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Dois Irmãos by Hannah Storm


In a good flash, every word counts. No description is extraneous in Hannah Storm’s “Dois Irmãos.” Settings provide more than backdrop to the story that unfolds: a large city, an unexpectedly small hotel room, an out-of-the-way restaurant, a luxury apartment, a shower stall. From the beginning, they are fraught with danger. The Brazilian warns her not to sightsee alone in a city “unsafe for girls like me.” She envies the innocence of other tourists. “Now I am scared to visit these places I have dreamed of all these years.” At the restaurant, women in sequins and feathers dance the samba, the Brazilian’s friend stares at her “with eyes that look like fish that is no longer fresh,” and “drips of blood and wine” stain the white tablecloths. The Brazilian’s apartment is blindingly white, “clinically clean.” On display in the glass shower stall, “nothing can clean” her. The flash is framed by two glimpses of the hill known as Dois Irmãos overlooking Rio; on second mention the meaning has shifted, the true danger revealed.

In her author’s note, Storm writes about post-traumatic stress disorder and reclaiming control of traumatic memories through writing. In this flash, the series of spectacles controlled by the Brazilian are reversed through writing: she frames the pictures, he becomes the spectacle.  —CRAFT

Content Warning: sexual assault


 

There’s a hill in Rio that overlooks the water, named for the fact it has two peaks. You describe it to me, but I don’t catch its name as you take my breasts in your hands, nuzzle my neck and I inhale your expensive eau de cologne. I feel the weight of you. Your hair is dark against the sheets, your body bronzed where mine is pale, and I imagine you bathed in sunshine, remember how you told me when we met that you spent your days surrounded by celebrity, courted by cameras. How I was different. Your turn to seduce. But your touch is not quite as tender as those early expectations. And your words become warnings. You tell me about the favela on the slopes of the hill, warn me not to go there. It is not the only place you suggest I steer clear of in this city of yours, which you say is unsafe for girls like me. Your kisses steal my questions and I do not ask why you invited me here, why you chose this small room for me to stay in. I do not share my disappointment with you that this not the kind of hotel I would have picked. You lie across my small bed because in this room there is nowhere else to drape yourself. Your white linen shirt is open too low and wisps of curly brown hair creep from the space where the buttons should be. After you have fucked me, you tell me you have a girlfriend, that she is famous. We both are, you say. Because of this, you have to leave the hotel by the back door. Because of this we cannot be seen together alone. The media here go wild for stories like this, you tell me, as if I know nothing about the media, as if I have not been a part of this industry for a decade. Before you leave by the hotel’s back entrance, I do not ask why you invited me here, why you did not tell me you were not available until you had availed yourself of me. Now I am scared to visit these places I have dreamed of all these years. I follow the well-trodden paths, stick to the streets where the lights shine bright. I stand beneath the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer and watch people soar like birds with wings strapped to their backs and I wish it was this easy. I take the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf, watch the sweet innocence of the tourists who are here to see this place through their own eyes, not mine, and I look out across the bay and know why the explorers who named this place made their mistake. I see you again, once or twice, never alone. Before I leave, you invite me to a lunch with friends. It’s not walkable you say. Very little is. If only you knew where I had walked before I met you. I travel with you by car through streets, further and further away from the places I have learned to recognise in your absence. The restaurant is a churrascaria. You tell me this means barbecue. I watch the waiters slide between the tables. They pay no attention to the women who dance samba, whose sequins and feathers, turquoise and green, remind me of exotic birds, who catch my eye but not the eyes of the others who are used to this place. We drink wine and after we have finished eating and drinking, I realise the dancers have already slid into the shadows and the waiters have somehow stripped the table of the memory of the meat and the drips of blood and wine that stained the white linen cloths that remind me of your clothes. And we emerge blinded by the sunlight and you slip behind your designer glasses and your friend slips into the seat next to me and I know that I do not like this because he stared at me the whole meal, as the waiters slid the meat from the skewers, with eyes that look like fish that is no longer fresh. The iron gates of your apartment block open and we breeze past the security guard, up and up in the lift until we emerge into the light again, white walls so bright, clinically clean. Here you force me to the floor and fuck me as your friend watches me, his eyes more alive than they have been this whole time. Afterwards, you make me shower in a glass cubicle where you can both see me and where I know that water is thinner than blood, and nothing can clean me or come between you. As I leave, I glance at the photographs of you with your famous friends, and you pull me to you, kiss me, point up to the place you told me not to go, and remind me the hill’s name means two brothers.

 


HANNAH STORM has been a journalist for two decades, and now writes CNF to process her experiences, and flash fiction inspired by some of her experiences travelling the world. She’s been published online and in print and placed in several competitions. She lives in the UK with her husband and two children, runs a media charity, and also works as a freelance media consultant. Her debut flash collection will be published in 2021 by Reflex Fiction. She is also working on a memoir.

 

Author’s Note

I have always written, but it’s not until recently that I really recognised the role writing plays in my life.

As a journalist, I have researched and reported on the lives of other people for two decades. I have been privileged to have a ringside seat for moments that have carved themselves into the consciousness of countries and communities. I have been fortunate to make friends with extraordinary humans and become familiar with places I might never have known, were it not for my work.

At the same time, I spent years wanting to write about my own experiences. A few years ago, I started to write flash fiction. I also wrote the first draft of a novel loosely inspired by my journalism experiences. Much of that writing was done on planes and in airports, or in hotels between meetings: those moments of transition as I travelled the world became the places where I found I was most able to make sense of things.

The last few months have put the brakes on those moments and movements and I’ve struggled to write fiction. And yet a different kind of writing for me has accelerated: creative nonfiction and memoir.

When the pandemic started, I worked remotely with a therapist to process my past experiences, to jigsaw together the moments I had suppressed from times in my life where I had been hurt. I couldn’t speak as openly about some of my experiences as I might have done in a face-to-face therapy session because I felt hampered by my computer and the fact others were always in my house.

My therapist encouraged me to revisit moments, to write about them and then to write about them again. I started to create a narrative to help me recover from the shame I felt and the symptoms I experienced with post-traumatic stress disorder. I started to build my own memoir and the words kept coming.

Although it had taken me more than a decade to do so, I’d already written something of my experience of sexual assault linked to my media work. However, I had not gone into detail about the experiences of my rape—partly out of fear and shame, partly because of the context in which I was writing, and partly because every time I returned to Rio in my mind, something was missing.

Trauma messes with memories. It suppresses and compresses time and experiences, so that they become buried and hard to excavate. By writing about them and revisiting them, I have been able to start to understand more of what happened to me, to find my own voice.

One day, I decided to trace my time in Rio through walking the city’s maps online, and it was then I really remembered what happened back on that December day in 2005. It was then that I remembered the hillside that formed the backdrop to my experience, recalling its name, and how it represented the vast gulf between the rich and poor in this city back then, and I realised how that name framed my experience, and the abuse of power by someone I trusted.

I wrote and I wrote and the words poured out of me. I wrote about how I stood in my rapist’s shower, watched by him and his ‘brother’, feeling like I would never be clean. My words flowed from me, a cleansing catharsis, painting a picture on the page. I wrote quickly and my story came out almost as you see it now. This time, I was in charge and I started to feel the shame wash away. I knew that this was my truth and my way of reclaiming something taken from me. I sent my story that same night to CRAFT and it was greeted with such care and love by the editors, that I knew I had finally found my words. I’m now almost finished with the memoir of my experiences—of which “Dois Irmãos” is a part. It’s been a long journey, painful in parts, but I have finally written what I have been wanting to write for so very long, and in doing so, I know this is my truth, and hopefully it helps others know they are not alone.

 


HANNAH STORM has been a journalist for two decades, and now writes CNF to process her experiences, and flash fiction inspired by some of her experiences travelling the world. She’s been published online and in print and placed in several competitions. She lives in the UK with her husband and two children, runs a media charity, and also works as a freelance media consultant. Her debut flash collection will be published in 2021 by Reflex Fiction. She is also working on a memoir.