Posted on: June 5, 2014

“I’m not trying to go over to Bruce’s tonight,” I told him.

“You’ll go if I say you go. And I say you go. The girls can wait. They won’t run out of vodkatinis or shit. You go to Bruce’s first.”

“I don’t like his friends.”

“They won’t mess with you. Just drop the stuff and leave. Turn around, I’ll zip your dress.”

He pulled the zipper up my spine. I adjusted my boobs and pulled down my hem.

“You owe me, honey,” I said, stepping into my gold heels.

He caught my chin between his thumb and forefinger and turned my face towards his.

“Not quite, baby. I own you.”


A cloud is nothing solid—you can walk right through it. On ground, we call it fog. But it's solid enough to stop you from seeing where you're going. It's solid enough to cast a shadow.

On the stand, I said I was in a cloud. I said my thoughts were soft—that the world had a film over it. That nothing felt real. My car’s AC had been broken for months.

“Maybe it was the heat,” I said.

“And what did Officer Cortano say when he pulled you over?”

“He said—I was speeding. He asked for my registration—I think. His voice was quiet.”

“Because of the cloud?” asked the prosecutor, rolling her eyes.

“Because of the cloud.”

“And then what happened?”

“I—that’s where it gets really fuzzy.”

“How convenient.”

They wheeled in one of those boxy tube TVs from the 90’s and rolled the tape.

Here comes the cloud: that tape, low quality, but clear enough, recording through the window of Cortano’s car parked behind mine. I’m nothing but a dark shape in my car, then an arm, holding out my documents. There’s Cortano, walking back towards the camera. He’s opening the car door; running my license. There’s Cortano walking back to my car. Me getting out. Him pointing to the curb where he wants me to sit. Me sitting as he goes through my car, as he finds my purse. Me standing when he finds what’s in it—the corner-cut sandwich baggies of meth, which he lays out across the hood of my car in a circle, like a fairy ring. His lips are moving, but the tape doesn’t have sound.

The shadow: There’s me, still standing behind Cortano. I’m reaching down and removing my gold stiletto. I’m swinging my arm. The stiletto makes contact with Cortano’s neck. There’s blood. We’re both on the ground, him fumbling for his gun, for anything. My arm, still swinging, again and again. Me, standing, reaching for the keys on the hood of my car. Launching myself behind the wheel. Tearing away.

The prosecutor let the tape run—Cortano’s still down, not moving. For awhile, that’s it. Then a second set of lights flash across his limp body as backup arrives on the scene.

The prosecutor stopped the tape.

“No further questions.”

My lawyer called expert witnesses, defined my behavior as “a dissociative state” caused by flashbacks to my abusive childhood with my father, who beat me. Who did all sorts of awful things she can’t even summon in court, because I can’t put them into words.

But the shadow has no sympathy.


Bruce opened the door before I could knock.

“Well, look who it is!”

“I’m not coming in,” I said, reaching in my bag.

His hand latched over my wrist.

“Not on my front step. It’s still light.” His lip buckled in contempt. He yanked me inside. “Give the boys what they want. I gotta take a leak,” he said, and headed for the back of the house.

His friends were sitting around the table, halfway to loaded.

“You wanna give me some of what you got?” one said. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, making him look like a sick demon.

“You got the money?” I asked. I tried to duplicate Bruce’s snarl. “I’m here for your delivery. That’s it.”

“Hey mama, we don’t have to be that way,” he crooned, rising from his chair and snaking toward me. “Can’t buy love, right?”

He wrapped his arm around me, pulling me against him and cupping my ass.

I twisted my face away from his, seeing one of Bruce’s other boys fumbling with his belt buckle.

I shoved him away and ran for my car.

The cloud started rolling in as I punched the gas pedal. Just go, get away. They’re all too high to follow. I rolled up my windows and locked the doors when I cleared the block, just in case, even though it was a million degrees with the humidity trapped inside.

Then I saw the blue lights behind me.

I’m saved. I’m—still carrying. I yanked at the top of my dress and twisted my hair to the side. I slowed my breathing, trying to embody the classy girl headed out for a night on the town with her girlfriends. I prepped myself for the doe eyes, for the speech about being sorry for speeding. They don’t search you for a speeding ticket.

Then I saw him in my rearview mirror. He’d changed into his uniform. I didn’t know he was working tonight.

“What did I say to do?” he said, hitting each word slowly, as if speaking to a child.

“What are you doing? Bruce’s friend—he—”

“We’re going to play this by the books. You’re going to hand me your license and registration now. And give me the keys.”

“Honey, what are you doing?” I whispered again, my breath catching. I passed him my paperwork and turned off the car.

“I think you need to be reminded who’s in charge,” he said. “You’re done.”

As he walked back to his car and ran my license, going through the motions, I couldn’t see where this was going. Where I was going.


We get an hour a day in the yard, which is really more of a dog run. Just dry dirt and a narrow rectangle of fence. We’re not allowed to talk, but I don’t mind. What’s there to say? Who would believe me? I’m just a meth head who paralyzed a cop.

In here, we all wear soft, criminal-orange clogs as light as styrofoam. They’re not gold stilettos, but at least they’re free. I’m free. No one owns me now but the state, and they barely know my name. Overhead, the sky is blue and completely clear.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg

Photograph by: Vrinda Agrawal

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