book they give us, written centuries ago by dead men claiming they spoke to a god who agreed with their own ideals of how to live, and this window. I am thankful for the moon which allows me to look out over my surroundings each night and wonder how the world is going without me, wonder how Francine is doing without me.
My mother sent me here two months ago when she caught me and Francine in between my sheets one chilly Friday afternoon. Mother did not approve, and before I could even collect my things or say goodbye, she packed me into the car and drove me to this place, “a place for the damned”, she said. “Though I hope you get better.”
I won’t get better. That’s not a thing that happens, not in here anyway. Getting better would be being free, being away from the stifling pain and rot of this place. I will not cowtow. Instead, I watch the oriole. She is the first sign of spring, of new beginnings. She calls out to her friends. I imagine she is telling them this tree is safe. Maybe it is out there, but behind these walls I am still in danger. But I am stronger than they think.
I lay my head back down on the pillow and listen to the oriole’s song. I think of Francine and my hand makes its way down in between my legs, my personal act of resistance.
I hear the flap of wings.
I am flying. I am free.
Elizabeth Bluth is a writer of fiction, poetry, and plays. Her work has appeared with Animal Heart Press, The Los Angeles Female Playwrights’ Initiative, 3 Moon Magazine, and others. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Theatre and is currently finishing her MFA in Fiction from The New School in NYC.