Why Female Fireflies Fake Death

She walks to the deli to get some lunch. She will get catcalled, but she’ll pretend she hasn’t heard it. Her pace and heartbeat will increase with every additional comment, the unwanted attention crawling up her legs like an invisible hand. She’ll want to say something, but she’ll remember the video of that woman in a Paris street who responded and got chased before being slapped for daring to stand up.
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She sits at a terrace with a cup of coffee, reading a book. She will be disturbed. “What are you reading?” He’ll say. She’ll glance at the stranger’s face too close, too much smile and too many teeth. A book, she’ll reply with sarcasm that will be ignored. Still, she’ll flinch inside at her recklessness. “Any good?” He’ll persist, mistaking rebuke for a challenge. “Sorry, I need to go. I’m late.” She will lie.
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She attends a house party. She will serve her own drink or watches it being poured. She won’t leave it unattended, taking it with her to the toilets. She’ll head back to the main room, squeezing past two groups when an anonymous hand will grope her. The invasion of her intimacy will unhinge her, but she won’t say anything. Too tired for public transport, she’ll get a cab home, and pretend to speak on her phone from the backseat, giving the illusion that she is expected, she will be missed if she doesn’t make back in time.
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She stands in a packed carriage at peak time, trying to avoid the wrong pair of eyes. Every time she will look up, she’ll catch his gaze and the stretch of his lips. At the next stop, people will get off, others get in, and the commuters will rearrange themselves before the doors trap them in. Closer to her now he’ll say, “You should smile. I bet you have a beautiful smile.” She’ll wish she’d remembered to take her headphone to protect herself from unsolicited requests to please strangers.
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At the end of a night out, she walks home from the station to her flat. She will choose to take the longer route, the one with more streetlights, more traffic, more witnesses. As always, she’ll pay attention, the pace giving the illusion of confidence, while her keys are nested into the slits between her fingers in a makeshift metal claw. She will remember the words ‘don’t show them fear’ but won’t be able to recall if they were from a safety video or a documentary about the animal kingdom.
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Even though she is careful, she won’t avoid ending up the bitch, the whore, the ‘I was doing you a favor anyway,’ the ugly lesbian, the one that is followed down the street by a self-professed nice guy who is spitting degrading words. She will always be considered too slutty or too stuck-up. She will be the one on the receiving end of rape and death threats if she dares to speak up online.
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Everyday life is a game of Minesweeper she has to navigate. She’s always on alert, always aware. She is always hypervigilant. She’s angry; she’s pissed off. She is fucking exhausted. When she goes to bed after watching a nature documentary, she’ll check the locks on the front door and windows, ensure nobody’s hiding behind the shower curtain or inside the hallway cupboard. Her ritual accomplished; she’ll wash her face. She’ll look at herself in the mirror, and she’ll see whirring female fireflies freezing in the air before crashing to the ground and lying motionless.

Photo Credit: Transformer18 Flickr via Compfight cc

Laure Van Rensburg

Laure Van Rensburg is a French writer living in the UK. Her short stories can be found in online magazines including Across The Margin, Ellipsis Zine, The Fiction Pool, Barren Magazine, Storgy and Reflex Fiction. She has been longlisted for the Bath Short Story Award and twice shortlisted for TSS Publishing Quarterly Flash Competitions.

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