What you remember first is the first time she showed her teeth to you. You expected something less than that and it stuck. If you could have touched it, it would have smeared a bit on your knuckles like honey does. The first thing they want to know is how she always knew. Well.
All the blades had been painted to match the handle. That was the first clue. She had pictured it being windowless but it was even worse than that. Pitch-black and tight like a chrysalis, but in permanence and superfluous in cruelty. Pitch-black. The first time passivity took over, her jaw shut tight on instinct but she had practiced relaxing it so it would first open, then pop. It would fall back into its natural stasis: that little half grin in which she bit her tongue to stop the grating and then fell into its final full relaxed half smile. The first time she showed her teeth to you, you obliged.
Stuck at the entrance, it was the ground that eventually moved her. Something shook and then something skewered her shoulder. The cut was quick and bit as it landed in her flesh. It was the sharpness of the knife but also the things remembered too. Her movement generally was subsultory. She was very erratic in her walks, her gait, her general presentation and affect and she had really chosen this. She was clumsy . She had chosen to stay frozen in a final quiver but the ground shook. Like the doe letting paralysis sheathe her before the arrow hit, she was forced still. Awaiting.
First, there’s physicality. These are measures to grounding in synthesis. Touch a wall beside you. Touch a dog. Touch the bike rack. Touch the tree. Suddenly coughing is a problem. Suddenly you can’t pick the trinkets up. The wall has become coated with yellow respiratory droplets or little Oneida blades. If you can’t touch a wall or railing to ground, hope something touches you to wake you. What a brush of a hand or fork scraping a plate or television turning to static or the weather warning system that scared you with its alarm does. Physicality, olfactory senses, audibility, tactility combined. It all brings back old feelings no matter how long ago or no matter how many times since then you’ve been caressed. Touch is a constant need. Something stuck in your head. The way it felt. Something stuck in your head: felt sense memory–a bee landing on her leg in line at the water park. She was thinking then of a snow cone. She was thinking of the juice running down her chin, waiting for the way her lips would be rubbed gently with crushed purple ice. Her lips dry, full of blister and blood from peeling the skin off all day.
“Stop picking your lip!” Mrs. Dyson screamed, embarrassed by the unkemptness of her hair.
She never combed her hair but wore it past her shoulders,
more like a wild dog or boy
“I can’t help it.”
She was meek in some ways.
She also loved killing slugs
with her bare hands. There were other warnings about
her but she could also run very fast and hop fences
and pocket quarters and suddenly be the
hero of July as they threw their pennies on
the counter, counted them in front of him
and pocketed Blow Pops in their jean
“I can’t help it.”
And she couldn’t. And she meant it. About everything.
Involving or characterized by sudden leaps, jerks, or starts. (Also as noun): something characterized by sudden leaping or jerking.
When he asks what you want, tell him knife fight. You had written that down. One of the last things you read to yourself.
She felt her arm burn and begin to drip like honey down her tricep. She couldn’t stand still, couldn’t move, couldn’t discern the difference between a thousand knives pointing at her and the one handle she was supposed to grab. The first thing felt was the physical and the first thing to go were emotions. The dribble of blood down her arm and a sudden burning. You can laugh unrestrained, forget decor, more when you’re alone then detained in front of people. You can suddenly let go in endings. You can stay entombed in exit when you shut your jaw like that but when you let your neck fall backwards, you become incorporeal. You’re illustrated privately. Floating. Best when you’re solo. Here you go screaming softly when the first sword hits. Daintily hung like the picture. The cross. These are notes to yourself, you say: I want to twirl publicly but they’re are too many people outside. You write it down. Like you’re tracking earnestness. Like you’re tracking deceit. Like you’re monitoring your own steps in code. You kept an eye on yourself but so did he., Kind of like the way you eat, you laugh the same way: ravenous, bigger. They never expect you so tall. The way she hated the blisters on your feet, your skinned knees, your knotted hair and your laugh. That’s how you announced yourself. Always with stained and wrinkled shirts. Always teaching her daughters how to dig under the wooden fence to make a tunnel or build a fort of rusty nails. And your fingernails full of dead skin, lips cut, cracked and bleeding as you ask for peanut butter. The child so painfully oblivious to decor. The first time she showed her teeth to him, he touched them.
It was always the surprise she couldn’t take. She thought the tip of her zipper of her purple jacket was hitting her thigh but she was wearing a bathing suit. She let her hands drop from her mouth. She had no jacket. She was at the water park. It was 84 degrees out and her legs were coated with sweat, her stomach poofing out, mouth dry from dehydration and the tips of her fingers and toes wrinkled from being in water too long. Something pinched her skin like when she got her purlicue caught in her binder.It’s flight, fight or freeze. She froze most often but sort of in trance and dead eyed but they’d say she was bright. They’d say you notice her teeth first then her eyes and then vacillated back and forth between them both. She would freeze like that and then jerk, like she was about to sprint but she’d just sort of settle right there. She squinted her eyes. Second, it’s the reintroduction, or interjection, of thought before any movement starts again. You’ve lost emotion but you’ve gained your interest in cross analysis back without looking at what is happening. Without facing the trickle nearing elbow. Why would you feel a scratch that sharp suddenly on your thigh? But you’re only thinking about it and not actually touching it. The first time he touched her teeth, she let them graze his index finger tenderly, slowly.
She heard the buzz first. Then she followed to see its black and yellow zigzagging body cutting towards the front of line. She didn’t even get a chance to swat or run. She didn’t even get a chance to be afraid. A trickle of blood made it all the way to her forearm before she could orient herself. She held her hands out. The first time she touched his finger, she bit him lightly.
Then there’s the other way to touch: a measured control or vy for power or a melting or softening: the antithesis of thought. She lost all words. She wasn’t all accident but mostly very clumsy, always bruised, always hurting. She would let lovers touch her in ways no one else could. If she loved them, they could tie her wrists together. If they loved her, they could hit her. He had a sudden gentleness. Even after all that time to fume, he still struck her so lightly. Like fog, he appeared murky so she almost didn’t notice. They both tickled. Besides, he was reposed in his bloodlust and carrying a sudden recompense he wanted to give. That always wooed her: the repercussion. Once she sucked the ends of her hair and stuck them to her lips before a nap so when she woke the two would be fused together and she would have to carefully separate the crusted over skin from her hair and lip it would hurt to pull them apart. She knew her lips would bleed. She would spent minutes staring at them in the mirror, torn to pieces, shredded. She would take the sharpest nail she had and the second sharpest nail and begin to pinch her lips until they bruised. The bluer the better. She would spend all day pinching it to make it fat like someone split her with their fist and she would stare at the mirror. Watch her mouth shredded, removing each finger nail to feel the relief after the pinch. She would rub her arms on poison ivy and begin to spread it so she was hived and rubbing her body all over the coarsest sheet she owned. Over twigs. Letting the welts pop and bleed. Feeling the sensation of the grater slide across her palms, up her wrists, hold cold compresses under armpits to both cool off and then she’d be wet. Eight years old and dripping with the covers over her. Covered in tears and moaning. The first time she bit his finger, she stuck her tongue out too. Licked the tip of his nail and then swallowed.
She kept her hands out. What she remembered first and how she was so acutely aware of what she remembered first was the weight she carried now. Outside, the world moved. She would say the world was racing. She would say the haze had come and there was no turning back from the gauntlet. She would tell you one way or another she was being stalked very slowly by a man. They let her keep the memory of him until the end. He had examined the silver and sapphire urn around her neck, fingering it and looking at it closely, then back at her. His fingernails were dirty from the woods like hers. His eyes were bright like hers. His eyes. She will say it was his eyes no matter who she describes. The first time she made eye contact with him, she showed her teeth on instinct. The first time he felt her tongue on his finger tip, she felt his other hand around her throat. He moved his sullied black fingers up the chain threatening to rip it off of her. His mouth was gritted holding a phrase tight between them. Your tenacity, he hissed and dropped the locket so it banged the deep bruise that had grown in her sternum from wearing it every day, is what I admire.
There were about two short seconds between her standing at the entrance and the first strike. She knew what had pinched her shoulder wasn’t the lever she was looking for. She was three centimeters from the blade that just cut her when the next bomb dropped. She hadn’t moved herself; the floor had continued to push her. Her heart felt a hundred beats in and she couldn’t keep accurate time. She considered her body a metronome but she couldn’t keep one story in line. Everything was a rush of noise and tremor. She had broken out into hives from the anxiety. Only days earlier, she had taken simple pleasure in digging her acrylics up and down her bicep at three am. She stumbled backwards and the heavy locket suddenly became airy and light; moving, swinging around her throat with ease. The chain hung loose then tight pulling her backwards onto the knife. It made a high tin sound as it was cut from her body and dropped to the floor. What is sharper are always the things remembered; noticed differently last, noticed differently in processing and close and obedient examination. He had asked her in a cheery voice if she wanted to keep the locket. Taking her silence as a complicit yes, he let the blindfold drop so she could see what graved her. It was only three seconds between the question and the door slamming behind her.
It was the touch of her mom, she remembered, stroking her hair so she could fall asleep. Not starved for touch, born in it, then removed from it. Over time, removed herself from the arms of others. The way her partners had stroked her hair until she fell asleep. The way she turned from them. The way they said she was pointed. The blade touching her neck like that, softly at first, pull the trigger, enter, hard. That’s how she remembered being touched, soft at first then braced for impact. When he felt the way her neck relaxed in his palm, he pressed his thumb back to her lips, doused in her own spit and open, needy. Pointed.
She remembered a warm bed and hugging a bitten rabbit. Her mother patting the back of her neck, thanking her for watching the rabbit as she called the local animal services to come receive it. She remembered gripping it in a pink towel and staring at its little bloody wound, right there in its side in front of her. The bite from her cat. She stared at the red dribble, unphased, precocious and stirred up from seeing the pain. Not wishing it but enjoying it. As a child, sore. Her father’s friends recognized that all all eight year olds contain an infinitely dark and squishy pink secret. There is more to this than movement. There is also staring. Staring at wounds and hoping they close. Staring at objects. Looking at eyes. Pinching your own lip until it’s black and blue. Staring at mirrors.
“It’s called pleasure-pain.”
That’s what her mom told her. It was pleasure-pain. What the child did to herself poking safety pins into the pores of her skin. She hugged the thing’s neck and told it
I hope you live forever.
Her necklace had fallen but she was still chained to the wall. As her body was drawn backwards by gravity, her neck curved to enfold the weapon and something thudded at her coccyx. It didn’t sting or rip. It didn’t pierce her. It didn’t mutilate her. It announced it was there so she would know I am lever, touch me and walk through my wall of knives unscathed.
You will know it because it will not pierce you, he said. She settled on the handle and let out a long sigh. It lasted only half a second but a long, embarrassing half a second before a pond began to form at the bottom of her throat. There were two seconds between her standing at the entrance of the doorway and one second between the next two strikes and her throat hanging on a knife. Not one millisecond before her throat gushed open. To your left and you will know it. Beneath her gallow, her tailbone knocked the knob that swung the door open and as her body settled, every sword started up her calves and thighs like vines of thorns were climbing her.
To your left and you will know it because it will not pierce you. Red, viscous streams ran off her chin and dripped onto the blade going through her stomach. She tried to lick her lips on instinct. The way she clenched her jaw to suck back drool. The way she retracted spit, as if she’s drooling. When he touched her lips, she closed her eyes and he felt her breath release unrehearsed. A tiny sliver of light bounced off the tips facing her. Every knife pointed at her from only about three feet away. The wall was opening to another hallway. She willed her eyes open, tired, flittering, desperate for resolution. Let me see Santa Claus. Let me see what I won.
open, tired, flittering, desperate for resolution. Let me see Santa Claus. Let me see what I won.
The weight she carried with her were the last two words he said: his prediction, not his warning but his knowledge and mercy, a mercy she hadn’t trusted until her final half heartbeat. And fast. He had said, To your left and you will know it because it will not pierce you. And fast. The things you remember last, you carry these with you as you pass. And fast. When she closed her eyes, she felt his mouth press her mouth and his hand trace her clavicle. They never suspect how bony she is in their arms.
The way he held the blue and silver heart in admiration and removed her blindfold to show her the trap, she held that in esteem like it was the agape promised by god. You are a sly bitch. The necklace had fallen somewhere on the floor and she was free. The wall had turned all the way around and she was facing another wall of swords hundreds of feet long. Her eyes shut and she held a colored gaze in her heart
a gaze starving
They always want to know what she knew and what she meant by that. They tilt their heads and move their knees closer to hers.
“Well what do you mean by that?”
“By your stories.”
“Nothing,” she said
in that cocked gun head way,
lips pursed, oppositional
and lips kind of turning
I’m honestly just trying not to touch my face.
She held the corner of mouth
between her purple acrylics
like she wanted to peel it off.
I’ve been frank with you no?
When I was five years old,
I perfected a smirk.
It’s my only craft.
they would push
their knees closer to her.
when their mouths met,
she bit his bottom lip
on instinct and he pressed her
hard into the wall;
felt his hand pull her ribs
in and she began to shake
a little like
vines of thorns
were climbing her.
“the woman who saw her own death”