Trigger warning: The following string of vignettes feature explicit, potentially distressing language. The story, characters, and incidents portrayed in this piece are fictitious.
These are my earliest memories: Through the keyhole I see a woman sobbing, her body convulsing and twitching on the floor like she’s seizing. Her face is warped and flushed blood red, but I can still tell she’s my mom. Her tears charge the atmosphere, make it thick and stale. I called it heavy air, so dense I thought my lungs might rupture. My hand grips the doorknob until my knuckles turn angry white, bones about to tear through flesh. But then, I hear footsteps banging up the stairs. Like the coward I am, I run back into my room before he reaches the top step.
Those years gorged themselves on rituals. Normal ones: brushing teeth, combing hair, and praying. Then our family specials: his raised voice, mom and her sorrys, the ringing sound of hard contact against skin, and cold metal on my cheek and needles in my knees. These patterns are a tattoo that set the pace of my heart. They etch themselves into my gray matter, grooves where the needle gets stuck and my childhood record skips and repeats. Soon I had my own customs: grinding teeth, pulling hair, and praying so hard that my palms hurt and my arms shake.
My tongue has gone dead raw with all the times I’ve scrubbed my mouth with bitter soap. I want to speak of it aloud, scream it until my throat goes numb and her eardrums shatter. But, it’s a poison we hold between our teeth. One false move of the lips and it’s swallowed. Our hazy nightmare becomes a sharp, fine-tuned reality. Still, I am losing patience. The rage that has licked at my guts for only him now burns for her too.
The sight of pushed women is scratched into my cornea–pushed into walls, into bed, into staying. I wait for her to push back but she’s still almost corpse-like. One day, I slice her open to see what’s made her go stiff. I thought I’d see lead or even an insect pin pushed through her sternum. I find nothing. All is in order, from the breast tissue down to her uterus. I want to turn the scalpel on myself, pry open my flat chest, but I am afraid. After all, I am my mother’s daughter.
Freakish curves dig into my girlhood body and I feel the presence of men other than his. Their eyes prick my skin and with each glance comes more of the honeyed blood I know they crave. Some call out to me, wetting their lips with forked tongues. If I look closely I see their intestines tied to his. I am not fooled. I am not her. I will peel away the film that clings to her even if I tear off my own skin. All my parts will be made firm and cold and mean. I’ll be so detached that I can’t help but float up and out of myself.
I choose him because we are strangers and will never see each other again. Where did I even meet him I don’t remember but it doesn’t matter because there’s alcohol on his breath. I am afraid because I’ve never done this and because he might kill me. I don’t care anymore. He tells me that his girlfriend knows that he doesn’t believe in love and that it will hurt but not to worry for he’ll be gentle. He pushes me into his flat and then I’m on my back. I feel like I’m dying but he doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. He keeps on enjoying himself. I dig my nails into the bed sheets and force my eyes to look into the lights until I can’t make out light from dark. He is heavy on top of me and I imagine him leaving technicolor bruises as gifts. We are mortar and pestle, and I’m being grounded into nothing.
It doesn’t hurt anymore after that; my body shot through with Novocain. My back turns to steel and is just as weighty. They all linger. Even after they’ve crawled off me, their stench burrows into my nostrils and their touch is seared into my skin. They all leave. Before I can even shut my eyes, they’re up in smoke, launched back into the ether. I am drowning in my sickly sweet freedom.
There are always complications. Cracks ripple across my skin now and then, and some of them slip through, almost unnoticed–almost. My ears go deaf to sweet nothings. My eyes go blind to dashing gents. My fingertips are deadened when I reach out to touch them. I am a woman stuck within herself.
One stayed. He held me even when night left and sunlight spilled into the room. My flesh isn’t enough for him and I am glad. I want my voice to press into him, I want to know that I’m heard. For years I’ve grown swollen and here he is, lancet in hand. Maybe all that rotten pus is ready to come bursting out, squeezing out the remnants of my past. But each time he draws near, his breath warms my cold shoulder and tears run down my flushed, red cheeks. I breathe in my heavy air, so dense I think my lungs might rupture.