lips pressed thin.
don’t tell, you think.
but—the heaviness of it.
the weight of words distended, when
once upon a time you oozed innocence,
unblemished and soft, trailed by truth like perfume.
light exploded through your pores, your dreams, your teeth.
now that it’s gone dark—snuffed out, a flame—everything swells.
it starts somewhere below your feet, firmly planted, surging from the roots.
it pushes up, the force enough to peel skin from bone, like stripped bark, like rotting leaves.
it pushes up and in, compressing skin to stomach to spine, squeezing drops of resolve from your blood, wringing dry your soppiest bits so that what’s left is wizened and cynical and choked, the purest snow of you melted into muddied water, strained, sifted from the dirt.
it pushes up and in and through, thrums against your tongue until your mouth splits open, a tentative slit at first, that’s all, then a yawning cavern, wider, wider, until your chin dangles slack, until both eyes bloat to bursting, until the hollows of your cheeks stretch rubbery, until your jaws crack off at the hinges, until every secret squirms toward that gaping vacant space, wider still, widerwiderwiderwider until the songs go muffled until the freight train fades until the tornado spins mute until the sirens drown out until the only sound slicing past this putrid suffocating air is that voice that voice screaming
Melissa Bowers is the first-place winner of The Writer magazine’s personal essay contest, a multi-prize winner of the 2019 Larry Brown Short Story Award, and a finalist for the 2020 Lamar York Short Fiction Prize as well as the 2020 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards. She was shortlisted for Barren Magazine’s inaugural Flash Fiction Prize this year, and Susanna Kaysen recently awarded her the 2020 Breakwater Review Fiction Prize. Melissa’s work has also appeared in Writer’s Digest, HuffPost, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others.