Strands Perhaps if I wear your death like a coat, your face lying gently on my shoulder, my breath enough for us both, your hair will become intertwined with mine strand by strand, lock by lock. As you grow heavier and I become weak, you may start to fall off just a bit two faces distinct though side by side but the sight of me wearing you will be so normal to everyone’s glances that no one will wonder if there’s one of us or two. And when you finally slip to the ground and crumple at my feet like a shadow then perhaps, if I step into the light, it will just be this new me without any you except for strands of my hair in yours and yours in mine.
Hell A man with a gaping mouth and rows upon rows of teeth. He carves an intricate pattern into the back of my hand with his knife slowly so the pain lingers. In my mind, I want to jump ahead to the time I know the pain will be over. But I make myself feel it watch it be grateful for it. I know that I will flash this someday scar like a secret password: “Let me in.” He slits open my left knee, slips something inside, and sews it up in a jagged stitch. I stay until he knows there is nothing worse he can do to me. I walk away and walk walk over a shimmering border of stray sparks. I am out of his reach. On the other side, she waits in a little cottage. She's beautiful, she's kind, and she beckons me to sit beside her. She puts her hand on my scarred, swollen knee and says gently, “You know you will never be rid of this,” and at that moment I understand. Inside my knee, he entombed the bodies of dead people and I will carry them with me always their sunken grief their sudden endings their scattered skeletons. The woman begins to cough her breathing labored. I reach out to her, touching her bony back and in that moment I realize she's actually unsettlingly old. Her youth and beauty take immense effort. She wants no one to waste their concern on her. I go to open the door to leave but there's no handle. I must use my sturdy fingernails to pry the door open. There's another door behind that and then another and another. I open the final door, step into the bright light, and just like a Viking I walk out to sea. A thousand voices far away and above the sidelit clouds sing swelling words in a dead language. If I go far enough in I will drown in victory. Something is swimming hard toward me. A selkie. Half her face has been hacked off, her one remaining jagged canine tooth has been brutally removed, leaving a jagged scar like mine.
Shannon Wood Rothenberg is a former math teacher. If you’re itching to read her college honors thesis, entitled Causation, Counterfactuals, and Possible Worlds, she will giddily send you a pdf and then meet you for coffee. Her love affair with mathematics is rivalled only by her deep attraction to history, writing & editing, super-jaw-droppingly-cool-pre-Industrial-Revolution-era inventions, deep philosophical conversations, and Old English.