Contest #31 shortlist ⭐️

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Submitted on 03/01/2020

Categories: General

I saw an exorcism on T.V. once. I think I was seven or eight, sitting cross-legged on the carpet, and I was bathed in the shivery blue light of the television screen. The girl on the screen writhed and screamed. Her hands clawed at nothing, her spine arched and unlatched, and her eyes were black and draining, unspooling, emptying out as she screamed. 

I suppose this was like an exorcism. 

It had been four years now, but my body still didn’t belong to me. I drifted from place to place. Picked up groceries, sat in the garden, felt his hands in my mouth. I thought of him, how he sat on the kitchen counter. Legs swinging. Arms crossed. Angled, boiling mouth. His dark hallway eyes never ending. Elbows hitting tile, laughing into his lips, hiding under the bed. 

The sky was violently blue today. I checked on the garden, wandered between the poles soaked in ivy. I knelt in the hot soil, knelt the way people kneel before priests, begging, speaking with my hands. The soil felt like burning water in my palms. I slipped a hand in my pocket to touch the ring. Traced its icy outline. Tried and tried and tried not to think. 

I pulled weeds until the heat was too much. My hands were drenched in dirt. Back inside, I stood in front of the mirror and squeezed my hands around my throat, grinding the dirt against my skin. I thought, I love you. I squeezed harder. I thought,  I love you. I squeezed until my breath choked and my head swam. I thought, Please, god, I love you. Then I let go, and looked at the dark rings around my throat, and I felt furiously beautiful. I didn’t wash it off. 

The ring wasn’t a promise so much as a confession. It belonged to someone else. I don’t know why I ended up taking care of it. I’m sure there were people he trusted more. But I had it, and I kept it, and it was like a scab I couldn’t stop picking. My hand lived in my pocket. I traced it for hours.  

Grocery store. Milk and eggs and butter. Buzzing white light and black dripping from my eyes. On the drive home, I called my parents.  

“I’m glad to hear you’re doing so well,” my mother said. 

Her voice was fizzy through the speaker. I imagined her pale, round face, and how her eyes followed me around the room when I visited. She hadn’t liked him. He hadn’t liked her either.  

“Yeah, things are really great over here,” I said. “I mean, work’s fine, the garden’s blooming. All good.” 

“Are you still seeing the doctor?” 

It took me a full jolting second to realize. 

“Jesus, Mom. No. It was one date.” 

“But he was so sweet,” she said. 

“I am not still seeing the doctor,” I said. “Nice try, though. Now I can officially say my mom has tried and failed to set me up.”  

The doctor was an okay guy. He was tall and articulate, with cheekbones you could slit your finger on. We talked about school and surgery. He drove me home, and we listened to music sugar soft, and we traced fingertips, and then, at some point, he leaned in and he tried to kiss me. Everything snapped together then. I shoved him, hard, so hard that his head cracked against the window. My chest flared open, and I stumbled out the door, and I vomited in my kitchen sink for an hour. He called me the next morning, but I didn’t answer, and I never listened to the voicemail. 

“You deserve somebody sweet,” said my mother. 

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.” 

I went to bed early. I dreamt of a space that pressed in tight. Someone who loved me was there, in the dark with me, but I don’t know who it was. What I do know is that he was watching me. He watched through the dark as I was attacked and tortured by some faceless stranger – he stood there without moving and I couldn’t see who was hurting me or who my lover was – all I know is that through the blinding pain I kept saying the word please.  

Not please stop. Not please help. Not please with someone’s name at the end. Just please, and the knowing that he was there, watching. Just please, and that dizzying, dizzying dark. 

I woke up with his taste in my mouth. 

I reached for the ring and squeezed it in my palm, tight, until it left imprints on my skin. I let myself ache. And, just for a moment, I let myself miss.  

The ring was too small to wear on my finger, even the pinky. It was dusty gold, the gem picked out, a child’s ring. I imagined how it fit on her finger, what it looked like against her skin, this girl I would never meet. I tried to jam it over my knuckles, to force it over the ridges of my fingerbone. But it refused every time. He was given the ring at a funeral. I was given the ring under a tree. He’d pressed it into my hands. Kissed me again and again. 

“It’s not mine anymore,” he said. “It’s not mine anymore.” 

I wondered if she was wearing it when it happened. When she did it. I wondered if he watched it glint, if it clattered against the metal trigger just before the explosion.  

“It’s not mine anymore,” he said. “It’s not mine anymore.” 

His hands in my mouth. His handprints around my throat. Please. 

The crooked metal against her skin. Sinking grateful into teeth. Please.  

Eyes seeping ink. Spine arching, unlatching. Please.  


I dropped the ring and shook. The sun sang off key through the window. And I sat there, barely awake, haunted by this nameless grief – this inheritance – and I wondered, again and again, why I couldn’t just give it back.  


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1 comment

Becky Holland
00:43 Mar 12, 2020

Though the concept of this story is fine - I am not sure what it was. A few times, I followed the plot easily, but somewhere midway, I got lost. I am not sure if it was because of the way the sentences were formatted or just the words used. It didn't flow . I think maybe a second or third look at the paragraphs, and changing up the punctuation, or mechanics as a whole, and maybe adding some descriptive words. I think it has a lot of potential!!


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