The Dance

by | Dec 8, 2020 | CNF, Issue Eighteen


The slice is a rectangle. I can feel the part of my stomach where the mesh has been sewn in. It’s a patch. I’ve been put back together like a toy; a bundle of haphazard stitches, murdered to stay alive.  

Back from the other side, it’s me: a zombie ballerina. Graceful. Undead. One petal-soft hand poised above my head, my chignon just so. There is wet rot in the crotch of my leotard. The same old song sings in sharp scratches of metal. 

This is the job I’ve been given; to watch myself obeying myself in an oval mirror, to twirl in soft pink velvet for all time. I want to be good at my work. I dance on demand. When I’m not needed, I collapse into the dark; bent from the middle, folded in half, trapped with no voice. 

I am the Princess of these small treasures. Bird feathers. Teeth. Gold plated charms. Mending thread and thimble in a yellowed paper envelope. Dirty pills. This is my familiar realm. I go nowhere and like it.

When it’s time, the winding comes and the clasp pops. I hold my breath to keep my stomach flat. I am the show. I’d breathe if I knew how.

There they are again. The big eyes, close. Damp heat from giant mouth on my little thighs. My tutu is not enough. I am a study in grace and consistency, never not moving in the expected direction. All it takes is a single finger to hold me down. 


This is what they say about healing: 

Don’t force it. Let it unfold like a flower. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Etc. Time, etc. Love, etc. Breathing. Bath bombs. Heart openers. A backbend over a chair or a walk in the woods. Exfoliation. It really is just one of those things you really can’t try to do if you want to do it right. You know? 

Let me tell you what I know about healing:

You can stitch the skin with thread, but the skin won’t mend unless it wants to. I don’t believe in healing, but healing doesn’t care. It doesn’t need me to believe in it to do its job. It does whatever it wants, on its own timeline and without instruction.

I remember my mother’s Overeaters Anonymous books. The size of my young palm. Tissue thin paper. White leather bound, gold letters, marked with her kindergarten teacher’s cursive writing, all in blue pen. Underlining the best parts. Let go and let God. Trust a higher power. 

Is the addiction mine or am I just keeping it safe for her in case she comes back because she’s not coming back and even if she were, she wouldn’t want this. 

My pain is special, I swear. It’s a small person inside my person. A whole being I’ve carried in my uterus for years. You want me to just kill it? Even putting it to sleep gently with chloroform feels impossible. I have spent so long gestating her she is her own animal now. I am being dragged behind it one day at a time.

Why heal just a little when I can turn myself inside out through the slice of black across my stomach? The rips are who I am. I can prove it. 


My mother is in the dream and she is thin. 

My mother wasn’t thin, so this is definitely a dream because she was the kind of fat that couldn’t be dreamt away. In this dream she has frail wrists and tight skin. She wakes me gently from sleep, lifting me by my fingertips. She looks at me like a lover. 

We are going to dance now. 

She is the boss of me, three feet in the air. We are dancing like junior high, slow, chin on shoulders, BO fading up into nostrils; we can’t get close enough. We scramble, ghost arms around each other, hands under clothes. It’s not romantic, but it could be. She’s pressing her breastless chest against mine. I feel her ridge of scars. As a child, I thought Frankenstein when she’d show me. Her cheek is on mine. The lipstick she smears on as blush has rubbed off; red and chalky. I’m Raggedy Anne, she’s Andy.

I become aware of the impossibility of this all because she is dead. She’s angry at me for thinking it.

This is real, goddamnit, she says. Don’t you you fucking believe me?

I nod. I am scared. I am ten. She is the one with bags in her chest, draining. I am a robot of obligation. I do what she programs me to do. She softens, glows to twice my size. Petite and dainty, but enormous in scale. A Thanksgiving Day balloon. I haven’t broken her arm yet.  

Together, we are Barbie’s on the beach; striped swimsuits in the sun. She is laughing and lifting me, so small, the entirety of me, with just her pinky. I am the polka dot bow on her shoe. I am below myself. She is above me. I am alive, but shrinking. I am held by the hologram of a mother.

Read more CNF | Issue Eighteen

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