Pretty Girl by Jacqueline Doyle

Her head throbs. She has no idea how long it’s been since he came up behind her in the dark parking garage, one hand squeezing her throat, one holding a gun to her head, whispering “Don’t scream, pretty girl,” his breath hot on her neck. Skinny, not much taller than her, 5 foot 8 or so She could smell his nervous sweat. Her body flooded with adrenaline, her mind shut down. That was all he said before he hit the side of her head with the gun, “Don’t scream, pretty girl.” His voice hoarse, no accent. She barely saw his face and isn’t even sure about the car. A sedan, not new, a Buick maybe, or a Dodge. Will she be able to describe it to the police? When she awoke—maybe an hour ago?—her mouth and wrists and feet were bound with duct tape and she was wedged behind the front seat, the gravel on the car floor gritty on her cheek and bare leg. She’s shivering from the cold, nauseous. She swallows, afraid she’ll throw up and choke on her own vomit. All for a lipstick. She dashed out to the mall to buy a stupid lipstick for tomorrow’s audition for a stupid soap commercial that she really, really hoped she would get but probably wouldn’t have. She could have gone to the all-night drugstore for a different brand. There’s nothing so special about Sephora satin finish coral lipstick. She got to Sephora just before closing, there was hardly anyone left in the mall when she came out, and the multi-level parking garage was deserted. She could have waited for some other shoppers before she walked through the dark garage, where she knew there’d been some muggings. She’s never heard of a kidnapping or a rape, not here, but this is Los Angeles and there’s always something in the back pages of the newspaper before the obituaries and the want ads for day jobs, an article she doesn’t read about a girl she doesn’t know. Surely she won’t be a news item too? But she can imagine it. “Such a pretty girl,” the new manager of her apartment complex will say, whatshisname, Spencer, who always leers at her breasts. “We all loved her,” someone from the agency will say, probably that publicity hound Shira, who barely knows her. “Such a pretty girl,” people said back home and she let it turn her head. Prom queen twice in high school, rodeo queen on a float in the parade, contestant in the Miss Missouri pageant, which she didn’t win, not even a runner up, but she was so sure she was destined for something better, somewhere else. She joked with her girlfriends about Dorothy and her ruby slippers and the kind of girl who’d choose Kansas over Oz. Now she struggles, cautious about attracting attention, and chafes her red ballet flats together, straining to loosen the duct tape. “There’s no place like home. No place like.” He’s silent, hasn’t even switched on the radio. The drone of passing cars on the freeway has died down. All she can hear is the occasional rattle of a passing truck. Where is he taking her? She’s suddenly dizzy, her heart beating so fast she thinks it might explode. Will he kill her and dump her body somewhere in the desert? What will he do to her first? The gorge rises in her throat again. She swallows and tries to breathe slowly through her nose, long deep breaths like the relaxation exercises in her acting class. If she can’t wriggle out of the duct tape, she’ll have to wait until he takes it off. She needs to stay calm so she’ll be ready to act. Inhale. Exhale. Finally her heart slows. Her mind drifts back to the movie and Judy Garland’s dark lipstick. How old was Dorothy supposed to be? Too young for lipstick in 1930s Kansas. She remembers another story, that old film “The Red Shoes” she watched on TV with her mom, where a girl with red shoes danced herself to death, feet on fire, she can’t remember why, and she thinks of home, and wishes she’d never left. Is Timmy still waiting? A year ago he said he would, he told her he loved her and cried at the airport, but she didn’t care, or not enough. Her best friend Corinda was there too, pregnant with a baby girl she named Jessie. Will she ever get to see Jessie? Her mom always worries and she laughs at her and says she’ll be fine and now she isn’t fine, not at all. She feels sick, she’s never had a headache this bad, she’s trembling from the cold, the grit on the floor cuts into her bare arms and legs, which are covered with goose bumps, and all she wants is to curl up beside her mom on the ratty brown couch in the family room with the green afghan wrapped around her, watching some dumb show on TV. Cramped on the floor of the back seat, twisting with her arms bound behind her, she watches streetlights on the freeway whiz by outside the car window above her, then nothing, telephone poles, an increasingly emptier night sky, hazy, with hardly any stars. She can’t remember ever looking at the sky for this long before.

Jacqueline Doyle’s award-winning flash chapbook The Missing Girl was published by Black Lawrence Press last fall, and she has recent flash in Wigleaf, Hotel Amerika, The Pinch, matchbook, Post Road, and the anthology Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story. In addition to numerous Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations, she has two Finalist listings in Best Small Fictions 2018. Her flash “Zig Zag” won the 2017 “1000 Below” Flash/Poetry Contest at Midway Journal, judged by Michael Martone. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online at and on twitter @doylejacq. 

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