“Pieces of Me” is the honourable mention of Room’s 2019 Fiction Contest as selected by judge Catherine Hernandez.
I woke up one morning to bigger breasts. I’m not talking triangle pointies from puberty (which hit well over a decade ago), a few extra pounds from the pill, or the dreaded oh-my-god-am-I-pregnant-swollen-nipples, but a feeble B to a full D. Overnight.
A stomach sleeper, I couldn’t tell what was wrong right away. I just knew I was no longer comfortable. Rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, on these newly erected hills, I finally flipped over. There they were, blocking the view to my toes.
I grabbed hold, thinking I must be dreaming. “What the fuck?”
My partner woke up beside me, hands flailing. “Huh? What?”
“Look at these.”
His face glazed over in half-sleep.
“These.” I grabbed his hand, laid it on one, and squeezed.
“Oh. Ooohhhh!” His eyes popped.
“They aren’t mine,” I flicked away exploring fingers. “They can’t be.”
“But they have to,” he said, hovering. “They’re attached to you.”
Score one for logic in an illogical situation.
“I like them,” he said, tracing one areola, then the other.
My nipples hardened at his touch.
Getting dressed was more complicated than I expected. I didn’t fit into any of my bras—as they say my cup runneth over—and had to settle for an undershirt. I spent another ten minutes straining against button up blouses, like a madwoman with a closet full of straightjackets. When the third shirt burst its pearl buttons, I ripped the rest of them to the floor. Above me, exposed metal hangers chimed in indignation and unrest.
“Charlotte? You ok?” Henry called from the en suite.
I dug through the pile until I came across a shirt with the tag still attached. A peasant top, made of soft cotton with lace detail, size M. Maybe. I pulled it over my head.
“You fill that out well,” he said from the threshold.
“Yeah?” The heat rose in my bosom.
I passed by Henry to examine myself in the mirror. I don’t know what I was expecting to see. An alien? The same face stared back at me. The same arms and hands moved with me. I was me, only with an altered silhouette. My upper body curved instead of caved. Genuine cleavage—no tissue paper or push-up required—heaved along to my breath.
At night, sex with Henry ends a three month-long dry spell. It’s not that we don’t love each other, or don’t find each other attractive. We’ve been busy, overworked, and tired. Sex just becomes less of a priority in a long-term relationship. There’s so much in life to commit to beyond your bed.
But the new boobs make Henry horny. He bribes me with orange zinnias, cooks spaghetti Bolognese, and even takes out the white lotus & green tea oil for a tantric massage. So what if he buries his head in my chest, and forgets to look me in the eye as he comes? I’ll come next time. If these boobs turn out to be a fluke, a Cinderella moment, whereby I wake up tomorrow morning and find myself staring at my feet, who am I to deny a temporary pleasure?
I dream of a harvest fair. A familiar festivity from a childhood past. Henry is there, laughing and eating corn on the cob. The sweet scent of hay mixes with the outline of a sweaty crowd. I’m kneeling in front of a large wooden basin. The water is opaque. I dunk my head inside. Swirling spheres bounce against my skull. My teeth gnash, searching, slipping. When I’m sure I can’t hold my breath any longer, I bite into soft flesh. Only instead of pulling up a shiny red apple, it’s a cantaloupe. Bruised and half-rotten. I taste the mealy fruit as I open my eyes.
I’m brushing my teeth when I notice the dimples. Two symmetrical craters, one for either cheek. I spit into the sink, wipe my mouth with a towel. Is this what turning thirty does to a woman’s body? Pieces added, pieces lost? My thumbs corkscrew into the tiny divots, and I imagine midnight microbial elves hacking slivers out of my face. Moon men.
“Do you notice anything different about me?” I ask Henry, inches from his face.
“Different,” I repeat, holding a half-smile.
“Well—” he laughs, tapping his fingers on his chest.
“Not those. Something else?”
My strained smile falters into a grimace.
“Yeah. You look . . . pleasanter.”
“Chill. You know, more relaxed. Like you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, and nothing can get you down.”
“As opposed to? Tired? Upset?”
“No. Just, you know . . . You don’t normally have a face that screams ‘Good morning, world!’”
He’s referring, of course, to my resting bitch face. My protective layer against the world. Against assumptions, peacocks, swindlers, and strangers in the night. A mask that could be easily cracked if you just got to know me. But if you didn’t—
Give me a smile. Smile. You need to learn to smile more. C’mon, just one smile. Smile for me. What’s she so angry about? Why do you have to be such a bitch?
This isn’t cute anymore.
Dimples invited you in, embraced you, involuntarily, with their charm. Hailing beauty and good luck. I prayed for them into my teens, jealous of a blonde best friend and her natural ease. Then I discovered they were genetic, and I cursed my parents for my misfortune.
Thin hair. Broad shoulders. Constantly broken nails. Ill-defined musculature. Sparse eyebrows in desperate need of tinting. Fourteen pounds too many. Two inches too short. Dry skin that requires a full layer of lotion after stepping out of the bath. Every woman has a list.
Over the next week, my body changes with each sunrise. I lose my “fancy fat” and all body hair except for my scalp and eyebrows. Rejuvenation. Regeneration. Rebirth. Revitalization. Realization. I am not growing into my womanhood; I am having it stolen from me. My body is smooth and unmarked by cellulite, stretchmarks or scars. I become disoriented without the map of experience etched into my skin. I grow slimmer by the day. A centimeter here. Another there. An inch between my thighs. I take stock with a fabric measuring tape.
Perhaps it’s the stress getting me down. The loss of appetite. The lack of sleep. You wouldn’t know it looking at me. I look in peak physical condition, no dark circles or wrinkles ringing around these eyes. Or maybe it’s all the extra sex.
Henry worships my design. The new schematics. At the altar of our bed, he sings my body’s praises and bestows a kiss from head to toe. Then he consecrates our love in holy consummation. Over, and over, and over again. It makes him feel good. Powerful. He calls himself Eros.
I wish I felt more like Aphrodite, harnessing my inner goddess, but instead I feel more like the shell beneath her feet. Spread open, empty, and tread upon.
Sometimes I wonder why he doesn’t change.
Sometimes I want to take a knife to my own body and see if it will repair itself by morning.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t wake up. Especially on the morning my lips change.
“It’s just so . . . personal.”
“But I thought you didn’t like the way you looked…down there.”
“Yeah, but I’ve had to live with it. Haven’t I? Being bigger. I feel naked now.”
“What else is going to change?”
“What else could change?”
“But you have beautiful blue eyes. My favourite.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your ears.”
“My hands then?”
“What’s wrong with your hands?”
“Look at them. My fingers, how stubby they are.”
I show him.
“I see,” he says. “Maybe they could be extended, if you don’t like them.”
“You think I’m changing on purpose?”
“Yes,” before he sees my rage. “No. Not you, exactly.”
“Then who? Or what?”
“What if you are looking at this all wrong?”
“What if the universe has given you a gift—to transform into the person you were meant to be?”
He laughs. “What’s so wrong with improving yourself?”
“This isn’t me.”
“But it could be, if you just accepted it.”
“A better me, you mean?”
Does he even remember who I am? Was? Or does he not want to?
“There are hardly any pieces of me left.”
“There’s plenty. And plenty to go.”
“You asshole.” I swat at him. “Just watch, eventually I’ll vanish. It’ll be like I never existed.”
Henry wraps me in his arms. “You feel real to me.”
I don’t feel real. I feel like a shadow. A trace.
“It feels like you’ve always been this way.”
My body grows cold under his embrace.
I fight the dark, the call to sleep. Henry breaths low beside me. I want to shake him awake. Slap some sense into him. Don’t let me disappear. I kick against sheets that wrap my legs in a mummified grip. Henry remains undisturbed. He likes a tight tuck.
A sea of self-loathing washes over me. Knocking me down, drowning me. Every change, a wave. One part advances while another recedes. Flowing. Cresting. Breaking. My form reshapes like sand in a trance. I feel myself ebbing away, and withdraw into unconsciousness.
I dream of Theseus’s ship. Snow white sails billow against a blank blue sky. The long boat rocks from side to side in roiling waters. I lose my balance. Wet wood and stinging salt permeate my nose. The rhythmic beat of lapping waves nauseates me. An ear-splitting crack breaks open the sky. Like a cacophony of birds, planks protest as they are peeled from the ship’s exterior and gathered into a pile. New boards are hastily hammered in their place all around the ship. I cannot make out the faces of the crew. But I recognize their captain. Henry.
I call out his name. He does not hear me. I cry out again, and realize I cannot hear myself. I am not me, but the ship’s spirit. This is my dissected body. That is my skin being stripped to the bone. Those are my muscles screaming in revolt. I feel it all.
My dismembered wooden pieces are tied together in a strange shape. Opposing triangles, facing in, rounded at the edges. An hourglass.
Henry’s voice rolls upon the wind, assaulting what is left of me like thunder. “Who will transform your lowly body to a glorious body? Let us make this woman in mine own image. Offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing—this is your true and proper calling.”
Invisible lightning ignites the sacrificial pyre. The fire is blinding. The smoke reeks of burning hair. My body burns all over.
He will never admit it is him. Unless I force it out.
I clutch the paring knife, slippery with sweat and blood. A fresh socket throbs above my right dimple. A favourite part, one of a pair, lies drying on the bedside table, its azure iris already lackluster. I imagine it shriveling into a hardened ball. What good is an eye with no soul behind it? How small the sacrifice to be sure.
I tie Henry with red-speckled sheets to our bedposts, creating an altar of my own. He must either fix me or fix himself. I raise the knife. If he will not change, I will change him. Piece by piece.