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by Jessica Berger


(after L’Age d’Or)

I. Along the tail, we can see them: plated joints, connections curling skyward, the single head of a hydra, a dragon taken apart and stitched mercilessly to a lesser insect. You correct me here: an arachnid. You say this as if it matters, as if the correction prevents me from hearing the creature’s movement, each footfall a klaxon’s blare, the sound of an eventual victory, the roar of the men, women, children who would celebrate its success, the inevitable landing of a strike; its penetration of an exposed foot, a centimeter of flesh. They want us to fail, I say, reminding you, looking at your face, the places I could call you ugly, seeing this and imagining, only, the swollen tongues of clergy who would celebrate my corpse, who would tell them all they were right, we deserved to fail. All of them believe it means something different, something more when you spit a life sentence in Latin.



You point to the scorpion. You tell me, some of these things, love, belong to nature. What I hear you say is that our death belongs to nature.


II. I could have slapped your mother. I could have slapped your father, too. I would have slapped the cheek of every blood relative you have, every in-law and second cousin, every spectral ancestor, every prying neighbor if you’d asked me to. When each one of them turns a cheek at my blow I would slap them again to make the stinging balanced. There are reasons for this. There is the way these people announce their arrival in our home, my space, throwing their weight around in a way that feels like a splattering of fat, an intrusion of bodies made bigger by egos, words that bait and bite and drip with condescension. This is not—they tut—the way to do things. This is not the way they would have it. They are better, more perfect people who carry out the same thing you chose to do in a better, more perfect way. They would like, very much, if you could figure out how to be better, more perfect, if you could do the thing you have just done again, in a way that is better, more perfect. If I could be better, more perfect. If I, actually, could be replaced by something better, more perfect. I could have slapped them but know this would only serve to connect me to them. This is how a sting works: it kills you faster than it hurts them.


III. Sometimes, on Sundays, I experience a collapse, an implosion I have difficulty speaking to. Once I called it an immolation, but that was the wrong word. I told you it comes from the outside, but there are days this is not so, when sturdy facades are compromised not by a shove, a spoon-triggered cracking of surfaces, but from a void, a corruption of space, a pocket of air building, suddenly, to a vacuum capable of sucking up all that lets me know I’m human, everything that binds me to you, everything you think you see in me.


I am not what you defend me as being, nor am I exactly what they think I am.


I have heard you say I am difficult to get to know. I have heard I am not as bad as I sometimes seem, not as prickly or inhuman, not as inclined to favor my own whims above all else as—some have said—I appear to be. I have heard there is debate as to whether I should be called carnal or frigid, fragile or already broken, intellectual or simply programmed, and what’s most strange is that these words mean nothing.


Sometimes, on Sundays, you know you are right in a way, that I am not “as bad” but certainly much worse. Sometimes, on Sundays, you see you will never know me. You know we do not, perhaps, even like each other. Or, I should say, you know, at least, what we call love is not what you were always told it would be.


It’s too late, though. I have already touched everything in this room.


IV. In a recurring dream, you run off with my mother. Or, more specifically, you bring her to me, to us, to our home. You embrace in front of me in a way that appears innocent at first, like a comfort, like you are mourning though I sit shadowed on the loveseat, watching with a cup of coffee you have poured for me and told me to hold, stock still, in anticipation of the main event.


My mother coos to you, murmurs over your body repeated reassurances that become chants. The words she speaks are words arriving in an order she has spoken only to me, no one else. It’s a betrayal, one that itches, one that finds me waking as though I have been bitten, repeatedly, by unseen sprites. In the dream she does not see me. Her betrayal is blind, a laying out of collaged words we share ownership to, not knowing I am here, that you have glamoured me, just to watch, to see what you could do to me, to see you as able to take that which has made me feel most safe and bend it to your will, too, to prove you can hurt me, that it is possible. And I am buried to the neck in the sand. And if you dig me up you will find that I am tethered, still, to twin pianos far, far deeper beneath the earth.


V. You have spared nothing to pervert me, degrade me, to demolish in me all the false notions with which I may already have been punch drunk, dizzy. You have wanted me to be a criminal, such as I am, as supposedly debauched, as blandly depraved, as obnoxious, as terrible, as toxic, as cold as they say. You tell me this is what, actually, I have done to you, that I have stripped my house down to little more than specks of dust and paint chips in an effort to do the same to yours. When we say these things it’s unclear what we mean. When we are demolished, what is left standing? What will we rebuild in its place? What is left for us to pick up, for us to use to pin feathers to the flesh of our backs until we become holy? How will we succeed in this stubborn act of walling ourselves into this crypt together until we are only hair and fingernails? How will we manage? We have already removed our bones.

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Jessica Berger is a Chicago-based fiction writer as well as an editor with Grimoire and Always Crashing Magazine. Her work has been featured in Ninth Letter, Barrelhouse, The Spectacle, Maudlin House, Dream Pop Journal, and elsewhere.


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