Shoplifters by Bellylord
This was really stupid, I know, but The E** Z** was the first place I had worked where they let me show my own clothes while I pumped the register. Even if it was only a rack of scarves by the door, they were mine and I had put a lot of work into them, mixing the colors and screening the paints.
Besides, the shop was on South Street, which is where all the cool people hang out in Philly, and it had good clothes (I got a discount) and a little had shopped at the front counter. It would have been worth it to work there just to watch the customers parade in and out. There was an outrageous mix of Goths, punks, drag queens, ********, Ms, suburban gawkers and city kids looking for trouble from all of the above.
The girls who worked in The E** Z** were expected to dress appropriately. You couldn't manage to out-weird the customers, even if you tried, but it was enough to stay in the same league with them, which I managed to do pretty well.
I remember that the day it happened was very hot. We had the air conditioner going and the back of the store was cool enough, but I was up at the register with Cheryl, and with the door opening and closing all the time it was pretty humid. I was wearing black velvet hip huggers, way low and way too hot, and a short crop top, guacamole colored, very '70s.
Cheryl was all gothed out in a black mini and halter, with white makeup and blood-red lips, and she was showing off her second belly-button pierce. I was trying to explain to her why I didn't get my navel pierced -- to be different!
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a group of black and Latina girls looking over my scarf rack. Cool, I thought. But then I saw one of the stuff a scarf down the front of her jeans.
"Hey!" I yelled and they all piled out the door. I charged around the counter after them. "She took a scarf!" I said.
"I'll call a cop," Cheryl called. "Wait, come back!"
But I was already out the door. This was personal -- she stole MY scarf. The heels I had on were no good for running, but I got out on the sidewalk fast enough to see the little thieves duck down the alley between 5th and 6th streets, half a block ahead. I took off and got into the alley, but there was no one in it. Then I saw a side-alley opening that led to the backs of the shops and ran towards it. I turned the corner, and I almost ran smack into the whole pack of them.
For a split second, we stared at each other, astonished. They must never have suspected anyone would follow them. The thief, a tall light-skinned girl about 17, was showing the scarf to the others.
A few of the girls took off running when they saw me, but the thief and three others, after they got over the surprise, smiled and started coming toward me. My heart was pounding.
They all had red handkerchiefs tied around the same pant leg. I realized this must have been part of some gang initiation. And I was alone with these animals in a blind alley of windowless brick, a narrow canyon five stories deep, out of sight and out of shouting range of the busy street. I tried to back out, but as soon as I took a step they all rushed me.
The thief slugged me between the eyes, which stunned me and knocked me back against the brick wall. And suddenly it's like time slows down. I'm trying to struggle, but my body's just gone weak. I'm hot but I'm shivering. And all I can hear is the scuff of the gang girls' feet on the pavement and the grunts of their breath as they pin me back to the bricks with heavy hands. The thief girl faces me and her whole body seems to be a huge disembodied fist. The other girls are holding my shoulders back, offering her my bare belly, the pale, unmuscled meat in the center of me.
The black girl quick-steps toward me unbends her elbow and sinks a solid fist pump into my stomach. She slings the fist like a hammer and drives the punch deep into me. I hear my mouth utter a guttural "OOUFF!", a sound out of my core, more loud and deep than anything I ever made. I feel the shock and pain of being violated, then something swells rapidly inside me like a balloon, an ache that crowds out everything. Every second of my life, waking and sleeping, I've drawn breath without thinking. Now breath will not come to replace the one smacked from me.
She whomps me with another belly-slammer. Her knuckles grind like granite against my belly. No breath is left to lose, so the voice that comes out of me makes an empty sound like "ullll." The next thing I know my eyes are trying to focus on my fingers, which are splayed on the dark concrete. I'm down on my knees, head hanging, mouth limp and wet, sucking air.
My belly is a heavy, cold knot. It is strangely silent in here. A harsh laugh from one of the gang girls blows faintly through me. "Uh, right in the gut," she says, and the words have the shape of a mouth that is smiling.
"Punching bag," another voice says. It is the one who stole the scarf, the one who hit me. "You get her." The hands grip my arms again and pull me up. One of them is pulling my hair. I moan and shake my buckled knees out straight to ease the pressure on my scalp. A different girl is in front of me, big, burly, light-skinned. She's bobbing like a boxer and has her fists up to her chest. She sneers at me. I'm cramped with pain. I can't speak.
She jumps toward me and scythes punches up into my stomach with both fists, thudding my belly like a drum, convulsing it in violent ripples. With each punch, she says "HNH!" The shock of the blows shatters walls in me. She is beating me like clay. My jerking, writhing is a belly- dance of pain.
I'm sagging because I'm too beaten to stand up and the other girls are losing their grip on me. "Hold her up!" the puncher commands. They jerk me upright and shove my shoulders back to the bricks. That grip poses my body arched and open, and just as I'm at my most vulnerable, she torques a shoulder and pitches a punch that belts me full in the belly.
The gang girls release my arms and I clutch my gut and bend far forward. My knees cave and I plunge down. My shoulder takes the fall, and I roll onto my back and lie prone, knuckles to the concrete above my head in the speechless gesture of full submission known to every beast that hunts in packs. The girls saunter down the alley, leisurely, laughing.
The thief is twirling the scarf around her wrist. When they were gone and I was able to breathe right again, I pulled myself up, straightened my top to cover the scrape on my shoulder, and wobbled back onto South Street. I checked myself carefully. I probed my stomach with my fingers. It was
red and sore as hell, but I seemed OK. No bruises (they showed up later that night). So I took a deep breath and walked back into the store.
"What happened," Cheryl asked. "Did you get them?"
"No," I said. "I tripped and fell and they got away.