Thermoregulation by Amie Souza Reilly

On the evening news a droning man described another atrocity, and the banality of his delivery aroused a fury in her. Didn’t he see that the world outside was crumbling? But when she looked out the window expecting to see fissures in the ozone layer they weren’t there. Everything appeared the same, though she knew it wasn’t. She opened the front door to test the acidity of the rain and inhaled to see if disillusionment had a scent. The smell was acrid and somehow cold, like a dead battery, and when it opened her just wide enough, the broken world throbbed in.

It entered her body with the chill of a thousand knives and untied the knot in the fibrous chord of her neck. Her skull and its contents fell slack. She yelled at her husband.

You need to help more around the house.

This made more sense than saying, I think I have swallowed the pain of the world and now my insides are breaking, because she knew that if she told him the truth his eyes would pry down her throat and probe the insides of her ears trying to determine whether or not she was being metaphorical. That was not what she wanted. What she wanted was for him to press his ear against the tattoo on her back and tell her if he could hear the wind change. As she shook her heavy head, tiny shards like shattered glass clinked down her spine and landed in a glimmering heap in the bowl of her pelvis.

The cacophony of splintering and tinkling stirred a gang of homunculi. Their movements ground grooves into her bones and left u-shaped indents on her organs. She felt each one separately: from beneath her uterus, a sad-faced woman with bags under her eyes and fear in her jaw rose to pull out the shards that had wedged in the cracks of her pubis bone. Above her, a bearded ex-husband stopped swinging from the ball joint of her hip to smoke a Parliament Light. He flicked his ashes into the pile of glistening splinters. Further down, a beautiful dead wife sat on her kneecap, while up around her heart a sick mother clung tighter to a rib beneath her left breast. And in the hollow of her shoulder, a man-shaped shadow with an afro sat on his motorcycle, whistling through blades of grass he’d stuck between his thumbs. When he revved the engine, the skin stretched across her clavicle quivered.

Instead of responding to her outburst, her husband put his drink down on the table and rubbed the stubble on his chin. His silence panged her breastbone like a mallet against a gong, so she told him a story. Sometimes the past makes sense of the present. The story she told was about the hurricane that blew toward their split level when she was six. Where beneath a sky striped with yellow and grey she drew chalk kittens on the concrete patio and everything was damp even though the rain still hung above the trees. She told him about the fat spider that skidded across one of her drawings, straight toward where her mother was stacking plastic chairs and how, without a word, her mother stomped on it, releasing a million tiny babies from her body, scattering like fireworks.

Beneath her skin, the world raged and her tiny beings worked between the smoothness of her organs and the softness that protected her from falls. Their movements felt like sobbing. Perhaps she could have pressed her hands across the top of her belly, smoothed the ripples of her thighs, quieted them all with the warmth of her palms and the sound of her blood, but she was tired. Instead she leaned into her husband, still upright on the couch, placed his hand on her flesh and whispered, Can you feel them? But he was already asleep.

She lay awake next to him and waited. When the cold air of the angry world warmed to match her body temperature, a hornet buzzed in her ear. Perhaps the only way to carry the fury of the world inside is to inhale the peace of night. With her steady breath, the darkness knitted together a lullaby that sounded like whales and mothers and scythes cutting through wheat. The tiny woman beneath her uterus and the dead wife came together and shook hands, then began to build a tower out of the broken glass. The mother on her rib whispered words of encouragement from above. Inside the tower, the ex-husband and the man-shaped shadow rode the motorcycle in circles. The night formed a crust that encircled the warming anger of earth like layers of shale, hard but fragile. Her grandparents had lived on a lake that held a monster in its depths so she’d learned to swim through thick waves without being afraid.

The grey of a new day retightened the knot in her neck so her head perched between her shoulders once again. When it did, the taste of honey appeared at the back of her throat. Inside her rippled warmth, and the dead wife and the tiny woman admired their shining tower. They wiped their hands on their thighs, kissed each other goodbye, and the fearful woman, whose hair had turned grey, went back to resting under her womb, and the dead wife slid back beneath her kneecap. Still high above, the sick mother relaxed her grip, slept in the curve of her rib. And the grass-whistling ghost and the bearded ex-husband were quiet as they climbed out from the twinkling tower and moved back to the load-bearing places of scapula and hip bone, while the angry earth reduced itself to a quiver in her bowels.

The woman watched the worm-like twitches of her husband’s sleeping eyelids. She put her face near his and smelled the musk of tenderness, licked the salty corners of his lips. Pulling his earlobe gently, she widened the tunnel of his hearing and whispered to him a story about the time she lived next door to a woman whose daughter had died and left behind a fat-fingered infant with the kind of smile that only curls up at the edges. She told him that her neighbor raised the boy as her own, let vines of wisteria grow into the windows and a family of raccoons make a home of her attic. Standing on her porch, holding a brown mug of brown coffee, the neighbor pointed to the patinaed drainpipe the raccoons were using as both a slide and a ladder, then to the hole that was only half hidden under the eaves. She yelled across the lawn to anyone who might listen, Do you see them? Ever? Do hear them at night? but she wasn’t disgusted or angry or afraid. She was protective of them, even proud.

 

Amie Souza Reilly is the Feminist Fridays blogger for The Adroit Journal. Her work can be found in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pidgeonholes, and Gravel, or at www.amiesouzareilly.com. Follow her on Twitter @Smidgeon227.

Leave a Reply