the chilliad

dité was the one who’s really at fault, because dité was an enabler, and when she saw that paris was doing that guy thing where he hung around and tried to give them tips on how to improve at a game they were obviously better at than him, she was like, “helen, do it, it’ll be funny.”

 

and in helen's defense it had seemed funny. at the time. like, paris was a sophomore, he wore earrings that looked like rhino horns, and he almost definitely dyed his hair to make it black, which helen knew because he was hector’s little brother and hector looked like he’d just stepped out of an IKEA ad. plus, his name was alexander and he insisted on being called paris, for reasons helen had not yet been able to discern.

 

when she’d asked hector about it, months ago, he’d just shrugged and been like, “he’s my little bro, and i love the guy, but everything he does is, like, super embarrassing.”

||

(it's literally the iliad, with dramatically lower stakes.)

the nutcracker: a remix

in the story they tell later, marie stalhbaum is given a toy, and loves him alive. marie's feet are so light that she cannot feel the floor beneath them. the stars shimmer close enough for her to reach out and pluck them from the cloud-wool sky, close enough to hold in her palm. in the story they tell later, he held his arms open and the stars came to collect him, waving and humming a song she will forget upon waking.

 

but that is only the story they tell later.

 

in the story as it happens, marie stahlbaum is not given a toy. she is given a hand and grabs it; given a sword and wields it; given a crown and wears it. in the story has it happens, marie is given a choice and she chooses wrong.

 

-

 

no: not wrong.

ten rules for asking ghosts a favor

The first thing, of course, is to be fearless; and if you cannot manage fearless you must at least be brave. Ghosts will know the difference, but they may forgive you fear if you are willing to face it. They will overlook the tremor in your hand as long as it is a hand outstretched.

it was a wild sound

the world is ending, but it has been for some time; shenzi barely thinks about it anymore. sometimes a turn of the light will catch her eye and she will remember that everything is fading away, but these reminders are gentle, like a touch on the shoulder waking you up from a dream. there is no rush, here at the end. things disappear slowly, less like they are leaving and more like they are lingering.

 

impossibly, shenzi thinks, impossibly, we made it, all of us; impossibly, the end is not a bang but a whisper. no fire. no floods. only strange turns of the light and the quiet peace of knowing that one day you will look down at your hand and see that it is not there, and nor is your arm, and nor are your shoulders, and nor are you, and that will be all.

 

in the meantime, shenzi is on a train.

colossians 1:16

in brief, what happened was that eighteen-ish months ago, keli found BabyTodd in a dumpster. she had thought it was a weird place for somebody to leave a baby, but then, keli had never had a baby and didn't understand a lot of human caretaking practices, so who was she to judge?

 

in all honesty, she probably would have left BabyTodd there if it weren't for the fact that he'd woken up, suddenly, and stared at her in ringing silence with his big dark eyes. she'd held his gaze because looking away felt like losing a fight.

 

after a few minutes, BabyTodd had broken into a smile, and lifted his arms, and keli had bent down into the dumpster and pulled him up.

 

“right,” she'd said. “okay. i have a baby now.”

Ourselves We Find in the Sea

On the island of Kallsoy there is a story. The story says that once upon a time, there was a woman of the sea who fell so in love with a fisherman that she shed her skin and walked on new legs out of the waves to be his wife. She bore him many children, and never again turned her gaze to the sea.

 

The story says: you can make a human out of what is not. The story says: this new human will even love you for it.

 

This is not that story.

rainy days (in chateau d'if)

Days between storms, the Ladies Association of Bright Colors holds parades. As they pass by the street outside they pop open their rainbow of parasols and shout curses at our house. They call us the Cat Thieves because of the way the neighborhood felines stage hostile takeovers of the apartment every time it rains. We've tried to explain that the pets aren't invited and we'd prefer it if they stayed away, but once you get a reputation as a Cat Thief, there's really no shedding it.

white queen, red heart

the hut where grimhilde is born has only one window. she has no father. she has the woods.  she knows this because her mother tells her, over and over: i cut my palm so deeply that it can no longer curl into a fist. the blood was hot. it melted the snow, and was swallowed by the dirt. the woods accepted. the woods gave me you.

snow white, blood red

the first baby is born in may, and dies in his sleep. the second does not make it to term. the third lives for a year before an unknown illness claims him. the queen pricks her finger on a needle: old magic. blood on snow on an ebony windowsill. the wind carries the contract, and the woods accept. 

 

blood now must be repaid with blood later, but the fourth baby is a girl, and she lives.

Four Meetings

"It is tradition," her father began, looking at her with the sad eyes of a king who has never had to work for what he has been given, "to give you away."

 

"I know," Megara answered. She smiled.

Untranslation (Kipperman's Curiosities)

The house is built on words. From the rust-colored water that runs from the faucet in the upstairs bedroom to the cracked wooden floor, they are always tripping on letters.

 

Their mother collects words and sells them in her curiosity shop; on every birthday, a new one is wrapped in paper and a bow and left at the foot of their beds. It must be opened before breakfast (words are best digested on an empty stomach). Toska takes the packages and buries them in a cardboard box that she has labeled Miscellaneous (Birthdays). When she was sixteen, Leala crossed it out and wrote PORN in thick sharpie across the top.

 

Wabi keeps hers beneath her bed, guarded jealously. 

Giant Squids and Knife Collections (Kipperman's Curiosities)

The squid gets sick about a month after they bought it, and none of the local big animal vets have any idea what to do, so June writes back to the shop. It's not hard to find the address online. She asks if they know what kind of treatment the squid might need, how they're supposed to take care of it.

 

She gets a short, terse response three days later, the handwriting a pinched and careful cursive.

 

You're not supposed to take care of it, the letter says. It's a giant squid. It's not supposed to be touched by humans at all.

 

It's signed "TSK."

Fridays (Kipperman's Curiosities)

Sometimes Leala goes home, sneaks up to her room by climbing the drainpipe and sits on her bed in silence, listening to her sisters and her parents move. She likes being absent. She likes when no one else knows where she is, when Leala is her own and only keeper.

 

She can't quite say why.

The Act of Not Writing

We finger empty notebooks and then feel dirty about it, their empty pages like vacuums for all the promises I breathed into your mouth. I'm going to write you down. 

 

"You didn't," says you-in-my-head, so sharp and hi-def in the clasp of your shoulder and your bicep but blurred and weary around the eyes I am already forgetting. "You didn't write anything."

Return to Sender

Elvis was a blond. He died his hair. That was the first hard lesson about love that Leni ever learned.

Amor Vincit Omnia (Nth Street)

Here are the things that everyone knows about the eponymous Shelby:

 

1.) she was blonde, with four freckles lined up below her right eye,
2.) she never tasted a single bite of her own cooking, not even the pies (though they were her favorite),
3.) she was the only one who knew McNaulty by his first name, and
4.) she suffered from cometophobia, a terror born from both a major in astronomy and a love of dinosaurs, and made worse by her chronic anablephobia—the fear of looking up.

 

And here is the thing that only McNaulty knows: there has never been a Shelby.

Alien Hand Syndrome (Nth Street)

Cavendish Grotto is seven and a half years of age when he loses control of his right hand. He wakes up to a normal morning, with normal birds and the normal weight of his blankets pooled around his calves, and tramps downstairs to eat a normal breakfast. His mother puts an apple in front of him, though he loathes apples, because she believes that one green thing a day guarantees a life of health and well-being. As is his habit, Cavendish reaches for the apple, prepared to choke it down, but his right hand swoops in and slaps the fruit to the floor. "Good Lord, Cavendish, what's gotten into you?" his mother asks, and Cavendish shrugs.

 

"Suppose I don't like apples," he says.

Heartlands

In the mornings I go get eggs to make a heartland and he kisses me while the chickens watch with sleepy eyes. Later I suck out soft yolk as my mother says, “You carry your heartlands with you,” and I think of the atlas of letters across Billy’s shoulder, thick and black and twisted cursive. I think of the unmapped space between banjo strings and my Grandpa’s fingers. I think of a door that smelled like my mother’s hands. I think of the valleys in Aunt Mimi’s omniseasonal scarf and the way whiskey tastes when you drink it from a coffee cup.

 

My mother says, “Couldn’t leave them behind if you tried,” and pops the egg into her mouth.

It Is Easy

The only way to handle pain, Joanna’s father used to tell her, is to aggravate it. Push down on your bruises until they collapse into numb whiteness beneath your fingers. Pain is human. It can be bullied.

 

The scar on her stomach doesn’t hurt anymore, but Joanna tenderizes the skin anyway, every morning in the shower as the hot water pools the ridges where her flesh knotted together badly. She doesn’t feel any different.

 

“I gave my kidney away,” she tells her own face in the steam-smeared mirror. She presses up against the softer skin where someone sewed her up as something different from what her biology wanted her to be. When she closes her eyes she imagines bright-eyed children looking up at her from a hospital bed and begging Mom, please. Joanna will have to tell them I can’t. I should have saved up all of my spare parts but I didn’t and now I don’t have anything left to give you.

You Have All Drunk From Circe's Cup

There is a tree on the shore of Llyn y Van Ffach with a face carved into it. The face is laughing and crying at the same time. Its low branches look like arms, like hands, like fingers. Its low branches say come here and do not be afraid and take only what is given.

 

She loved him; she lost him. It is as simple as that. 

 

(Only: of course it is never as simple as that.)

Six Seeds: A Persephone Remix

4. “I know you,” the snake says. It has wrapped itself in lazy coils around a mouse. The mouse is alive. “You were the kid with the apple.”

 

Persephone tilts her head. Her hair is dark, the shadow of the yellow gold that drips over her mother’s shoulders. Earth’s daughter has delicate bones and easily ruptured skin, lips the color of her mother’s darkest geraniums. She has eyes the same hue as the ocean, but she is not beautiful. Her mother works in pieces, not in wholes. Taken apart, Persephone is a masterpiece.

 

Persephone shrugs. “Maybe,” she agrees. 

Stories About Not Being Afraid of Ghosts

It is the last year of my great-grandmother’s life, and she believes she was born to royalty. She tells me of her girlhood in a Spanish castle, bare feet skidding across ancient stones and running grooves into the corners of the hallways. My great-grandmother is beautiful, with big almond eyes and dark skin that always seemed sun-kissed, even in winter. She tells me she was taught how to smile by her lady-in-waiting, a small Spanish girl from Cadiz. The houses there are white and the ocean is always grasping at the sidewalks. She and her lady-in-waiting would sit in front of the mirror and smile together, over and over and over again, until the melon of her lips burst so red and sudden across her mouth that everyone in the room stopped talking to stare at it.

 

“That’s how I met your great-grandfather,” she whispers, tender as a ragdoll on her bed while the sun slips in through the window and kisses her. “I was buying fruit. I smiled at him and he offered me an apple for free.”

Ugly Mary

when she is born, they name her mary. it means “bitter.” her mother–plain, unlovely–knows what her ugliness will mean. how it will feel. knows that ugliness makes everything harder, the mirror image of how being too beautiful makes everything harder. mary’s mother is unlovely, and she is happy, basically. she went to school, and they let her, not pretty enough to earn their scorn but too pretty to earn derision.

 

mary’s first word–a year old, face too red, eyes somehow too far apart and too close together at the same time, nose a curious hook–is, “please,” and mary’s father says, “no.”

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