There can be boiling, burning days in December. It’s the Georgia anomaly, seen in the turgid pastors’ wet handkerchief and the dust floating around my mother’s fidgeting fan.. In the suffocating heat, a daze surrounded the day. Words melted off paintings, from the canvas, and puddled into swirls of screams and reds and greens…
“-and you are a promising set of young men. It’s a barn burner out here, and yet, you choose to come here. Now, I’d like to tell you a story. You might think that this is all a fallacy, maybe, a myth. Maybe you came here because you heard someone somewhere say somethin’, and you couldn’t resist. You’re a good man, not living in cotton, but you work hard. No matter what, though, you strike out. They don’t notice you, they don’t care. But they will, after today. It’s what you deserve.”
I’ve grown up hearing my father say that same exact speech, every Sunday, at the same time. He’d wear the same suit, tie, shoes and cobble in our basement in front of these promising young men. Years ago, in the beginning, it was local boys who were odd, erratic, and felt like they had no future. Now, they travel here in droves, all under the allure of the promises my father gave. They all felt owed something, by the universe and God, and they were here to claim it.
In the beginning, I wasn’t allowed to observe alone. Instead, I dutifully waited with my mother, swallowing down prepubescent impatience. Every Sunday, my mother and I would welcome all the young men in, escort them down the narrowing, mildewed stairwell, and stand to the side. In the early years, the basement was furnished with a large fraying dresser, two old dresser-knobs missing, mold infested,holding up a singular item. A trinket box, too small to look appropriation the dresser, yet demanding all the allure.
It was otherwise filled with chairs, of all sorts, some rocking, some not, and it was always exactly five. Five promising young men, screened by my father into the exclusivity of Sundays. It was a different group each time, no man ever allowed in twice–and no women, except my mother and me, ever.
The furniture hardly changed, even when my father began charging obscene amounts. There was something special, he’d justify, about the humbleness of it all. He was the poor man’s king, the messiah to all the lonely young boys. The ones who scorned their mothers, the pretty girls at school, and their sisters for not respecting them, not wanting them. There were some that would go on to gut their girlfriends, scream at their wives, destroy the things they wanted. They would become barons in the kingdom of male entitlement. My father, the reigning monarch.
“This generation uses a lot of words I don’t understand, incel, those kinds of things,” At this point in his monologue, the young men would perk up at the word, but my father would nonchalantly wipe his mouth with his sleeve, the crisp white cloth eclipsing his mouth completely for a moment. I’ve grown to understand the tactics; the detail-oriented way my father moved. For a short man, he’d pace like the room couldn’t contain him. “And I see the way they dismiss you, disregard all of you. They want these wimpy, good for nothing liberal men who say they’re feminists, who– who let women run things. I don’t allow that in my house.” His white suit would ride up here, as his arms stretched out to indicate his complete control over the space. “It’s nature for the man to lead. To choose. Have you ever seen a lion not take what he wants? That’s nature. Not the bullshit they’re telling you in the media!”
Despite my father’s booming voice, I could always hear my mother’s whisper to me. “You’re lucky you’re a woman.” Despite my father beating me into my place in this world, my mother was my first initiator in the mindset that life was carved for me and I was simply a submissive passenger. I’m lucky I’m a woman; I’m lucky to be prey. Predators have to learn to hunt.
“It’s not your fault. The world turns and changes and spits you out.But not anymore. Not after today.”
Like a white five-headed creature, the promising young men would begin to stomp, yell back, and excite themselves into a frenzy. As a child, I’d flinch, once cry. As a fresh adult, I’m expected to keep face, silent.
It was almost time for the catalyst, anyway. The real reason they were all here, the spoil of the war waged against hedonistic, soul sucking turn of the century female empowerment. The age of man was to come, and they’d siphon every morsel from every small crack.
My father turns ceremonially, fluttering around in the natural light that sneaks into the basement from the rectangular windows. Unintentionally, it envelopes him and his luminous robe in a soft, afternoon glow. In our early years, I’d respect my father like no other; any semblance of attention to me away from my mother felt arcadian. I’d follow his rules piously; covered, stiff, subordinate.
I was seeking approval from a beast with two heads, promising false miracles in return for worship and idolization. Who would gnaw into the flesh and blood of women and melt down their skeletal insides into a pool of sin and seduction. He was never going to love me, I said to myself at the age of thirteen. He was going to eat me.
“Now, it’s time to take back what’s yours. This artifact here,” With his back turned, he carefully grasped the glass case, no fingerprints or dust thanks to my mother’s eagle eye. The theatrics are all his, the clandestine operations are all ours. “It’s been preserved carefully for centuries. The rib of King James V, an heirloom of our family. Meant only to be passed down to my sons. All of you.”
The rib, a curved, yellowed brittle bone, looked rotten and sulfuric. It began as a wild fable when found by an ancestor, a doctor, in a trunk when coming to the New World, and perpetuated throughout the years. At some point, it’s clear that it’d been replaced whenever it decomposed beyond repair. It wasn’t the metaphysical that mattered, it was the belief from men. Every man in my family, from the patriarchal line, received the inheritance when they matured. I’d never even touched it, never felt the rot plague my skin.
There was never going to be a biological son, a real son. So instead, my father invited lots of young boys, every Sunday, and gorged on their pitched fevers and anger instead.
“I’m going to pass this to every one of you. I want you to really feel all of it. Breath it in. It will change your life.”
I’ve heard it once that caterpillars turn mostly to liquid in their cocoons before being born again as a butterfly. My father liked them at this age so they would melt in his hand. That’s when the poison could mix in.
The white monster moved as one, passing the bone for each of its hands to examine, feeling the curve, the density, the rot. In some cases, a bit of the decomposition powder left behind a stain that they would rub harder into their skin. I’d imagine it’d function like cordyceps infection. Burrow into the skin, traverse through the adrenaline-pumping heart, the organs jostling about, into the cancerous mass of a brain. Control their every move, make foam in the mouth whenever they’d capture a prey, then die after finishing what it was controlled to do: champion phallic, violent virility.
After the touching, the rib was returned to its rightful place, underneath the glass case. The glass case itself was hardly a security measure; any of them could come up and take it if they wished, but it remained underneath the case due to the respect they had for my father andfor what the little traditionalistic bell jar represented–the ability to enclose, deoxygenate, and groom.
“You have all been blessed today. God will always bless his most devout followers.” Outside, the afternoon was rotting into the night. The Southern breeze became sweet and the stars blinked in and out of my view. Even now, older, I still find myself self-soothing by looking at them. They meant another day was done and one day I will be free. That as soon as I began sneaking away, learning from the library when I could, stealing when I could not…that knowledge would set me free.
The night welcomed the blob of young men, who sneered my way after revering my father. Checking that my modest clothing of high collars and long skirts was to their approval and to their fantasies of clawing it all away, my clothes, myself.
I baited my time and took care of my chores, cleaning away the sweat and passion from the basement. My father stomped away into his study and locked himself into scripture reading. My mother gently pressed her hand into my shoulder and stowed away into the rest of our home, to be seen but not heard.
I initially wanted to kill my mother, too. In a way, she was always the confirmation to what my father said. The visualization of my defects as a woman. She always woke up, perfect and compliant, and lived that way. She’d hiss into my head all the ways that I would be alone, deteriorating in a glass case of despondency and become nothing–not a mother, not a wife, but a biological anomaly that needed to be snuffed.
The violence of living without my father, in a way, would be enough. I’d give her what she wanted to shield me from. The breaking of the tether to the man. Opening her head and shredding her brain, taking the matter and squeezing it into a slime texture. I wanted her to think of nothing but my pain. My anger.
It wasn’t hard to sneak into my parent’s room, especially in the night where only nefarious creatures lurked about. I’d initially planned to end it quickly, and swiftly, but belated myself. Tip-toed down into the basement to take the rib. It was now firmly held in my left hand while my right held my father’s butchering knife.
My mother and father were both in deep sleep. The bed was stuck firmly in the center of the opposing wall to the door. Their room was always neat and lacked personal things–it only held a nightstand with a shade darker than the dresser. In the dark, though, it was all painted black. Their bed was disproportionately large, to hold the conceivement and hope of a son that never came. It was high off the ground with strong, wooden legs. The headboard was simple, with only a cross to mark it.
I walked to the side my father always slept on, the left, and heard his nimble breathing. It was soft and full, not one to sleep in fear or anguish, unlike me.
I gripped the cleaver, the leather handle now staining my hand. Standing before him, I swung.
For a full life, death comes quite fast. It struck the middle of his Adam’s apple, once, and I heard him begin to gargle. The blood pooled out of his throat so quickly that it painted his entire torso. It didn’t decapitate his head entirely, but parted parts of his flesh like the Red Sea and exposed all the beautiful color that he kept inside. His body panicked, convulsed, but I wasn’t done.
Removing the cleaver was difficult with my strength, as it made home into my father’s neck. It was now nestled and nested. I managed to pry it loose, and replace it.
With the rib. And this time, I loved the feeling. The squish of the blood and the flesh made the most wonderful sound so I kept digging into it. I turned and twisted and heard gloshes, saw the pink and the red like a sunset. I did not wrestle with the flesh and blood but made it into a canvas, marked with a symphony of color in the black night. I took a step back to admire my work.
My mother never stirred, not even when I left.
Jay Perez is a first time author from Puerto Rico. She currently works as an editorial production assistant for the National Board of Medical Examiners. When not working or reading, she’s watching period pieces with her cat and dog.
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