Squid Balls

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Allie stood impatiently in the light drizzle, shifting from one foot to the other.  The diminutive peddler before her deftly stirred his little wok, mounted on what could have been the housing of an old PC monitor.  She couldn’t be sure.  It was as grimy and soot-caked as the rest of his cart–if it could be called that–this slap-dash, waist-high crate on wheels.  The peddler stirred.  Fresh clouds of her favorite aroma wafted into the crowded little mud-alley.  Everything seemed small and dirty.  She hated staying here almost as much as she hated having to lay low.  She cursed under her breath.  For five weeks she had stared dully from the muggy, rain-soaked window two floors above. Stared at this little man and craving his wares.

The plum-sized orbs sizzled anew as the peddler stirred.  He stirred and stirred and stirred.  They were lightly browning now and were making her mouth water.  Christ, but she loved these doughy, little things.  Ruel had given her her first taste of them and she was hooked.  Ruel had given her her first taste of many, many things.  She crossed her arms reflexively at the thought.  Some things you had to learn to enjoy if you wanted to survive.  Allie effortlessly blocked out all thought and focused on the squid balls.  Fried squid balls covered in spicy-sweet sauce.  If this damn peddler would just hurry up and cook them already.  He sure was taking his goddamn time about it.

Allie started at the sudden sunshine bathing her face.  When had it stopped raining?  She gazed wonderingly around the street.  She thought it would never stop raining in this stupid… wait… where did all the people go?

She squealed as someone touched her shoulder.  Allie balled up her fist and whirled around in a sudden rage.  Oh… the squid balls were done.  The peddler smiled benignly as he held out the little paper tray, oozing with goodness.  The dirty little man seemed unperturbed by her sudden hostility but she mumbled an apology anyway as she fished out some change.

Immediately she strode away, skewering the first piece with a short bamboo stick and popping it into her mouth.  Heavenly.  She popped a second, chewing more slowly, savoring… savoring.  Some sauce leaked down her chin.  Savoring.  The sun in her face and a mouthful of ambrosia.

A sudden, loud buzz and the harsh blare of a bullhorn broke her out of her reverie.  Allie sighed.  She gripped the bars of her muggy little cell.  She did not feel like socializing today.  She closed her eyes and cradled her face in her arm.  She sighed and wiped from her lips the taste of heaven that had haunted her for six years.

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The Morning After

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It hurt to move.  Elizabeth decided that she should move as little as possible.    Yes, Elizabeth.  Last night she was truly and finally Elizabeth.  No one would call her Izzy-Biff any more.  She shuffled across the carpet on socked feet, nudging empty cans and shoeboxes out of her way.  Christ but it hurt to move.  Her head pained her most of all.  But she was Elizabeth now, and she gloried in that.

The late afternoon sun welcomed her into the kitchen.  Her kitchen, now.  Jonathan had said it wouldn’t be worth it, but he was wrong.  He couldn’t have ever understood.  Poor Jonathan.  After what had happened Elizabeth wondered if she would ever see him again.  It didn’t matter.  She stood at the counter and basked in light and warmth.  She basked in her victory.

After a few minutes she turned–slowly!–and leaned against the counter.  She carefully tried to rake out her hair with her fingers but it was no use.  Her long auburn curls were a hopeless, filthy mess.  She needed a long, hot bath.  But first she needed something to wash the foul taste out of her mouth.  That minded her of last night, of her hard-won enterprise.  Elizabeth smiled.  She would let the taste linger for now.  But she was hungry.  Her eyes wandered her domain slowly, searching for easy game.  Then she spied the ring on the table.

She found herself moving again.  Painfully.  The stained, golden circle drew her as inexorably as an ocean tide.  It was her promise ring.  She stared at it.  There was no note.  Funny.  Jonathan always left notes.  She supposed he was well and truly out of her life now.  Who could blame him?  He was part of the price and she willingly paid.  Still, Jonathan was a nice boy.  She hoped he would someday learn to trust again.  She wanted that for him.

Her face felt wet.  Tears?  Why was she crying?  She got everything she wanted.  She had won.  Elizabeth grinned ferally through her tears.  She had done it.  She had won.  She closed her fingers around the ring and clutched it to her chest.

Elizabeth stood there.  Alone.  With her pain.  Sobbing triumphantly.