FICTION: Woman with a Head of Arrows

I discovered a puppy stuck in the drain. Light grey with black eyes that oozed. I washed him & pulled him from the water. His belly was slashed; between two flaps I could see his insides were made entirely of shrimp, pink & coiled. You helped me massage his sides together, stretching the flaps toward each other, then shut. We held him like this for a long time, our hands like stitches: your fingers laced through my fingers laced through your fingers. The cut sealed. The scar looked like a pair of puckered lips. We let him sleep at the foot of the bed.

We were walking in Paris, kissing the rain. A small girl asked me if I had seen her mother. I pointed to La Femme à la Tête de Rose. She gurgled like a drain. When I turned to look at you, you were gone. An arrow plummeted from the sky into my brain. I burst into a billion beams of light.

You were my teacher & I was your student. I listened raptly as you described to me something thrilling, something we both knew intuitively but only you knew how to articulate. You thrilled in your articulations as much as I. I went outside. I stood on a terrace overlooking a green hill. the hill was almost too green. My hair blew in the wind at a flattering angle. Something tugged. The scenery was the same, but I was in it, running through the grass on the hill, running like a horse, joyously, reveling in my own strength & buoyant energy, for no reason other than the thing itself, the thing being my participation in the landscape. The light shifted & I had on a beautiful dress, made of real yellow roses. I neighed. I trembled in my skin. I felt imaginary, painted gold & whimsical by the light, & even my armpit hair, so long & silky, swayed in the wind. You joined me outside on the terrace. It seems I never left the spot where I stood, dreaming. We spoke of prosody. I ordered soup. A friend appeared & asked the waiter pointedly if he had ever seen me order anything else.

A pink tulip, lips open to rain. I peered down its throat & saw you, crying. Why are you crying, I asked, with the voice of a giant. I had never known you to be small.

We were both stuck in an elevator: I had been going up, you were headed down. None of that mattered now. There were tulips blooming from the elevator’s buttons, which were no longer working. I’ve wanted this for a long time, I said, then said everything else with my eyes. Your eyes said something back, but they were speaking a different language. Probably French, which I’d been studying for years, & still couldn’t understand. We turned our backs to each other, staring at opposite sides of the elevator. The tulips puckered like nipples. When I turned around, I was at home in my bathroom, looking into the mirror. I was naked except for a pair of plain white underpants. In place of nipples I had tulips. In place of a face, an elevator.

I was cooking shrimp, waiting for them to turn pink & curl into a perfect C. I was remembering what my brother said about a teacher I liked in middle school, that she looked like a horse. I thought she had looked elegant, powerful, free. something tugged. I looked down & found the shrimp had shriveled to hard little O’s. Tears fell from my chin into the pan, hissing as they hit the heat. Why are you crying, asked the voice of a giant. I peered up at the ceiling & felt small.

You were massaging the sides of my belly. You leaned in close, your cheek wrinkled against my skin, & whispered to my womb: have you seen my mother? You were grey & wobbly as a puppy. I stretched the flaps of your mouth together & held them shut. Your tongue kicked like a baby.

The rain fell in the shape of lips. You let me sleep at the foot of the bed.

Your roses laced through my tulips laced through your roses: you joined me outside on the terrace. I pulled a thorn from my tongue. I closed my eyes, spread my arms, let my chin fall to my chest. Awaiting an arrow, I longed.

The wind brought me a shuddering of tulips. I snapped the buttons of my blue jeans trying to get free. I felt imaginary, something intuitive that only you knew how to articulate. The wind softened even my brain. my eyes oozed. When I turned to look at you, you were coming down from the hill, carrying a bowl of soup.

Darla Mottram is a Portland, Oregon based writer, as well as the creator of Gaze, an online literary journal. She is moribund_slut on Instagram, which is the best place to connect with her.

Image: Still Life with Soup Tureen, Chaim Soutine, 1916

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