“Hold on to your father,” her mother instructed.
Liza grabbed onto her father’s sleeve, feeling the familiar brass buttons of his autumn coat: a new season with the same protocol as any other. “When can I go to school alone?”
“Elizabeth, we’ve been over this multiple times. You’re eight years old and they’ll always find you. People are dangerous.”
The special privileges Liza received didn’t make up for the limits set on her entire life.
The small family got on the train and Liza’s father ushered her to a seat near the door. “A quick exit,” he always explained.
The first ten minutes of the ride were relatively quiet. Liza was pretty sure two men snapped a picture on their phone, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.
Then a squirrely looking middle aged woman walked through the doors. She took one look at Liza and her expression looked hungry.
Liza’s mother wrapped her arm around her daughter. “Keep your distance,” she warned.
The woman’s eyes flickered before she attempted to regain a calm gaze. “Oh, I don’t mean any harm. She is a beautiful young girl.”
Liza’s father, usually the more polite one, responded with a quick “thanks.”
The rest of the ride was silent but Liza could feel the woman’s gaze shifting up and down her body. She wore her gold dress that day because it was Monday and she liked to dress vibrantly on sad days. As the ride progressed, she regretted standing out.
At their stop, the three stood up and cautiously proceeded toward the door, which meant walking past the peculiar woman.
Almost out of her reach, but not far enough.
She grabbed onto Liza and pulled her close, rubbing her face in her hair and breathing heavily. “You are so precious.”
Liza’s mother tried to pull her daughter away. “Let her go! She’s just a child.”
Liza’s father was finally able to yank her away. The rest of the passengers remained in their seats, snapping pictures without shame.
Liza didn’t react. Her body froze when the woman grabbed her, and by the time she got to her classroom, she felt no closer to thawed.
People had been grabbing her her entire life, trying to take in her scent, her feel. Once, a girl only a little older than her licked her face.
She was jolted out of her trance by the sound of clawing on the classroom window. She snapped her head around and saw the woman pressing her face to the window.
“Polaris!” she screamed through the thick glass.
Liza’s teacher gazed wearily at the woman as she called security. “Yes, room 202, again,” she spoke into the phone.