I used to dream that my mother locked her lesser daughters
in a cage beneath my bed, I could hear them
gnawing on the bars. In some dreams, the lock would
pop open, and I swear I saw versions of myself appear from the darkness,
crawling on all fours. My mother, broom in hand, a vision of fierce domesticity,
would beat them back into submission.
After escaping, it took me six years to learn
how to write this letter:
“I will wear your skin & become you.”
When I was 26, my mother’s ghost took up occupancy in my bathtub.
She liked to complain about the eternal
burning of the afterlife — and claimed she could only be
soothed when her body was pressed against wet porcelain.
I would remind her that she didn’t have a body,
she didn’t have feelings. You are such a vicious girl (She didn’t
say it — it had been said so often before).
I didn’t mind her company, until the day she
protested my habit of plucking the hairs
from my labia, and leaving them scattered on the tile floor.
I turned the bathtub’s faucet on and discovered the rush
of water broke her into pieces, and it took a long time, if not
longer, for her to coalesce again.
Slowly, I got the truth out of her:
“…I could give birth to an army of sons…
…but I could never give birth to another daughter…
…I knew you were the kind of woman who would devour other women…
…And yet, I only gave birth to baby girls…
…Even after my husband died…
…They seemed to spill out of my body…”
She tried to warn me about my sister, but
I turned on all the faucets in my home, and
vowed to keep them running. Even after my apartment flooded.
What I did not know how to write yet:
Yes, I burned the other daughters and our mother alive,
but only because I was determined to have you, the chosen daughter, all for myself.
When you used to pee the bed, it would drip
through the mattress and fall on our heads.
I can still smell your urine in my hair,
feel the sensation of it running over my eyes and lips.
Yes, I had gotten rid of my mother’s ghost, but I still had to contend
with the ghost of a sister, who was angry and very much not a ghost,
yet seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth.
I never knew why my mother chose me over her other daughters,
but it doesn’t keep me from sleeping at night — it isn’t my sin.
The only remarkable thing about me is that I have lots of lovers.
And when these men first enter my home
their worms are glistening & smug. They say things to me like:
“Your lovely rapids will be crammed with my corpses.”
“I will tread you down to dust.”
The men cannot even hear their worms,
though they lick their lips, and I imagine
their tongues are saying the very same things.
I started sleeping with your lovers.
I wanted to lick you off their skin/ taste
your genetically superior fluids.
I thought if I swallowed enough of you
I would become you, the beloved, but there was never
any of you left.
I first saw my sister lurking outside my apartment building.
I thought she was a stranger, brazenly seducing my lovers,
but what did I care if this woman wanted my left overs?
I found sea slugs anonymously dropped off in front
of my apartment door. Some of them were dead by the time
I discovered the container, but others were
very much alive and I was sure, so sure, that they sighed
the same sigh as my lovers. I assumed the strange woman
had cursed them. But I didn’t understand why
(had they been piss poor lovers?),
or why she entrusted them to me.
I kept writing letters, I stuffed them inside
sea slugs ordered from online (I made sure to choose a
variety of sea hares and nudibranches).
I didn’t trust the post office with my letters to you.
I thought for sure you would smash the slugs with your
hands (what I found beautiful, you would surely find
ugly) and find the letters inside.
Instead, you raised them as your children.
I turned my perpetually flooded apartment
Into a giant saltwater aquarium by dumping
large discount containers of Morton’s sea salt in my living room.
After years of watching you, I could predict the men you were going to bring home.
I began seducing them first. I wanted to take anything I could away from you.
Eventually the strange woman
started getting to the men first.
I didn’t care about lipstick stains
on my lovers’ cocks,
or that she burned her initials
(which are the same as mine) on
their boar hair bellies
I use their penises as bottle openers or to scrub the dishes clean.
And when my lovers, tired, ask me if they can have what belongs to them back,
I say if you can find it, and achingly they search the house,
until they grab the wrong one (if they grab one at all) and scuttle out the door.
But then I knew this had nothing to do with the men.
This woman was trying to communicate with me, but
why didn’t she come out and say it?
The stranger was me, I was her, we were blood, and I set out into the world to find her.
It was my sister who hunted me down.
She cornered me in an elevator and twisted one of my nipples
until it popped, and bloomed into a girlish flower.
The petals a soft lavender, I was disgusted by how feminine it was.
I could not even name the names of any flowers.
It stood out against the fabric of my white shirt.
Did it press against the fabric until the shirt broke away from the skin?
Nonono, that isn’t right, the petals pulled the fabric of my shirt towards them,
eating the cloth, inserting it into a starfish mouth,
my shirt was disappearing,
the coffee stain from this morning already swallowed,
my fish belly exposed, the dipping scars looked like the outline of scales.
I brought my sister home, even though she was feral around the edges. She only tried to kill me three times. Sometimes, I found her curled up under my bed, her face floating on the surface of the murky water. Her torso covered in vibrantly colored nudibranches.
Our home was filled with a collection of sea slugs and phalluses.
You, sister, had one rule:
Never turn off the faucets.
Strangely we both plucked the hair from our labia with our fingers.
I call it a compulsion, she refers to it as a ceremony of existence.
She likes to watch the blood pool beneath the skin. And while I kept
this habit to the bathroom, she liked to do it while standing
stark naked in our living room. Her movements resembled a heron’s –
Every Sunday, you brushed my hair. Just like our mother used to
brush yours – but I never remark on the coincidence.
It isn’t until our fifth decade that I realize while my sister
had grown up near it, she had never really seen the ocean.
Unless she had stopped to gaze over the water while she burned
down the house — our mother and sisters with it —
even then, it had been dark, maybe even moonless.
When I see the ocean for the first time, I strip my clothes off.
I pluck the hair from my labia, You, with your superior lungs, try to shout over the sound of the
waves. But your voice falls dead on the sand.
“I am summoning the sea,” I scream into the wind.
I watch your mouth wide crumble, teeth sink into an ocean liner, split your bottom lips. The next
morning, we buy you dentures. I realize you are old before me. You will die before me.
Decades later, long after my sister is dead, I go swimming at another beach
across the ocean, and I find them. They burrow into my thighs, and I think
I have been stung by some rare, perhaps ancient jellyfish. I think this while
sitting in the waiting room of a foreign ER. A surgeon removes white orbs
from my thighs, and I believe I have been inseminated by the rare, ancient
jellyfish. I trace the tentacle pattern on my thighs, it is a message from the
father, I think, telling me how to raise his children that would have been
born if I had left well enough alone. But I know nothing about
I am in my eighth decade.
“These are teeth,” the surgeon says.
He drops them in the palm of my hand. I recognize them as yours, smaller and
eroded by salt. I imagine these are your teeth’s tender entrails/I move back
through time/you are a child and asleep/and the teeth are in my fist/I shove them
one by one into your toothless gums/your blood creeps into me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cat Ingrid Leeches lives and writes in Alabama.
ABOUT THE MANUSCRIPT
My collection, I wander the earth, hungry for semen, is filled with mixed-metaphors, fragmentation, and “bad grammar.” I spent years, trying to write a “real” story (and apologizing unceasingly when I failed), here instead you will find seances, poems, curses, dreamscapes, and fragments. I think this array of forms best reflects me, a writer, grappling with their gender, sexuality, and disability.
It is difficult to write this statement. I am a superstitious person, and I imagine revealing too much of myself means that my hair will never stop growing, even long after I am dead. I also don’t know my own work that well, what I mean is it comes from a place that is watery, polluted, and ever-shifting. My body is in pain, and its relation to language is suspect. I am filled with fluid, infections, ejaculation, and language-before-it-is-words, and this is where my writing comes from.
An earlier version of this appeared in New Delta Review.