The Abaya

by Leonora Desar Read author interview March 21, 2016

Albertine wore an abaya robe even though she wasn’t Muslim, only a 13-year-old Spanish girl who had transferred to our school out in the sticks. Her abaya hid her from the neck down and she wore long dark gloves, the kind you might wear out to the opera. Every morning she stood behind the school, a cigarette cocked in her lips, daring us to laugh. Albertine didn’t hide her smokes like the rest of us did, or the eyeliner that made blue moons of her lids. She didn’t hide the look in her eyes either, that strange mix of rage and longing.

She has three breasts, they said. Burn marks on her chest, her shoulders, all the way down. She’s five months pregnant and starting to show. She’s horribly deformed.

These were the stories the other girls told about why Albertine wore the abaya. They wore crop tops that grazed their ribs, jeans that deepened the cleft between their thighs. They didn’t understand her. They wanted to be seen.

But I didn’t. I wanted to cover up, too—the smell of my mother, old milk and cheese and that stench of rotting from the inside. Our trailer with its fortress of old LIFE magazines, the ones Mother kept in stacks going back to the 50s and 60s, so that John F. Kennedy would always be near. I felt him watching my breasts. He smiled from his magazine covers as Mother cupped me with her cold hands, telling me that I didn’t need a bra, not yet. But the boys said different. Their eyes worse than a dead president’s, fingers pinching my nipples through my sweaters.

I hated Albertine more than the rest of them did. I wanted her to be seen, like I was seen.

I slip her the acid.

I slip her the acid before she gets in the shower, after gym. Paper tabs of LSD—blue and gold and red. They dissolve in her water bottle, in her throat, in her long, light body. Just like how I imagined, in the trailer. Except now it’s real—Albertine, huddled in her abaya, blue lids blurring in the steam. Smell of White Rain hairspray and sweat; the silent gym outside and wolf howls from a dozen girls in the communal shower, slicing through my ribs.

I watch from a bathroom stall, hidden. When the girls leave, Albertine walks the cool, black tile, into the shower. The abaya falls from her body, a spider’s silk pooling at her feet.

I step inside. I snatch the abaya. Albertine stands there, shaking. She is smaller than I pictured and so thin, her ribs a tiny harp, the black hair sparse between her thighs. Her body, just like mine—the neck skinny as a broken fingernail, the back curved to hide her breasts.

Bruises butterfly across her chest. I want to cover her back up but I don’t, I let her run, feel her run before her arms scissor air, before her legs shiver out the door.

I imagine that I set us free.

About the Author:

Leonora Desar's writing can be found or is forthcoming in Passages North, Harpur Palate, SmokeLong Quarterly, Devil's Lake, and in the Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, where she was shortlisted. She also received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and was a finalist for Black Warrior Review’s flash prose contest and SmokeLong Quarterly’s Kathy Fish fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn and holds an M.S. from the Columbia Journalism School. She reads for the Bellevue Literary Review.

About the Artist:

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.