‘Hysteria’, Katrina Smith

Illustration © 2019 Fluffgar

 [ Her words bite, © 2019 Fluffgar ] She hasn’t made his lunch. This follows the night they ate delivery for dinner again. They ate it out of the cartons while she and the man fought about laundry and the topic neither mentions by name. The future. The future. The future. She is not sure she wants his future. The morning is still soaked in anger. Now there is no time for lunch, to make a meal out of forgiveness. Now they are late. She is tired. Her teeth sharpen and she pushes against them with her tongue. Her words bite, an ache in the mouth. While he packs his own lunch, the man leans across the counter in his wrinkled shirt and says, “Enough. What is it, that time of the month? That should make you happy.”

She swallows her tongue, plucks hairs in the rearview mirror, goes to work, cools herself in astronomy’s complicated math, measures the spaces between stars, watches the moon swell larger on her lunch break.

Later she remembers a bluestocking great-aunt marching in London, picketboards and speeches and fire in the streets. When she gets home she irons shirts and packs lunches. Which is a fine thing, packing lunches, ironing shirts—the Victorian great-aunt did this for love, or had the maid do this for love, and in any case knew manipulation’s great mysteries to complement her square face and carbon-steel smile. The intractable great-aunt had no children. Her decisions were never questioned.

He’s brought home dinner—his favorite, not hers—the takeout a silent apology in a square box. He thanks her when he sees the shirts hanging starch-straight in the closet. He does not apologize for the morning. He has never understood the insidious context of his insults, the way they connect to every small thing about her womanhood, turn into ground glass that churns her stomach to blood. He is just being honest. She is willfully barren as a plain in winter, as plain and easily forgotten as a childless great-aunt.

For years she has told herself that she sees an insubstantial apology lurking behind his eyes, and he is here—he says the wrong things, he believes in his own superiority so fully that it is a thing innate, like the color of his skin and eyes, the set of his bones—anyway, he is here, and she believes he both loves and hates her, and this is a thing absolute to depend on. Better than loneliness. Better a twinned, cannibalistic binary star than a lone singularity.

Except tonight he called her bitch and she said well maybe I am, so what, surprising herself with the truth of it, how good it felt to take by force the compliment he never meant to give.

Standing in the bedroom, watching him sleep, she feels herself grow tired and restless, wants to howl in time with the pulse of her own heartbeat. Her arms jangle loose at the joints, rattle against their sockets. A glint of yellow in the depths of her eyes. Hormones flush the hair loose from her pores. Downstairs in the kitchen the leftover lo mein stinks, and she rubs her nose and flushes with rage and tears. She is changing now for good. She is sure of this. The lushness of the moon rides in her hips and thighs and bones, the capricious bite of tides that continually spool and unspool the red thread of her potential.

In a past long-shrouded by mist she believes her greatest of great-grandmothers wielded fire, had danced pale and trembling on a low, green plain underneath the goddess moon, lain with lovers of her choosing and transformed them into the beasts their natures showed them to be. She bore proudly the sting of holly at her breast. Such a woman hides in my blood, she thinks, a long-haired, long-limbed sorceress, golden and free against the white snow and absolute black of a prehistoric sky. Such a woman would have known what to say to such a man as this.

Maybe there is nothing left to say to such a man as this.

She wonders if the words he spits like stones have a counterpart, a softness, hiding in the dark of his closed mouth. What else she might take.

He wakes as she rises above him. Her hands push into his chest, her fingernails—grown long and thick—slicing delicate incisions, a quiet flaying of skin from bone and sinew. As her teeth bend to throat, he shakes and arches below. Her armaments flex. She trembles with newfound strength and cracks the casement of his breastbone. His heart, a muscle, beats like a bird at the cage of her clawed hand. She checks each corner of him for hidden meaning. She feasts.

In the end he wasn’t wrong about the time of the month. She does hear the moon calling, chaos rising and falling like breath in her blood, this vengeance the beginning of something new.

© 2019 Katrina Smith

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