Strigoi’s Daughter, by Ibba Armancas
It’s your first time in your father’s country. You want it to feel different, but airports are a local government’s first chance at showing off and this one is as full of glass and screens as any other. There are loading and unloading zones, yellow lines and disinterested officials. The language that lisps over loudspeakers doesn’t strike that sharp, painful note you’d hoped for from a half-forgotten mother-tongue.
You Lyft into the city with a driver whose English is better than yours. He wants to hear what New York is like. You tell him you’re from California; he asks if you know movie stars.
You laugh politely. A layer of skin shucks free in your mouth — a wad of cellophane-tissue that sloughs from the walls of your cheeks, forcing you to swallow or choke. When he stops at your hotel you flee, ignoring the app’s ding in your pocket.
The stink of your father’s kills is strong in the city. You begin to hallucinate; see snatches of him in the opened bellies of feral dogs, the countable ribs of beggar children. You feel each ounce of your flesh as a sin and gag breakfasts into public toilets, doing your best to ignore the thick, inky ropes that come up with them.
You expect to find him in a tower, a castle. Instead, you spend your last sunset breaking into Cold War era public housing. The carpet inside reeks of black mold and rot. He’s chosen one of the smaller apartments. For the first time, stepping inside, you feel a twist in your heart. Against anything he deserves, your eyes prick at the squalor.
Grave dirt and rat corpses litter his bedsheets.
You didn’t realize how much you’d remembered until you see the changes. In your mind he’s still a tall man, harsh and lean, skin sickly beneath the fluorescent lights which were the only way you’d ever seen him. Now, even twilight cannot soften his horror.
“You came.” His face is unrecognizable, a skull robbed of warmth or cruelty, slave to the biological urge riding you both. Rage, old as the knowledge of what you are, rises in you. You’ve been angry for such a very long time.
“I’m dying,” you accuse. There’s a mirror just visible in his bathroom and you see the truth of it. Flesh, wet and hot, drips down your pant-leg.
He lifts his hand, offering life; in it, you see eternities of guilt and repeated mistakes. Almost, when his fingers brush your lips, you summon the courage to run.
Instead, you eat without thinking, ignoring the screams. Arms, legs, clavicle crunching. Your body strengthens. Your jaw aches. His voice, and the voices of those before him, whisper a parasite’s immortality into your bones. His curse descends and you’re whole and sick with it. You’ll never be just yourself again. Through shuttered windows, day’s last light burns your skin red. In your belly, the baby kicks.
Ibba Armancas is a writer/director raised by Italian sword fighters. The daughter of a civil rights lawyer and a terrorist, she jokes that her childhood was a Young Adult novel and does her best to live up to the aesthetic. She lives in Los Angeles and is represented by Conrad Sun of Meridian Artists