Readers are warned that the following Flash Fiction was inspired by true events and includes themes of sexual violence.
Waiters rove between our tables, unthreading meat from metal skewers, slipping them onto slabs, juices seeping. They weave between the churrascaria and the Samba dancers like practised partners, a choreography that cold-shoulders the women.
All the other customers of this restaurant are from Rio: Cariocas – unflustered by the taut, tanned limbs, the flicks and kicks.
I am mesmerised by these dancers in their turquoise thongs, sequined tassels spouting from their breasts, feathers sprouting from their flesh. They drip theatrical desire like the sauce spreading across my plate from the steak– both prepared a point.
Faster and faster, they flap and flutter, and as the music crescendos, they soar. Then the sound fades and with the falling rhythm they retreat from their feathers; just flesh.
I want to hide too, but Joao says I’m not safe alone in his city.
Silent chains bind me to him beneath the buzz and chatter and I watch him with his friends who come and go– who ooze privilege – who sink beef and booze. I tell myself don’t sink just yet, hold on, as they think of nothing but their next Carmenere, their next rodizio rump.
Uncalled, ignored, the dancers deliver their encore. I try to catch their gaze, but their sights are somewhere else and they slip into the shadows.
I am out of my depth.
Joao catches my eye, nudges his friend Federico whose stare is dull as day-old fish, not the snook speared from the waters around Rio. His lips open and close. His words drown.
Now the dancers have fled to their favelas; the rich residents retired to Copacabana, Zona Sul, Leblon. Lives blend in the leftovers, wine spilt, claret against cream cloth, empty bottles skittle-like waiting to fall, a single feather, jungle green.
Federico turns, eyes grey glass, mouth flaccid.
‘You like the meat?’
‘Si,’ I say, years of yes instead of no.
In the taxi, the men’s foreign words wash over me, too fast for me to grasp, but their stares linger. Joao watches through the rear-view mirror, Federico from alongside.
We cruise up to a compound, gates reel us in.
Joao’s apartment is a goldfish bowl; glass, and light, bright.
My head is swimming.
I circle around and around.
I am hooked.
To thrash would be to make it worse. No is the same in both our worlds, and underwater.
Hannah Storm has been a journalist for 20 years, travelling the world for her work, meeting extraordinary people and visiting unforgettable places, but also witnessing war, disaster and despair. She started writing flash fiction and CNF in 2018, and now she writes to honour some of the people she has met and to process her own experiences. Her work has been published widely, online and in several anthologies. This year she’s been shortlisted in several flash competitions, highly commended in the TSS flash prize, and won the ‘I Must Be Off!’ travel writing competition. She’s just finished the first draft of her novel. When she’s not writing, she runs marathons as another way of managing her mental health. She lives in the UK with her Kiwi husband and her two children.
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