Cleveland School of the Arts
Instructor(s): Elizabeth Telich, Cari Thornton
Bandaids adorn the pale, freckled skin of the woman's nose bridge. She gazes out of the passenger window of the train in introspection. The sky casts a kaleidoscope of colours across her face, illuminating the shamrock-green of her eyes. With the sun irradiating her exposed arms and cleavage, she appears preternatural, like a goddess. It is as if she is a painting, the train acting as the backdrop. Apricot locks fall loosely about her face, cascading past the edges of a black dress whose hem ends just above her ankles. It contours her rawboned figure, enhancing her ethereal curves. Sitting serenely, the tips of her black stiletto nails tap against the leather cover of a book resting in her lap, her slender fingers curling and uncurling at the edges.
"Excuse me," begins a voice, benign but unnerving. The woman shifts her attention to the nearby stranger; a young lady strides toward her, carob-brown tresses swinging from a high ponytail, concurrent with her hips. Slurs waft in the faint breeze, evoking chills. "May I sit here?"
Disgust engulfs the face of the man behind them. Only then does she heed the bag slung over the stranger's shoulder. Lesbian-themed pins grace the bijou purse. A cordial smile escapes the woman's lips as she nods in response. Her lethal fingernails glide, nimbly opening the book she had been fiddling with, unveiling a blank page.
"Thanks!" the young lady exhales before declining her voice to an inconspicuous murmur, "that man behind you had something eerie about him." As she hurriedly sits, she titters, brushing her lengthy ponytail over her shoulder as her hands quiver. Still, she begets a daunting demeanour. The two fasten gazes; the stranger's dolly eyes catch the light and reflect the colour of caramel. An ochre pigment stains her lips, framing her silken mouth; it contrasts angelically with her porcelain complexion. The stranger's features are angular: her sharp jawline and thin, upturned nose accentuate an aloof expression. Her dark mane rests languidly over her chest, obscuring a portion of a figure more divine than any man's fantasy. A ulexite necklace dangles from her larynx, encircling her throat, and gently swings back and forth. It compliments her attire — a cream sweetheart-neck dress that exhibits a spiderweb tattooed upon the left side of her collarbone. "You are absolutely stunning, by the way. What is your name?" the stranger comments.
An elderly missus, seated across from the two, shoves her palms atop her daughter's ears, disapproving. The woman's cheeks dimple as a gust of hot wind sweeps across the train, whirling their hair and thickening the atmosphere. On the blank page of the book, black letters accumulate, merging and unmerging until they form words. The ink reads, "you are a beauty, too. My name is Cleo."
The stranger reels, staggered by the unexpected gale. She sweeps loose strands of her hair back in place, swiftly regaining her equilibrium. "Cleo! That is such a cute name! I am Nisha," she familiarises. Her gaze falters, settling on the bandaids lining Cleo's nose bridge. "What happened, if I may ask? Are you all right?" she inquires, gesturing toward the woman's nose.
The ink flows again, letters coalescing, assembling a single word, "acne." Cleo fidgets restlessly under the scrutiny of the young lady, dreading judgement.
A tender, helpless laugh spills from Nisha's lips, "you do not need to cover up your acne. It is not something you should conceal or abhor. Personally, I find acne cute."
A flush spreads over the high curves of the woman's cheeks, obscuring the umpteen freckles that dot her face. The instant she forms a reply, a scrum erupts nearby. "…fuckin' faggots." The man from earlier and two other gentlemen approach the damsels. One grits a cigarette between his teeth; the other, a bottle of Ballantine dangling in his hand.
"Pardon? Can I help you?" Nisha questions, taking care not to frost her tone. "Yeah, you can help us," the man says, sporting a cocky grin; he spits on the metal panels beneath them, his tongue sticking out in distaste. Each of their eyes glints with predatory intent. A young lad reaches forward, clasping Nisha's wrist. With a smirk stretching across his piggish features, he leans toward her, tracing her figure with his dusty iron gaze, lingering upon every inch until eventually meeting her eyes. A foul smell emanates from his breath, sending her senses reeling.
The other fellow seizes Cleo's arm, his blonde hair tousling in the breeze. He hauls her from her seat, lifting the woman in the air by her scrawny wrist. Consternation taints her shamrock-green eyes, rendering her paralysed. Her book tumbles from her lap, landing face-first on the ground; a sheet of paper slips from the pages. As he lifts the Ballantine bottle, he angles it toward the side of her head. Dazed and unable to move, she winces, watching as passengers feign oblivion.
Without warning, Nisha yanks her arm free and knocks the young man back into a wall of seats. The other two guys avert their surveillance from Cleo to the new aggressor. With a feral grin, the first man lunges for Nisha; his fingers clamp onto her wrist, pinning her against the nearest wall. His lips curl into a leering smirk as she wrestles beneath his grip. With his non-occupied hand, he takes a lit cigarette and affixes it to her collarbone. Her skin sizzles at the contact of fire to flesh. She shrieks in pain, writhing, seeking freedom with every fibre of her being.
The blonde releases Cleo, causing her to collapse; she groans as her knees collide with the cold, tiled floors.
The cigarette slips from the man's grasp; it drops, trailing sparks on the tile. The blonde supplies him with a freshly kindled one, and he presses it to Nisha's jaw, earning a caterwaul from her lips and eliciting a cackle from the blonde.
An oppressive wind overwhelms the train's interior, gyrating all of its components. Pages from Cleo's book scatter everywhere, inscribed with black ink radiating a red undertone, exuding urgency. Each sheet reads the same word, "help."