The initiation

    He pointed to the scar on her neck. It was small, but it was clear the wound had been deep.

    “How did that happen?”

    Instinctively, she touched the old mark. She hardly even thought about it anymore, but there it was. She hesitated for a moment, unsure of where to begin.

    How did that happen?

    It was late August. Her family still lived on the South Side of Chicago back then, and she worked as a stocker in the drugstore on First Street. The place had bulletproof glass, but for as long as she had worked there, nothing ominous had ever happened.

    The pharmacist had already left for the night. She was sweeping up and had propped the door open in hopes of tempting a breeze on the hot, still night. She swept the last of the dust bunnies and dirt clods outside and regarded the floor. It was still grimy, even though she had been sweeping it for the last half hour.

    Tomorrow I’ll mop it, she promised herself. Tonight, however, she was off the clock. She threw the broom and dustpan into the storage closet and locked the door. The pharmacist had already locked the cash register, the counter and the medicine storage room — he didn’t trust her — so the only thing left for her to do was lock the front and back doors. Turning the “Yes, We’re Open” sign in the window around so that it read “Sorry, We’re Closed” from the outside, she turned the inside lock and stepped out into the balmy night.

    She rattled the front door from the outside just to make sure it was locked. Satisfied, she shrugged off her smock and tucked it under her arm. She walked home every night. Someone had stolen her bike from school in April and she didn’t live far enough, she thought, to merit buying a CTA card for the bus or train.

    It was almost 9 p.m. Her mother was full of stories about prostitutes and crack dealers trolling these streets at night, but she had yet to see one. She didn’t know what she would do if she saw one. There were plenty of homeless people, but they were everywhere.

    She walked past Bailey’s Pub, which was always full of rambunctious people and a group of rowdy teenage boys. They were always around, too, she mused. Always loitering, always in groups of five or more.

    The streetlights were out on this block. She quickened her pace, always a little wary of the shadows the alleys between the buildings cast. If she took a left at this street and walked a couple blocks down, it would lead her to the projects. If she turned right and walked eighteen blocks, it would lead her to the Polish neighborhood, with quiet streets and elegantly snaked Victorian-style iron grills.

    She would start her junior year of high school in a couple of weeks. She wondered if she would have to quit her job like her older sister did to study for the SAT and ACT. She didn’t even want to think about standardized testing yet, let alone college applications –


    She froze. She couldn’t tell which direction the voice was coming from, but it sounded close…

    Two hands grabbed her roughly and she screamed, knowing even as she did so that no one would come to help her. The hands felt like they each belonged to different people and, sure enough, she soon felt more hands effortlessly dragging her backwards and pinning her against the side of a building.

    She struggled, kicking at her invisible attackers, but they restrained her easily, seemingly impervious to her strikes.

    “Hold her still!” a man’s — no, it was more a boy’s — voice said urgently.
    “Hurry up!” said an invisible one from her right.

    “Make her shut up,” said another, this one definitely a man’s voice.

    She felt rather than saw the silhouette of a male come close to her, his breath brushing her cheek. His hand flew to her neck, shoving it against the wall so that she couldn’t move her head at all, yet not choking her. She waited for him to throttle her, but it never came. Instead, intensely aware of the sound of his breathing, she heard a small click.

    She never saw what he did to her next; all she felt was a brief pressure against her larynx and then dampness as blood spilled from where he had cut her and trickled down her shirt. She inferred later, as did the paramedics, that he had slit her throat.

    “Possibly gang-related,” one of them told her sympathetically as he changed the gauze on her wound. “Some of them require cutting a stranger as part of initiation.”

    How did that happen?

    She removed her hand from her throat and smiled. “It was a long time ago,” she said. “I don’t really remember how it happened.”

    He nodded, slightly puzzled, and smiled back at her.


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