The Edge of Brilliance
She walked Amy through the beautiful oak doors behind the receptionist. It was only when those doors slammed shut with an echo-y clang and automatically locked behind her that the chill of realization gripped Amy’s spine and made her jump. Oak veneers hid the fact that those doors were solid steel inside with locks that snapped shut via a remote button at the warden’s desk. And despite the thick taupe carpeting and rich wood veneers everywhere, the clank of that lock bounced off the walls and echoed around the room like a sonic boom. This was prison. Prison. Dress it up all you like, the sound of that lock was final.
Tears leaped up to the backs of Amy’s eyes, but she gritted her teeth and breathed out slowly in response. She was not about to cry because a stupid door slammed. Never.
The blonde woman guided Amy into a small room to the left of the doors. Another, taller, older woman with gray hair that looked like curly steel wool was already seated on a stool in the room.
“Stand up, feet apart. Face me,” said the older woman in a quick, no-nonsense manner. “Lift your arms out straight and stay that way until I tell you to move.”
Amy had to concentrate as hard as she could to make her arms obey.
The younger woman patted Amy down, running her hands through Amy’s hair before moving to shoulders, arms, chest, waist, hips, thighs, legs and feet. As first one place then another on her body was touched, Amy closed her eyes. She needed to block her vision, not speak and stay still. Too much information was pounding into her brain.
“Take off your shoes,” the older woman instructed in that same quiet, authoritative tone. Amy complied.
“Unhook your bra.”
Amy tried to follow the instructions, but her hands shook too violently to manage the hooks. She tried again, but again failed.
“May I?” The younger woman’s eyes offered a softness as her hands hovered close to Amy, awaiting permission.
Amy could not speak, but offered the slightest nod before the young woman unhooked her bra then gently held Amy’s wrists and brought Amy’s hands up to her chest. “Here,” she instructed. “Cover your breasts like this while I take your bra.”
“Now turn your back to me and hold your hands out straight.” Amy didn’t know if she could remain standing much longer—dark flashes were beginning to dance before her eyes and the women’s voices seemed to be backing down a long tunnel.
“Amy? Are you listening?” The voice that broke through was not unkind but seemed to be coming from very far away. “With your back still to me, drop your panties to your ankles and squat down,” commanded the older woman.
The younger woman stepped up again. She remained behind Amy but touched her shoulder. “Drop your panties, honey,” she guided. Then, as Amy complied, she gently but firmly pushed Amy down to the floor.
Amy’s mind circled back to the hundreds of pliés she’d done in dance. Her muscle memory responded with a graceful grand plié until the older woman’s voice jerked her from her dream. “Cough three times.”
“What?” Amy’s daze was so deep that the words were no more comprehensible than if they’d been in Swahili.
“Stay in that position and cough three times.”
There, squatted, her hands covering her breasts, her panties down around her ankles, Amy searched her brain for what the woman wanted from her, what was being asked of her. She desperately wanted to comply with whatever request these people were making, but the meaning was garbled and bouncing around her brain with no place to land.
“Amy, look at me. You need to cough. Like this...” The younger woman was still behind Amy with one hand on her shoulder, but her gentle touch guiding Amy’s chin up to her and sharp coughing sound helped Amy connect the dots and provide the physical response that was being requested.
“Pull your panties up and put these on. You can step behind that curtain.” The younger woman handed Amy a pair of blue scrubs and pointed to a rough green curtain hanging from a rod in the corner of the room. Once dressed, she handed Amy a cup. “There’s the bathroom. Go pee for me and bring it back out here. Oh, and leave the bathroom door ajar, please.”
Amy had to hold the doorjamb to steady herself as she walked into the bathroom. The older woman had left, but the young woman was waiting outside the door when Amy emerged.
“Let me walk you to your room, Amy.”