Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat
25th May 2020
Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat - startling, real and with a lingering emotional punch
In her debut short story collection Alligator and Other Stories, Dima Alzayat captures luminously how it feels to be 'other': as a Syrian, as an Arab, as an immigrant, as a woman. Each of the nine short stories is a snapshot of those moments when unusual circumstances suddenly distinguish us from our neighbours, when our difference is thrown into relief.
Picador have generously allowed Foyles to share one of the stories which you can read below
ONLY THOSE WHO STRUGGLE SUCCEED
It was the night of the office Christmas party and Lina felt lucky and excited to be included as she was merely an intern, although there had been allusions to, if not promises of, a permanent position in the new year. Because she lived an hour’s drive away, and because she had to go into the office the day of the party, there was the question of how she would get ready for the outing. Her roommate reminded her that a gym membership they shared, a gift to the roommate from parents who found the roommate’s weight bothersome, was the solution to her dilemma. So, after a day of reading scripts and writing notes that summarized their strengths and weaknesses, going on coffee runs and picking up lunches, Lina said, ‘See you later,’ to her co-workers, and went to the closest gym to which the membership allowed her access and made use of its showers and changing room. She blowdried her hair straight and carefully flat-ironed and sprayed the fine hairs that framed her forehead and which she knew would otherwise frizz and curl in the party venue’s humid indoor air. It was a nervous energy that filled her as she applied her makeup, and she recognized it as one of anticipation, the same she had felt several times before. To her it signalled that her ambitions and desires, to secure for herself a role in the company and gain acceptance into an industry that was derided in public and celebrated in private for being discriminatory and exacting, were ones she could access and with time obtain. She felt in that moment the very potential of her life revealed. Before leaving the locker-room she looked at herself in the mirror a final time, felt satisfied with the pale gold shadow that brightened her eyes, and wiped off the red lipstick she had previously thought festive but which now she deemed made her lips appear too prominent and defined.
The party was held in a bar closed to the public for the occasion, and when she entered her co-workers were glad to see her, and she spoke to men and women who in the office spoke only to one another or to their own assistants. As she made her way around the room, she was welcomed into the various intimate groups that formed, reshuffled and formed again, and was included as gossip was exchanged about people whom she did not know, but whose names she recognized enough to allow her to join in on the laughter that ensued at their expense. Such interactions, she understood, were the blocks required to build relationships which, if they were carefully maintained, could later act as bridges capable of delivering her to the most coveted positions. As she conversed and laughed she began to feel encouraged that the months she had committed to working without pay, complying with requests and orders that were at times intended to humble or diminish her, were in fact worthwhile, and that she was, at last, to be admitted into a life that had initially seemed too extraordinary for someone like her to achieve. She stood near the bar and accepted the drinks handed to her, and later, when the president of the company, for whom she interned directly, and the vice president, who had flown in from New York and stayed for the party, gathered a select few and handed out shots of tequila, she found herself full of verve and jubilance, feelings the gathering evidently inspired within those comprising the small group around her. And thus, though she preferred vodka to tequila, in fact found the latter sickening, she drank it, and then another.
Speaking to a second intern, who was much newer than she was and had been included in the small group taking shots near the bar, Lina learned the girl was completing her last year at a highly esteemed private women’s college on the East Coast. This intern, though polite, did not smile much, and it made Lina aware of the ache in her own cheeks from smiling and laughing widely through the night, and she allowed her face to relax. When the company president sat beside her and the other intern, and discovered where the latter attended college, and where she had been raised, Lina did her best to convey interest and engage in the conversation even though they spoke of a world whose distance from hers made it mystifying and at times unreal. As they spoke, she worried that perhaps this connection, between the president and the intern, would threaten her own chances at a permanent position, and would make inconsequential the time she had devoted. Her education at a public university, well ranked, but public nonetheless, and large, and which before that moment had been for her the greatest accomplishment of her life, seemed now crude when measured against the finely tailored education of the girl sitting beside her.
When she began to feel drunk, she did not worry. She had, earlier that week, made arrangements to sleep at the apartment of the president’s assistant and his girlfriend following the party. Though she did not particularly like the assistant, as he was selfish and crude, she had with time developed a reluctant fondness for him on account of his dedicated, if compulsive, work ethic, which made him resourceful and energetic, and imbued him with a sense of humor. She also liked that he thought her smart, smarter than the other interns, and trusted her to read scripts other interns were not allowed to see. With time, his trust of her had come to serve his needs primarily, she knew, as she would often be left to cover his desk on his days off and sent scripts to read and provide feedback on in the middle of the night. He told her he would, of course, take credit for some of the work she completed, but that on occasion, when it mattered, and to the president directly, he would credit some of her work to her. He promised also, in return, to help her secure a job, either at the company or elsewhere once she graduated. She had learned, both in college and in previous internships, that this was an industry that operated in such a manner, was not put off by this knowledge, and had in fact been spurred to seek a career within it partly due to its demand and difficulty. Growing up with little money, she believed, had prepared her to work long hours and to live frugally, and she had, on several occasions, felt irked by those people whom she encountered at the various jobs she held in college, in clothing shops and call centers and deli counters, who seemed assured of something large and yet-unknown in her path, as there had been in theirs, and which would keep her from realizing her goals. Their worries and complaints were, sherepeated to herself, imagined and self imposed and particular to them, and, in this way, she remained steadfast in her commitment to succeed.
When the other intern excused herself and left Lina and the company president alone, Lina felt comfortable enough to make a joke and was relieved when he laughed. She had been working for him for five months and though she found him intimidating, it was because of how he carried himself with poise that was notable and rare. Only on occasion, when someone, usually his assistant, made an error that led to his appearing uninformed, did the president raise his voice. This was different, she knew, from the men who owned the company, and the many others like them, who screamed often, and insulted the people who worked below them, and were known to resort to physical violence from time to time. The president, in contrast, was not boorish and had about him an air that was calm and regal. She was happy to speak with him and was happier still when he thanked her for her work, and complimented her on her good taste in film, and inquired about her goals and the career she would like to one day have. They spoke also of family, she keeping to herself that what worried hers most was money, and he sharing with her his struggles to connect with teenagers who, to him, seemed to overnight become different people than the ones they had been as children. After some time, he thanked her for being easy to converse with, and admitted these were not subjects he normally spoke of in such depth. She, in return, complimented him for setting a good example to the people who worked beneath him, and for being measured and kind, especially to the interns. He was taken aback by her words, but she could see he enjoyed them, and he confided in her that his years of focused work had, yes, brought him much success, but at the great price of two failed marriages and a feeling of loneliness he found difficult to describe.
These things Lina would, the next day, remember, but what occurred after was to be captured and recaptured in frames by her mind as it attempted to place in order events she would absorb as random and discrete. They would include the president offering her one of his children’s empty beds for the night; the vice president telling her the assistant had disappeared after a fight with his girlfriend; the lights dimming; the vice president assuring her she would receive a room at the hotel; the bar closing and her gathering her belongings; the vice president ushering her into the backseat of a chauffeured sedan; the room spinning; the assistant telling her the plan had changed, that he and his girlfriend could no longer host her as planned; the voices slurring; the vice president informing the president that the company had, for the use of employees, reserved rooms at a nearby hotel, whose name she recognized as one located on a well-known boulevard; the faces blurring; the assistant instructing her to get into the car.
When Lina woke and found the vice president on her she wondered if maybe she was imagining him there. There, on her face and neck and hips and thighs, and ‘No,’ she said, and he stopped. Then he was on her again, and the room spun, and she spun with it. His tongue felt like other tongues and she thought maybe, then thought about the tongues she had in the past known and wanted and the distance between such tongues and this one was too vast, and the inability to calculate it overwhelmed her. What was occurring she felt was a sequence of awakenings in which first she noted how the room spun and she with it, followed by him, there, and there. Then, the unnerving feeling of this sequence being one of many, and that somewhere in the room they were stacking, amassing to something that could soon be summed and made whole. Her need to make it stop and him with it brimmed and receded, brimmed and receded, as she woke and slept, and the room spun. Her hope was for the waking to last long enough to flood her, to expel from within her the dismay and dread that kept her soundless, and when finally it did, she saw that her waking, and the awareness that came with it, would in fact be quick to saturate her through and through, and she cried, loud and plenty. This brought the movement above her to a stop, and at last she could feel him not on her and heard him walk away.
In the morning, she was calm though lightheaded, and she thought that perhaps he was gone and she could rise and gather her things and leave undetected. Instead, he came into the room and sat next to where her legs stretched beneath the covers, and said he had been drunk and so had she, that he had slept on the sofa on the other side of the door, that he was certain nothing complete had occurred, and ‘I’m sorry.’ He told her also that her car had, the night before, at her request, been brought from the party’s venue to the hotel, and on the bedside table placed the ticket that would allow her to collect it. She did not tell him that this was a fact she did not recall, and remained silent as he said some other things about how if there was ever anything he could do to help her, she should not hesitate to ask. She noticed then the business card he held in his hand and watched him lean toward the bedside table and lift a pen, and on the card write a number he informed her was his cellphone. ‘Just in case,’ he said as he stood up. Then he kissed her cheek and left. The relief was immediate, and she turned her attention to putting her things back into her shoulder bag, and, on reflex, walked the length and width of the suite and its rooms in search of anything that might testify to her being there. She was beginning to sense the complications to her reputation and career that her presence in the suite could cause and was meticulous in her search. Finding nothing, she decided it was okay to leave. Before she did she looked out of the window and imagined someone like her, or actually her on a previous day, looking up at the window of that expensive hotel on that well-known boulevard and imagining that the people who stayed there surely led lives full of liberty and ease.
The valet took her ticket with a smile and she hesitated to ask for it to be charged to the room and to give his name, but she could guess the cost to park in such a place, and so she did. When her car pulled up to the curb beside her, its dented side and back bumper sent the normal rush of embarrassment through her. Though, in that instance, her shame was met with a degree of relief at the car’s familiarity, and this shift in feeling softened the interaction between her and the valet, her handing him, as a tip, a five-dollar bill he might have guessed she could not easily afford, and her smiling in gratitude at his stepping aside to allow her to get into the driver’s seat. When the door closed, it quieted the sound of the street, and she breathed the car’s damp and dust, and felt the seat that after so many years had molded its shape to her back. On the freeway she was thankful the day was a Saturday, with neither classes nor her having to go into the office, with him, for his leaving Los Angeles and returning to the New York office where he normally worked, for the ability to tell no one what had transpired, or nearly transpired, or was in that moment continuing to occur and manifest within her. As she drove, she endeavored to arrange the facts of the previous night, those she could recall, into a tolerable order. However, shuffling what she knew, from one place to the next, made her increasingly aware that the arrangement she sought was not one of chronology, but of something else, of cause and motive, fault and responsibility, and she vowed to think of it for the duration of the drive only, and planned to remove it from her mind once she reached home.
Soon after the Christmas party, Lina graduated and moved to the city, and while the company decided whether or not to hire her, she survived on inconsistent and temporary work allotted to her by an agency that kept a portion of her earnings. During this time, she questioned the path she was on, and whether it was one that would always keep her feeling so precarious and unsteady. In order to continue, she knew she had to cast the thought from her mind, and instead repeat to herself, Winners never quit, What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and other things she had been taught and believed. When, several months later, the company did at last hire her for a permanent position, she was grateful and relieved. Her confidence in her destiny had been – as she had waited for the job – momentarily disrupted, yes, but the wait, she decided, had tested her determination and commitment appropriately, and reiterated the fact that Success comes to those who persevere.
She was apprehensive, of course, about what had occurred, or not occurred, the night of the Christmas party, her primary concern focused on keeping what had taken place, or nearly taken place, private, as she was aware it would take from her the opportunity to succeed at the company, and perhaps within the industry, if it was discovered. She had, soon after, confided in the president’s assistant, telling him what she recalled, which, as she relayed it, struck her as insufficient and incapable of capturing the disquiet that accompanied it, the feeling that she was slipping away from herself. She watched the assistant at first appear remorseful, then become impressed by the knowledge that the vice president, who was widely perceived to be an impotent flunky, was capable of such actions. Finally, the assistant advised her of what she already knew, that she should stay clear of the vice president, when possible, and put the incident behind her.
On her first day of work, the president congratulated her personally, and the vice president called her from New York to offer his best wishes. He also informed her that his counsel on her hiring had, in fact, been sought, and that he could have, had he wished, opposed it with ease. There he paused to allow her to absorb the gravity of his words, to imagine in those passing seconds where she might now be, had he not been so generous. Prior to the Christmas party, like the assistant, she had thought him an inconsequential man, who, as a result of years of bullying and humiliation at the hands of the company’s owners, seemed often nervous and afraid. This fear was evident in his voice over the telephone, but Lina could now also hear, embedded within it, malice and conceit. He waited for her to thank him, and she did, then hung up and did her best to remove him from her mind. There would be times, she knew, when she would have to see and tolerate him, but she took comfort in the distance between the office he worked in and hers and felt a surging need to deny him the ability to alter her course, and to think of him as merely one of the many obstacles she could and would overcome.
Lina’s new boss was a woman who she quickly learned did not trust her, and perhaps did not like her, but who, because of the president’s affinity for Lina, had felt pressured to hire her. Lina understood such politics were usual, and set about ingratiating herself with her boss, whom she liked well enough, when the woman was in a good mood. She enjoyed that her boss, like the president’s assistant, was humorous, that she spoke loudly and directly, and laughed often. At times, her boss was rancorous and seething, and in those instances, Lina braced herself to be ridiculed or berated. While such incidents were unpleasant, she felt prepared for them. What concerned her more was that her boss did not seem to do any work, and spent her time pretending to do so, or avoiding the president, whom she also did not trust or like.
As the months wore on, Lina worried how her boss, who she was now certain did no work, could guide her on her path to learning and promotion. She began to wonder how many executives, like her boss, in the company she worked for and in others, did any actual work, and how often. But as her goal was to climb up through the ranks, and to one day become an executive, she determined it was her boss only who did so little in such a role. The president, by this time, had acquired new interns, some of who were the children of well-known and respected industry figures, and Lina understood that when the time for promotions came, they might be preferred over her. So, she did her best to work diligently when she was given work, though it was often of a personal nature and was mostly comprised of her boss’s private tasks and errands. Still, it was important to Lina to keep her boss happy and focused, so that on occasion, she might be inspired to work. When that failed, she resorted to helping her boss keep up the appearance of working. She understood that the value of her own job depended on such a pretense, and that her fate was intertwined with that of her boss.
When that summer the Israel–Lebanon War, also known as the Hezbollah War, also known as the Second Lebanon War, began, Lina worried about the people who would be hurt or killed, and about her brother who had, as part of his graduate course placement, and on account of his fluency in Arabic, gone to Beirut to work. Lina’s politics during college had become muted, or rather, redirected toward grievances she found abstract and aloof and without connection to her life. She was, of course, aware that her being Arab was problematic in certain spaces, and that in such instances it was enough to refrain from announcing or declaring it outright. This she had learned in friends’ living rooms, and in shops and offices in which she had worked, and classrooms in which she had sat from kindergarten through college.
She did not consider herself dishonest for keeping, in her current job, her background to herself, since she was, as a rule, private, and to that effect she had absorbed the requirement to pass as one comparable to not speaking of money or lack of it, or one’s political leanings, or the countless other facts about themselves she knew people juggled, and hid or presented, as needed. She had watched her own parents, on several occasions and in public spaces, silence their Arabic in the presence of bewildered or suspicious looks, and understood the necessity of such actions. Earlier internships, in addition, had indicated to her clearly and unmistakably that her passing was indeed essential to her success, and that without it, her climb, while not impossible, would become steep and perhaps without end. In particular, a French producer she had interned for, who had, as he said, a certain regard for the Lebanese, who – as he also made sure to say – were different from other Arabs, advised her that others she might work for in the future might not be as worldly as he who understood that not all Arabs despised democracy and freedom and were prone to violence and a hatred of Jews. Her decision to pass, then, was not consciously taken, but was instead natural and necessary for her desired career, as was the ability to work long hours, suffer lecherous men, and bear occasional derision.
When, after one thousand Lebanese civilians had been killed, and one million displaced, and as her brother went on land from Lebanon to Syria to Jordan in order to return home, she heard the president’s assistant call Arabs animals and watched some of her co-workers high-five at the news that much of Lebanon had been destroyed and the Arabs broken, Lina felt herself an imposter. The binding that held her together loosened, and she saw herself as they might see her if they were to know her as one of the many Arabs whose deaths brought them such joy that day. She felt again as she had several times before, that what was possible and what was not was laid bare before her, but this time, however, she was alert at both the value of possibility and its cost. It was an amount, she knew, she was willing to pay, and persuaded herself to believe it was even more worthwhile, more commendable to ascend the ranks of a world that could so easily shun her.
That summer also saw the president of the company take increased notice of Lina. It began with an encounter in the mailroom, where he reminded her of their conversation the night of the Christmas party and what a rare and enjoyable exchange it had been. The value of the encounter, he suggested, was his ability to speak genuinely and openly with someone who seemed neither fazed nor altered by his status and position. Lina’s esteem of the president had remained unchanged in the months since the Christmas party, despite her boss’s dislike of the president, and the president’s occasional reminders to Lina that her loyalties lay with him and the company and not with her boss, whom everyone knew he had been forced to hire. So, in the mailroom, Lina again reiterated her respect for the president and confirmed what she believed he hoped to hear, that her ambitions were to remain with the company and to advance her career within it.
It was common knowledge that in order for an assistant at Lina’s level to gain a junior executive position, she would first be required to serve as the president’s assistant. This knowledge served the president’s current assistant well, as he perceived Lina to be incapable of usurping him and hence sought a future in which their promotions would be simultaneous – he to a junior executive office, and she to the president’s desk. This plan the assistant shared with Lina, and it triggered within her both trepidation and pleasure. Increasingly then, she was asked by the assistant to cover his days off and holidays, a responsibility that furthered her exposure to the president, and, the assistant hoped, fostered within the president a feeling of familiarity toward her, one that could not easily be rivaled when it was time for the assistant to be promoted and his replacement sought.
So, as the summer weeks gave way to fall, Lina began increasingly to work with the president directly, and when the whispers reached her ears that soon his assistant would at last be promoted, she was certain her due would come with his. It was shortly after the whispers commenced, then, that the president complimented Lina not on the quality or ethic of her work, or even her conviviality and amiable presence, but on her physical appeal. It was a day like all others, except she was ill, and had all but lost her ability to speak. The president found her voice, made hoarse and hushed, attractive, sexually so, and he said this without embarrassment, before proceeding to ask for his messages, as if the comment had not been made, or had been and was accepted. This movement, from one comment to another, was so refined as to be nearly imperceptible, and it was only once their exchange concluded, that Lina gathered what had occurred. She sensed, however, that to investigate it, even to herself, was a dangerous act, and refrained from doing so.
Because the incident did not immediately repeat itself, with time she thought it aberrant, perhaps even imagined. She remained confident that the president, after all, was more thoughtful and dignified than other men in the industry, who used their positions to openly procure for themselves sexual favors, or who, like the vice president, tried to forcibly take them. So, when some time later, the president sent her a script, and asked her to telephone him that weekend to discuss its strengths and weaknesses, she pushed from her mind the memory of what had occurred, and spent an evening meticulously reading the script and making notes. As she did, she was aware the president’s esteem of her opinion did not merit a private phone call between them. She wondered, however, if the task was, in fact, a test to determine if she was ready to take on the role of his assistant. As she dialed the number, she noted her anxiety, and how like fireworks it sparked in innumerable directions but had one nucleus. She recognized the center of her anxiety as the comment he had made and which she had worked to forget.
When he answered, he was genial but not overly familiar, and this put her at ease. She began to read from her notes, at which point he interjected and asked a cursory question about the script, followed by another. The questions she found facile, but she answered them as required, and waited. He informed her that he was to see a film that evening, and she took this as a signal that the conversation had come to an end, and she worried that their call had, in fact, been a test, that she had failed it, and that her anxiety, now clearly unfounded, was to blame. When he then asked her to accompany him to the film, she felt in her stomach a deep drop, one that threatened to be interminable, and which she knew could be halted only by her saying, quickly, before she could lose the courage, that she found such an outing inappropriate. What happened next, she would think about many times later in her life, because she would come to realize that it contained within it the very systems that structured life, made their anatomies visible and the intentions behind them clear. At her comment the president laughed, then somberly agreed. But what he sought was platonic, he assured her, and again he reminded her of their connection at the Christmas party, and also again lamented to her his position as one that placed him in what he referred to as an ivory tower which kept people like her, who were genuine and kind, distant from him. As he spoke Lina grew embarrassed at her outburst and said so, and he assured her it was expected and even commendable.
As she drove to meet him, Lina knew what was about to transpire had to be handled with great care. She was glad then, when shortly after she arrived and parked at the white high-rise in which he lived, he promptly came out, as agreed, and led her to his car. The conversation, she found, was surprisingly easy and pleasant, and it renewed in her the belief that she was, to some extent, in control of how the evening might proceed. She began to doubt not her worries, but their depth, as she could now see how her time with the president might be enjoyable, and perhaps acceptable. When she remarked that they had been driving for some time, he informed her that they were, of course, not to be seen together, as the difference in their levels at the company would deem such a sighting unseemly. On account of this, he grew apprehensive as they entered the theater, and although they were in a neighborhood far from the center of the city, his eyes continued to scan for people he might know. Only once they sat, and the lights dimmed, did he relax and appear to enjoy himself, and Lina did her best to pay attention to the film and its many details, in case the conversation to follow demanded such knowledge. When the film ended, and he asked her to dinner, she said no, and when he took her back to his apartment building and invited her up, she declined and retrieved her car instead. Both times, if he was disappointed, he did not convey his feelings, and she again re-evaluated her assumptions and his intent.
When the following day, the president commented on her appearance and she pretended not to hear, it did not deter him. For many days after, he delivered discreetly, either on the telephone or out of the earshot of others, comments which were dispersed among the other things he said to her and were intended to disappear unless she chose to recognize and respond to them. It was then the president’s assistant informed her that the president would that week commence his search for a new assistant. Lina could now make out clearly the hurdle before her, a boulder that would not remove itself from her way, and that she could not circumvent, and which she would have to confront or allow to force her to turn around altogether.
When the president sent to Lina another script and asked her to read it and speak to him once she had, and when the assistant confirmed that this was indeed the test she had awaited, she knew she would neither read the script nor meet with the president. Instead she worked to expand the distance between them, by refusing to cover for the assistant when she was able, and by taking different routes to and from the various parts of the office. When she witnessed candidates being led to meet with the president, and the assistant voiced to her his disappointment at her failure to aggressively pursue the position, Lina felt compelled to tell the assistant why this was, in the hope that he would, despite his shortcomings, and because he had at one time championed her hiring, understand the gravity of her situation. She watched the assistant, at first, appear remorseful, then become impressed by the knowledge that the president, who was known to the assistant as having once been a man desired by many women, was still capable of such actions. Finally, the assistant advised her of what she already knew, that she should seek another job, where possible, and put the incident behind her. Watching the assistant, Lina’s fretfulness dissipated, and she began to see that she was not intended to succeed on terms other than the ones now spread out before her. She wondered if perhaps this path had been, despite her oblivion, clearly signposted, and whether if she had only looked down and around, instead of directly ahead, she might have seen the signs. Of this, however, she was to remain unconvinced, and she became increasingly sure the signs, while present, were never meant to be seen.
After the president hired a new assistant and promoted his old one, and after it became widely known, throughout the office, that his desires were freshly set on a young woman recently hired within the department, and that this woman returned his favor, he stopped by Lina’s desk and voiced his displeasure at her lack of effort. She had not read the script he had sent, nor spoken to him about it, and he could see now, he said, that he had been erroneous in thinking she was ready for such a role. Several weeks later, when Lina entered the president’s office and sat down, and told him directly and calmly of her plans to leave the company, he frowned then scowled from behind his desk, and she watched his well-groomed poise give way to a clean hate she recognized, and which she would see again many times in her life. She was making a terrible mistake, he said, and was burning a bridge in an industry in which an act such as hers was impermissible and permanent. During the tirade, Lina felt scared and uncertain, and did her best to appear calm, and said only that she was prepared to endure the consequences of her actions. This silenced him. As she rose to leave, he spoke one final time, to remind her that he was not to blame, and that he had done nothing wrong. He waited for her to repeat these words, and she did.
It was many years later, as Lina watched on television the owner of the company, accused of rape and abuse and harassment and misconduct by eighty women, turn himself in on charges pertaining to just two, that she was reminded of what she, in her youth, had experienced and felt. She did not find the news interesting or enlightening, and she was not intrigued by what might transpire between the law and the owner, who, on account of his wealth, was able to negotiate the precise terms of his arrest and bail. Even the half- and whole-hearted appeals of employees and former employees who claimed ignorance or innocence, she found tiresome, their musings inconsequential to the affected women, and the lives they led, or had hoped to lead prior to their encounters with the owner, who took from them, and of them. The women, she knew, once the excitement settled, would be the ones made to pay.
She thought of the night in the room of that expensive hotel, on that well-known boulevard, of how it had spun, of the young woman who had spun with it, and all her aspirations and desires. She became aware of the vigilance with which the young woman had put aside and away and moderated and maintained her knowledge of that night, and for that, Lina allowed herself to grieve. She yearned to reach into the memory of that room and pluck from it the young woman, to show her there were many ways to live a life, that many had not been taught to her, that she had been set down upon a path designed to ensnare her while keeping her reaching for an apex, a triumph of some kind, which would never come, and that this was by plan, not chance. But more than that, she longed to tell the young woman to carry fire, soon and often, to tell the others, and to set alight everything she saw, to waste no time burning all her bridges down.
Dima Alzayat was born in Damascus, Syria, grew up in San Jose, California, and now lives in Manchester. She was the winner of the 2019 ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, a 2018 Northern Writers' Award, the 2017 Bristol Short Story Prize and the 2015 Bernice Slote Award. She was runner-up in the 2018 Deborah Rogers Award and the 2018 Zoetrope: All-Story Competition, and was Highly Commended in the 2013 Bridport Prize.