by Elena Zhang
I was eleven years old when I first tasted blood.
Climbing the crabapple tree that grew behind the house, I tried to show my mother how close I could get to the sun without touching its incandescence and melting into a puddle of flesh, leaving a pile of white bones as pure and clean as the delicate china we used to sip our bitter tea. Look, Mama, I said, look how I tower over you. It was the only time I ever felt worthy of her gaze, when I reached my hand out for the next spindly rung of the ladder that led to everything and nothing, a temporary pedestal that held me aloft like a prize she could polish and shine with spit and cloth as she showed me to her friends and said, This is my daughter, look how she gleams.
But the tree branches were too young to hold the weight of all my insecurities and fears. My lip split open when I met the ground, and without thinking my tongue slithered out to greet the fresh liquid that spilled out, bright as crushed strawberries but thick as honey. It was a part of me and then it was a part of me again, dissolving on my tongue as quickly as a snowflake disappears on the back of a hand.
Mama tutted while holding a white handkerchief over the wound, but the communion I took in my mouth was all that really mattered to me that sun-splattered afternoon. I understood the miracle of immortality, folding in on itself like a body curling up, limbs contorting, making itself smaller and smaller until it’s a seed that grows into a crabapple tree that shakes young boys and girls off like fleas.
So when I watched my mother clutch at her throat seven years later, her lips turning blue from a heart attack, my father holding her and telling her not to go, bu yao zou, while my little brother clutched at her skirts as he sobbed, I knew what I had to do.
I took the body from its resting place and dragged it to the shed, its feet leaving tracks through the muddy grass, daring someone to find me. No one did, so I hoisted it onto a table and gutted it like a fish, just like Mama taught me how to do many summers ago.
With satisfaction, I fed her to my father and my brother, their lips smacking of her as she became stuck in their teeth, as she wormed her way into their stomachs, skin, bones, and hair, and I knew that I could never replace Mama, could never live up to her perfection, but I could give them this.
I ate, too—the grief inside of me a giant maw of hunger. I devoured her whole until she shrank into a seed, then I swallowed that, too, and in my stomach her roots found purchase, ready to grow pink blossoms and sturdy limbs and little children to shake off like fleas.
When the Phone Rang
It’s exhilarating to swim in the glistening viscera, the cherry juice brush strokes on hot black tar. My wheels slip on a heartbeat as I inhale my own noxious perfume, sweet and sticky and mine mine mine. When what’s left of your pink lips asks me “Why?” I can only laugh because I’m already gone, rainbow lights blurring into a dizzy soup of freedom.
I Worry About You
You said to give my anxiety a name, so I called her “Mother,” because no one went by that name anymore. At first she hovered over me like the fruit flies in my kitchen, the ones in love with the rotting blackberries I had left on the counter overnight, pulling back blankets of white cotton to get at the bleeding flesh underneath. She whispered in my ear about the cancer that slept in my cells, about the fragile tick tick tick of my heart. Sleep eluded me when Mother regaled me with bedtime stories of car crashes and charring corpses, of that one time I stuttered in front of Diane and how my C-minus in algebra was the reason I would never succeed at my job. But in time I grew comfortable with Mother always by my side, holding my hand as I brushed my teeth and folded my laundry, as I wrote lists and took vitamins and eschewed company for the comfort of her lullabies. She told me to stay home, told me not to talk to anyone, told me what to eat and what not to eat. It was nice to have someone fret over me like that. So I promised Mother that I would listen to her and only her, and she kept me safe until one day I grew to love Mother, and could therefore no longer hear the muffled wails of the ghost that lived under my house, the one that cried, “My baby, my baby, someone is hurting my baby.”
Elena Zhang is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Catapult, Hazlitt, and Paste Magazine, among others. Follow her on twitter @EZhang77