Life in the No Flex ZoneEsmeralda stores her jewelry in a box on the high closet shelf, trades her paisley sundress for a brown shroud, ties the kerchief tight around illegal curls. Tuesday is shopping day. She could take the steps two at a time, slide down the banister into the bed where floral rainbows used to grow, but a soldier stands across the way, watching, waiting. Cans line the market shelves, black writing on white paper. Plain. Uniform. Esmeralda fills her basket with the week's rations, shows her card to a drab-dressed checkout girl. "Better tuck that back in", the girl says, points to Esmeralda's temple. She does not smile. Smiling makes you look pretty, stand out. Smiling is a flex. Smiling gets you a warning. Esmeralda walks back to her house, locks the door, trades the brown shroud for a bright floral, lets her curls free, pretends the soldiers aren't waiting outside. Watching.
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