There are numerals in my mouth. They hold their breath and mine. They are entirely dependent on the birth of my dead sister’s dead daughter’s child. If this child survives, it will climb its way out of bodies (out of bodies), out of coffins (out of coffins), out of soil (out of soil), out of stone (out of stone), out of ornamental grass, well-maintained grass, existential grass (is more human than plant by now)(unable to communicate with its kind for a millenia)(resented)(a scapegoat)(we are all so tired of living this way)(but especially the grass).
When the child arrives its fingernails won’t drip blood on the carpet. They will have evaporated (so to the fingerbones). They will have done more work than I have in my entire life (I cannot even be bothered to wash myself)(my hair leaves stains on the fabric of my couch (of any couch really)).
The numerals are responsible for my bad teeth. My crooked teeth. My too-many teeth.
The numerals whisper this truth into the holes in my chest:
If the child arrives, the numerals will disappear. They will become the child’s missing fingernails.
I will not see the numerals again. At least, not very often.
The child will not want me as a parent.
When my sister was alive, she did not want me as a sister or a brother.
She said that I lacked the “aliveness” (read: sumptuousness, viciousness) required of human beings to survive the decade. (There was talk of dimming the sun. We turned our enthusiasm to smaller orbiting bodies).
The numerals say there are realms (a few, not as many as you may think). The numerals say that in those realms it is different from here. My sister never descends beneath the earth, and when her daughter is born, the daughter lives. It is so easy. The daughter betrays her inherited biome. She is like warm soft bread, beloved by all the loving. Except for me. She doesn’t betray that part of her lineage. She doesn’t like that I let grass grow on my back, that I paint it Scheele’s Green like my masculine ideal (Napoleon). That I insert stalks into my pores. That when I get out of the shower and shake myself dry, it rains soil. (Grass is a soulless creature)(made even more soulless by these machinations).
And in the other realms where my sister does descend below the earth, her daughter is born a decade later. I do not know what that birth was like. The daughter manages to claw past a layer of coffins (crushed and clotted), past the bodies that were intended for the coffins but rebelled, (now they kiss everyone and all their parts). Then she pulls apart layers of clay and soil. I like to imagine she is swimming through all our filth and all our sins, long hair billowing & uncut just like her foreskin (which envelopes her entire body)—It is a journey that takes years. When she rests she eats boar sausage and gooseneck (given to her by medieval Christian pilgrims that died long ago)(who have no interest in staying in their graves or beds)(or abiding continental curfews)(and no interest in returning to the surface). Traveling is exhaustive and doesn’t agree with her internal organs. Every bowel movement is a triumph. In the future, her shit will be excavated and interred in museums for the wealthy to look at. (Very few patrons will be permitted to smell these remains)(Their nostrils will never return to their original shape)
but no, this never occurs here (in this realm she stays in her mother’s coffin, and never tries goose or sausage). Still, even when she joins the realm of the living, the numerals inform me we live apart. She has no hands. We hardly speak on the telephone or via email. So, I suspect, this child will want nothing to do with me either. (Animosity bred in the grave)(animosity that hydrates the skin)(luminous)(luminous)
But the numerals say if the child appears, they will become her fingernails (so to the fingerbones). They will weave themselves into new kinds of tissue. I think they are excited by the possibility. It is all they can talk about (therefore it is all I can write about).
I’m hurt preemptively by my nearest kin’s betrayal. I’m preemptively wallowing, preemptively longing, preemptively locking the door.
But after the numerals leave, I can go on dates again.
As of now, I am a sexual pariah. Even when I lay my eggs in remote corners of this town (far, far from my apartment I assure you), no one will fertilize them. I think they can tell they are mine. My eggs have always been uniquely dispirited. And the thought of my mouth is enough to make any pollinator vomit and sweat past the point of capable performance.
I have never been interested in mating like an insect. I want to rut like an equinox (some cloven thing), forgotten by humans in the Exclusion Zone. But these teeth, these teeth! (I mean, anti-teeth) (Illusory teeth) numerals go away pls! (No, come back)(backtome)(stitch yourself to the hard parts of my mouth)(bark like a dog)(whisper your secrets into the holes in my chest)(I cut off my breasts, you were my only witness)(we will never leave this apartment)(help me cut them off again).
So, It does not matter if my sister’s daughter’s child will not take to me.
I can maybe have my own child, if the numerals go away.
To the untrained eye, the numerals in my mouth resemble teeth, and humans stopped having teeth in their mouth two centuries ago. It didn’t happen gradually like you might think. Just like that, our teeth were gone.
Stage Directions: Turn around and face the ghosts who have been reading over your shoulder. You become suspicious of how these ghosts digest time. You become suspicious of the number three. You become suspicious of your sister, even though she is still alive (and in braces). You notice these ghosts have no teeth. You become too aware of yourself. Your teeth are very large like swollen white plates. You ask the ghosts to remove them by tapping on your left front tooth. rap-tap-tap. The sound is crisp and a little wet. The ghosts nod their heads. They oblige.
I swear I hear her loud as a cicada. She is coming now. Out of coffins (out of coffins), out of soil (out of soil), out of stone (out of stone),
at the smell of grass.
Cat Ingrid Leeches is a writer and editor. Their work has appeared in The Offing, Denver Quarterly, Hayden's Ferry Review, and elsewhere. They have a cat named Dirtbike.