The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar

The Paper Swan by Leylah Attar





For my father





IT WAS A GOOD DAY for Louboutins. I hadn’t planned on wearing statement heels on the runway to death, but if this was it, if I was going to be killed by some random psycho with a thirst for blood, what better way to go down than with red-soled ‘fuck yous’ to my murderer?

Because fuck you, asshole, for turning me into the victim of a senseless crime.

Fuck you for the indignity of not letting me see your face before you blow my brains out.

Fuck you for the cable ties that are so tight, they’re cutting deep, red slashes across my wrists.

But most of all, fuck you because no one wants to die a day short of their twenty-fourth birthday—blond hair shiny from a fresh cut, nails gelled to perfection—on the way back from a date with a man who just might be “the one”.

My life was set to be a series of standing ovations: graduation, wedding, a house worthy of being showcased in a slick magazine, two perfect kids. Yet here I was, on my knees, a sack over my head, the cold barrel of a gun against the base of my skull. And the worst part? Not knowing why this was happening, not knowing why I was going to die. Then again, since when did these things make sense? Random or meticulously planned? Murder, rape, torture, abuse. Are we ever able to truly understand the ‘why’ or do we simply yearn for labels and boxes to organize the chaos we can’t control?

Financial Gain.

Mental Disorder.

Extremism.

Hated Bitches with Acrylic Nails.

Which of these motives would my homicide be filed under?

Stop it, Skye. You’re not dead yet. Keep breathing. And think.

Think.

The rough, coarse smell of burlap invaded my nostrils as the boat swayed in the water.

What do you do, Skye? Esteban’s words rang loud and clear in my mind.

I fight.

I fight back and I fight hard.

A laugh-sob escaped me.

I had shut Esteban out for so long, but there he was, climbing into my head, unexpected and unannounced as always, sitting on the ledge of my consciousness as if it were my bedroom window.

I remembered taking an on-line quiz that morning:

Who is the last person you think of before you fall asleep?

Click.

That’s the person you love the most.

I thought of Marc Jacobs and Jimmy Choo and Tom Ford and Michael Kors. Not Esteban. Never Esteban. Because unlike childhood friends, they stayed on. I could let myself fall for their seduction, bring home their glittery creations, and go to sleep, knowing they would still be there in the morning. Like the Louboutins I’d debated over earlier—the flirty, fuchsia ones with satin straps around the ankle or the towering half d’orsay golden pumps? I’m glad I chose the latter. They had spiked heels. I tried to see them in my head, picturing tomorrow’s headline:

‘KILLER SHOES’.

The image would feature a deadly, lacquered heel sticking out of my abductor’s body.

Yes, that’s exactly how this is going down, I told myself.

Breathe, Skye. Breathe.

But the air was dark and musty inside my hood, and my lungs were collapsing under the weight of doom and dread. It was just starting to sink in. This was happening. This was real. When you’ve led a charmed life, something kicks in to insulate you from the shock—a sense of entitlement, as if this too, would be looked after. Holding on to that gave me a sense of bravado, of flippancy. I was loved, valued, important. Surely, someone was going to swoop in and save the day. Right? Right?

I heard the rack slide back on the gun, the kiss of the barrel now steady against the back of my head.

“Wait.” My throat hurt, my voice raw from screaming like a banshee when I’d come around and found myself trussed up like a wild hog in the trunk of my car. I knew because it still smelled of tuberose and sandalwood, from the perfume I’d spilled a few weeks before.

He’d grabbed me in the parking lot as I was getting into my sky blue convertible—pulled me out and slammed me, facedown, against the hood. I thought he’d take my bag, my wallet, my keys, my car. Maybe it’s a protective instinct; maybe you just focus on what you want to happen next.

Just take it and go.

But that’s not what happened. He didn’t want my bag or my wallet or my keys or my car. He wanted me.

They tell you it’s better to yell ‘Fire’ than ‘Help’, but I couldn’t get either word out because I was choking on the chloroform-soaked rag he had over my nose and mouth. The thing with chloroform is that it doesn’t knock you out right away—not the way you see in movies. I kicked and struggled for what seemed like an eternity before my arms and legs went numb, before darkness overtook me.

I shouldn’t have screamed when I came around. I should have looked for the trunk release, or pushed the brake lights out, or done something that journalists want to interview you about later. But you can’t shut Panic up, you know? She’s a screaming, thrashing bitch, and she wanted out.

It made him mad. I could tell when he pulled over and opened the trunk. I was blinded by the cold, blue glare of the streetlight over his shoulder, but I could tell. And just to be clear, he dragged me out by my hair and stuffed my mouth with the same chloroform-soaked rag he’d used to overwhelm me.