by Liz McShane
CW: Graphic Violence and Gore
Cold. My body is rigid with it. I slide up against the slimy boundary of my womb. I twist to the side and a sharp object stabs my chest. My fingers tingle at the onset of pain. I open my mouth to scream but no sound comes. I grip the shard and, ignoring the way it cuts into my hands, rip it out of my chest, inadvertently causing the gash to widen. My head, hands and chest all throb. Pain and rage. I thrash about the walls of my womb. My body jolts as the shard penetrates the boundary. Fear and anticipation take hold as I catch my first glimpse of light before the leathery walls collapse. I claw forward, dragging my weak and heavy body into the light. I breathe, but my chest tightens. I do not want to leave the sanctity of the womb, though I am unsure why. It is this confusion that urges me forward, and I sprawl out onto the hard, cold ground.
I roll onto my back. I am surrounded by dark shiny sacs, their pungent odours thickening the air. I wonder if there are others like me. Still gripping the shard, I drag myself to the nearest sac, slash it open and watch urine soaked sheets, glass fragments and a multitude of containers sealed in plastic bags spill out. I drop the shard and collapse on my back. A light rod dangles by its hinges above me. It sparkles and spits electricity and light down on me. Mould is the only source of life in this small room. It clings to the faded blue cement walls that are otherwise decorated with webs long deserted by their hosts. On the far side of the room is a door; its windows have been barred with planks of wood. I curl my leg up beneath me and stretch out my hand. I stand for the first time. I stagger toward the door, away from the multitude of sacs, away from my womb.
As I enter the hall I am startled by a figure walking towards me. We both stop and eye each other. It is tall and naked. Female. Her eyes are colourless and patches of hair are spread about her reddened scalp. Her bones are visible through gaps of pulsating muscle, her breasts firm with unfinished growth. Most of her chest has been torn away, leaving nothing but hollow darkness. She is limp in stature, but her torn and bloodied hands are strong. We simultaneously clench fists. We step forward and reach out to each other. Our fingers curl as they bounce off an invisible wall that divides us.
‘You’re not like other people.’
I turn around, startled by a distant crackling and bitter masculine voice. At the end of the hallway, leaning against a wall by a makeshift fire, is an Old Man, stooped over and shrouded under a thick blanket. He stumbles and coughs as He points at me. I realise His attention is drawn toward the room from which I came. I mimic His glance as He reads the sign that hangs above the doorway.
‘Hazardous waste.’ He laughs and I study the letters. ‘You reek of death. I can smell it from here.’ He lunges at me and grips me in a tight embrace. He forces me to turn so that I face the equally tormented female, who has the same captor as—
‘Yes, take a good look at yourself. You may have saved one life but you’ve ruined mine.’
So this is what I am. She is me. I am strong. I am beautiful.
‘You ugly thing. You monster.’ He pulls me forward and grips me by the neck. I clutch at His arms, gasping for air. He drags me towards the small fire.
‘That child grew into a happy, healthy and, let’s be honest,’ he says, laughing, ‘easy on the eye young woman, and what thanks do you think I get for saving her life? For a revolutionary medical breakthrough? Paid long-term leave and then they close the entire hospital down behind my back.’
He loosens his embrace and cups His hands on my breasts. ‘I have you to thank. I may have created you, but you were the one who was determined to survive. But, for what?’ His body trembles and He lets His head rest on the dip of my shoulder. ‘They threw you away with the rubbish and boarded up the door. They tried to throw me out with you, but I wouldn’t leave. I’ve waited.’ He pushes me and I fall at his feet. He picks up a half-empty bottle and knocks it against the wall. It smashes, the liquid spraying the fire and igniting a flame that envelops His legs.
His skin bubbles and pops. He screams and drops the bottle. I reach for it and gash behind His leg, bringing Him to His knees. I become mesmerised by the crimson life pulsating out of His arteries. I bring my lips to His leg. My body warms as blood rushes to my head and floods it with the memories of a dying god.
The mould has dispersed from the walls, replaced with vibrant blue tones. Anxious families and men clad in white coats fill the hall. I’m drawn to one particular couple, their hands entwined and entangled with rosary beads. The woman murmurs between sobs, and I crouch down to hear her cry, ‘Eve.’
The love I can almost taste.
I belong with her.
They gaze up toward closed doors, their faces a mess of fear and anticipation. I walk through the wall and find myself in a large operation chamber. A flurry of white coats flutters about a table. I cannot see past the mess of white and red but I know it is a young girl lying on that table. One of the white figures passes through me. He pauses for a moment and turns so his face almost touches mine. It is Him – the one whose blood flushes my veins. A female emerges from a side door and walks towards Him, clutching a silver tray. A slathering of skin. A large flask of blood. Another female emerges with another tray, and I find myself wandering through the doorway from which they came.
Lying on a bare steel slate. Blood being drawn away down thick tubes. A clatter of knives and other implements hang off the torso. It is distorted. It is me.
His deafening cries bring me back to the present. I silence them by bringing the shard to His throat and suckle the last drops from His neck.
I am standing outside a house. He stands in the shadow, gripping the white picket fence and watching the happy couple push a small girl on a swing by the front porch. They are surrounded by a garden of flowers set against a house magnificently dressed with broad arched windows and stark red brick walls. I watch as the man and woman help the girl down from the swing and give her kisses that should have been mine, embraces owed to me, and whisper tender words I alone deserve to hear.
My throat clenches and I vomit up blood. I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, lie down next to Him and stare up at curled paint on the decaying ceiling. I turn to the side so our faces meet; His is contorted with the pain of His death. The last trickle of warmth leaves my body. I pick up the shard and walk toward the exit.
I saunter along the city streets, blanketed in darkness. Weeds have burst through the concrete paths. Houses are boarded up and dark, lifeless. An older woman bends forward more than would be her nature and, holding a cloth over her mouth, shakes her head.
I am different.
The further I walk away from the hospital, the more the aura of neglect dissipates and people are less scarce. I become nonchalant with the predictability of disenchanted glares and catcalls from onlookers. I walk for miles before recognising the house I saw in His mind’s eye. The picket fence is still pure white. I open the gate and walk up the path. The swing is rusted.
I knock on the door.
Light streams under the doorway and the handle turns. A woman appears, dressed in a floral dress. Her eyes are dark brown like well-nourished soil and she smells sweet as the flowers in their beds. Her eyes and mouth are creased from a lifetime of smiles. She is not smiling now.
‘What are you doing here?’ Her voice is soft. I step forward to embrace my mother and she steps back. She looks me up and down. Her eyes lower. ‘You don’t belong here.’ Her hand trembles as she closes the door.
I walk over to the swing and sit, losing myself in the grief of her indifference. Time passes before the door is reopened and I stand, hopeful. A young woman emerges. I catch my breath at the sight of her strong firm legs, slender waist and glossy black hair. She leaves through the gate, unaware of my presence. I follow.
The base of my spine cracks with each step, while she stands tall. My muscles and bones are contorted and at the mercy of the harsh wind while hers are wrapped in a beautiful sheet of delicate beige skin. Beautiful. She is the one they wanted. Eve.
We descend under a bridge into darkness. I pull her by her perfectly groomed locks and she falls back onto the shard. Blood spills from a slit in her face. She lies on the ground, barely conscious. I bring the full weight of my elbow down on her head and her eyes roll about the top of their lids. She trembles as I part the slit with my fingers and pull, widening the tear until a sheet of facial skin comes free. I bring the piece to my face and it moulds perfectly to its new host. I pick up a rock and wipe foam away from her mouth before bringing the stone down on her teeth. As each tooth becomes free she lets out a groan, each quieter than the one before. I embed the teeth into my mouth and set about stripping the rest of her skin. The pain I had become accustomed to fades as the sheets of skin cover the gaping hole in my chest and the muscles heal. I slide the shard across her forehead, freeing the hair from the scalp. She lies limp. I fasten the hair to my scalp, but the coldness of my existence is still present. I kneel down beside her and bring my lips to the source of her bleeding and drink the remainder of her life.
Warmth. My body is flushed with it.
‘Honestly, I don’t know why you insist on eating cereal. It’s all sugar, Evie.’ I look up from the magazine article I’m not reading about the secret to a slim sexy body to see Mother standing in the doorway. ‘Your thighs will only get bigger.’ Her floral perfume lingers as she picks up my half-eaten bowl of cereal and carries it to the sink. I watch as she preens in front of the hallway mirror. ‘Are you still going to personal training? Do you need any money so you can go to a few extra sessions?’ She doesn’t wait for an answer. She drops a few notes on the hallway table on her way out the door.
My backpack is slipping from my shoulders as I try to briskly walk the last few metres to uni without spilling my coffee.
“You should smile more,” a stranger says to me as he passes.
Liz McShane has been published in Other States of Mind, Gargouille, Voiceworks, Dot Dot Dash and Even More Poems to Make You Puke. She blogs about YA at lizkatemcshane.wordpress.com and Tweets about YA, Buffy, mental health, Disney and llamas at @Liz_McShane.