by Ellis Bergstresser
"Don’t touch me!"
Shrill, accented words stilled the babble of late-morning trolley passengers, drawing eyes to the altercation.
I turned from the window where wisps of steam rose from storm-soaked cobblestones, ascending towards the emergent sun like snakes charmed from their nest. A girl - surely too young to bear - backed her swollen belly from a matron’s reach. Offended, the woman snatched her hand back, as though it were a gift, rejected. "Meh! No manners! Ouisay!"
The girl flinched under the slur, did not concede. Her words became formal: "Grandmother. Please. Don’t touch. Demont."
Demont. The venom of fear coursed my blood.
In her ignorance unimpressed, the matron turned, arms crossed over a wasted bosom. "As though I could sully you." She spat the epithet again: sibilant, low.
The girl flushed, looked away, perhaps believing herself armored by the affront she’d given. She did not see the matron’s hand snake out, seeking to strike. To win.
I rose as the old woman fell, convulsing, swathed in an aura of fire.
The trolly ground to a halt amid sparks and the screams of brakes and passengers. I used the inertia, propelled myself up and forward as others were thrown to the floor.
Shoving the matron’s corpse aside, I looked to the girl. The spark within her glowed red and yellow, brilliant with fresh energy.
Even knowing it was - momentarily - sated, I could not bring myself to touch her. I could only whisper: "Ailshalla. My sister. We must go."