The Hidden Chemical Sheds

 Joined plexi-glass screens ran from room’s ceiling to the floor. They formed a circle, and projected contrasting visuals: riots in Ipswich, a flowing creek, angry faces, and slow moving sloths. Faster and faster they went until white and red words flashed against black and white backgrounds. All were adjectives–some offensive, some rarely used in daily speech–every single one hovering around the phrase ‘The Patriarchy is Us’.

Inside of the circle, two women sat. One on the bed covered in dark blue sheets, and the other on the floor. Both were trim, their arm muscles well defined and necks long. They were not sisters though. No one could make that mistake; their faces were far too different.

Bella had blonde hair, hacked short and frayed at the edges. Her dark green eyes appeared to cage the wildness of a forest, and her face was round and nose sharp. Her hands moved in short, furtive motions. “You know what the most insulting word is?” she said, her tone fast and spiteful.

“Malak,” Pinei replied, her angular jawline barely moving to give a response. She ran a hand through her black hair, and then crossed her legs while sitting on the bed.

“No.”

“Is this one of those rhetorical things?”

“It’s women. It’s girl. It’s…being female. Feminine.”

Pinei’s brown eyes shifted their focus towards the skylight. “Still like voyeurs?” she asked.

Bella seemed to ignore her. “You understand how it works, right? ‘Throw like a girl.’ ‘Cry like a girl.’ Anything we do, anything that’s natural to us, it’s a weakness. I’m going to bring these people down.”

“‘We’re all sandwiches in man’s hands.'” Pinei stated, sounding distracted. Her attention appeared completely focussed on the moon above them. “Professor Vera,” she said in a mock-announcer’s voice. “She will free you from the prison of your mind.”

“You shouldn’t make fun of it, you know it’s true.”

True? One of our classes says everything’s relative, the other says we should fight as if their ideas are absolute. You can’t have two sides.”

Bella stood up and stretched, her pale skin appearing almost luminous in the moonlight. “It’s nuance.”

“It’s what lets them keep their jobs.”

“So you’re not coming with me tonight?”

Pinei sighed and flexed her tattooed arms. The images they contained were covered with old scars and a rolled up checkered shirt that hung loosely off her frame. “You’ve got it round the wrong way.”

“Really?”

“The patriarchy doesn’t label what women do as weak. It labels those actions as weak because they’re done by women.”

“Yeah. I know that.”

“Do you?” Pinei’s focus shifted back to her friend. “Tonight’s rally, what do you think it’ll accomplish?”

“We’ll show them that we’re a force. We won’t back down. We’ll show them strength.”

“Or… that, driven by an irrational anger, five-hundred female extremists sought to tear down a fragile collation of understanding allies.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Bella pulled at her white shoe-string top. “If they want violence, if they want to see us fight using their tactics, we can. We’ll beat them at their own game.”

“There’s no game.” Pinei played with the sheets. “There’s just lives.”

“I can risk mine.”

“Sure.”

“So why don’t you come?”

“Because mine’s precious. They’ll have guns , they’ll use them. Last week was only the start.”

“You don’t know that,” Bella sat on the bed and pulled out a box from under it. Inside was a pair of shoes. “It’s all propgranda. No one died.”

“No one?”

“The Edict wouldn’t stand for it. There’s fifty women on that council. Over half. They wouldn’t let it happen.”

“Uh huh.”

“They’re just…strategising.”

“Over half the council is women,” Pinei continued. “And yet you’re marching on the capital.”

“It takes time.”

“Uh huh.” Pinei crossed her legs and closed her eyes. “Like when my father was shot, and they strategised?”

“That’s…”

“And my mother? When she was yanked from her bed and taken behind the chemical sheds?”

“Safety in numbers. It won’t happen in this country. It’s illegal.”

Pinei stared at her non-white arms, their hue dark but not black–stained with something else. “Doesn’t happen in your country, I guess.”

“What are you talking about?” Bella pulled her second shoelace tight. “You’re a citizen too. I’ve seen your ident card.”

“And I’ve never seen yours. Never even asked.”

“I’m fighting for our rights tonight. All of womenkind.”

Pinei smiled. “That’s right, of course you are. Because the patriarchy must be slain, it’s absolute existence the only thing we can hold onto in these troubled times.”

Bella stuck her tongue out and stood up. “Wish me luck,” she said, beaming.

“Don’t get killed. And don’t take the first bullet, it’s always lethal.”

Bella didn’t listen.

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