Shrouded wouldn’t be the word to use, though it would come to you as soon as you saw her. As if a potato sack had fallen carelessly from the sky, slumping itself over head and shoulders in some kind of freakish familiar protection.
Old tales would come to you then, if you dared to stay staring. Fables more sectioned than women-slicing magicians. Stories of frog princes. Grim tales of half-transformations fed by the long-nailed fingers of the gnarled and the wicked.
It’s not like she hasn’t already buried those stories deep inside her, turning her skin sepia with their morals and their lessons. She slides them into the basket she carries wherever she goes. Even in bed, when the sheets silk along her animal body, when she tries to imagine what wanting would feel like, the basket is there. Begging her attention. She holds it close, an invisible willow-boughed thing, not infinite at all. Small enough to wrap her arms around, entrapping her. Out of the emptiness she produces things she cannot let go. Freed, they might turn on her. Like an angry mob that she’s accidentally—maliciously—slighted.
Some are kind when they see her approach—kindness born of fear, the kind that causes feet to step wide berths, as if the thing that blinds her could be contagious. Some cross the street a block away in preparation of the avoidance. Others, filled with a curiosity of the unknown and unfamiliar, side-show her into a grotesque closeness. Peer into her animal sockets, strip her of everything human. They turn her into something they know. A Bunny with ears. A whiskerless lump with a dog-like nose—so big! For a woman, at least.
Then, always, they scan the chest for tell-tale signs. But she has kept that hidden, mysterious.
Her feet are too big. Her belly, rounder than the coveted hourglass and still, still, she states her “S” in public, staking her claim of womanhood. What they hear is hissing, like that of a thick poisonous snake. Then the shrinking occurs, that process where bystanders recede from her world, leaving only bulging eyes that beat down reality into something that fits the template. Man, woman, animal. Each perfect piece sliding into a puzzle that doesn’t have to exist.
Sometimes, she imagines that even God—if there is one—feels the shame. Made the sack fit too well as it dropped from the heavens. Too much a part of her, tapering to fit her shoulders and neck as if it belonged there, more than what lies beneath.
Other times, when she weeps behind the gauze, she settles to the floor with what is hers, arms encircling nothing, protective, because it is all she has. Big-limbed, boxy, nothing petite about her and yet she holds herself even closer. Looks out with bunny-dark sockets, daring you to seek what lies within.
—Semi-finalist in MacQ’s
Magician Ekphrastic Writing Challenge
lives at the base of the Green Mountains in Vermont. She is the associate fiction editor for the Mud Season Review. Her work has appeared in AcrosstheMargin, The Sonder Review, Heartwood Literary Magazine, The Green Mountain Club News, and elsewhere.