The Cure

The first leaf, bright green, springs forth between her eyebrows and Brienne stares at it in confusion. What in the world?

She goes after it with the tweezers but it won’t budge. It doesn’t hurt to tug at it, exactly, but it doesn’t move, either. She might as well be trying to tweeze off her nose.

If she had the money—if she had the insurance—she’d go and get it looked at, but she doesn’t, so she doesn’t. She puts on sunglasses and pretends she has awful headaches and hopes no one notices. If they do, they’re too polite to say anything.

After a month or so it’s gotten too big for those tricks, so she calls in sick—they’re not happy—and she really goes after it, because what else can she do? She wraps her hand around the base of the leaves and pulls.

It’s not pleasant—it’s awful—but her skin parts around the root and she’s left holding the firm red weight of a radish. Brienne stares at it, her mouth watering in anticipation.

What Is United Must Dissolve

In bed and the hammer descends, shattering you awake. “Oh, fuck,” you say, and then you can’t do anything but quiver.

The edge of the bedside table is right there, right there, and you’re plagued with visions of how easy it would be to flex and crack the eggshell of your skull against it. Your eyes, mere jellies, could catch on the corner and pop pop pop! It’s a seductive vision, the Lear of your body hapless before the Goneril of your mind, take that, and you quiver with the desire and the fear, both.

Your every muscle is a high-wire act, strung possibly tight between buildings, and it’s only that tension that keeps you safe. Your traitor hands are ready to lunge for your condemned eyes, your exiled cheeks, but they’re far, so far away, and the whole country of you is in active revolt.

Faster Than The Wind

The cats fell in love with the revolutionary, and refused to beat him in a foot race.

So the first thing you have to understand was that it was a different time; tastes were more baroque. The second thing you have to understand is this: the cats were on specially designed lightweight stilts, to give them legs as long as a human’s. The third thing you have to understand: everyone loved the revolutionary. There were none purer in their dedication to the noble cause of freedom. The racing was a distraction, a way to bring some joy in those dark times. How the stadiums would fill to watch the long-legged revolutionary sweep around the track!

The cats had known the revolutionary since they were kittens, and were no less immune to their righteous charms. They always gave a good race, were always close on the revolutionary’s heels, but still: it was obvious. The revolutionary was proud, and would liefer a fair loss than a string of empty victories, so this stung. A person you could talk to, but what can you say to a cat? A cat goes its own way.

So the revolutionary hatched a plan, for once one with stakes no higher than their own pride. How full the stadium was on race day! how bright were the stilts beneath the cats! how joyously they purred when the revolutionary stroked their heads! The revolutionary knew every inch of the track, so this time, coming into the blind corner around the quarter mark, they threw themselves down behind some bushes that grew there. Fast, so fast: if you blinked, they all but disappeared. The stadium roared in surprise.

The cats were no less startled than the smallest child in the stands. Had he gotten that far ahead of them? They put their ears back and charged after. The revolutionary gave them a length, then sprang from behind the bushes and gave chase. The cats were determined to catch up, and never looked back, and the revolutionary, running flat out, couldn’t come close. The distance between them lengthened.

The cats blew past the finish line, and, not seeing the revolutionary, kept going around the track. They caught up to them in the final stretch, and stayed close on their heels until the finish line. A lap ahead, but dutifully just behind; the cats never did quite understand the purpose of these races.

The revolutionary finished the race, and the stadium wept with laughter; laughter and forgetfulness were rare in those days. The revolutionary laughed no less than anyone else: better a fair loss than an unearned victory! But all the same, they never raced a cat again.

Still, you can’t say it didn’t end happily: the cats were content enough to stay at home and curl up on their bed, and wait for the revolution to come.

Delivery

What she learns, Colleen, later on, is that swallowing is the easier part. By then her throat, her jaws, her muscular stomach have grown hard and used to the unsteady traffic of billiard balls, live frogs, hat pins, human hair, soap bars, steel wool, razor blades. Going down is—not easy, never easy, nothing is easy anymore—but a practiced sequence of contractions. She is tough as nails, and her teeth are sharp and honed on tin cans.

It’s the return that gets her, still. Down, she’s working with gravity, at least, and there’s a pleasant tidiness to a table cleaned down to the boards. Up, though; she burns with the strain, aches to split herself open directly instead of passing a week’s worth of assorted garbage through the unready flex of her mouth.

She locks her teeth against the inevitable, but the six ball won’t be denied. Colleen jackknifes and deposits a whole pool set on the bedspread.

Cauled Home

Short days and long nights: you grow even pastier than usual in a light filtered almost entirely through a thin film of water. “You must love it here,” chuckles one of the others, digging an over-familiar elbow into your ribs for the last time.

True enough, you suppose (pause to wipe your lips clean, your chin, your jaw, your neck—you’ll need to replace that shirt now); there’s definitely more room here, more time, more empty corners waiting to be filled, but you find yourself missing the sun somehow more here, rather than less. At least elsewhere you could fret about what you couldn’t have. Here you can stare directly up at the sky at noon and see only a vaguely brighter patch of indifferent sky. It’s all so unsatisfying.

Then too is the cold. You’re always cold, regardless of the weather, but there’s something about the insistent watery chill here that plagues your dreams with images of decay: the eye of a possum misting over, a mouse mildewed into the upholstery of a car seat, mushrooms growing from the corpse of a fallen tree. You pick at your skin obsessively, terrified of moss taking root, of lichen blooming out of some disregarded crack.