A Girl Broken Down

Heather Shaw

Sixteen fingers and four malicious thumbs hold me to the bed, 
Then they get to work. Stretch out my arms till
                                              S N A P
The cartilage churns up into a thousand pieces 
A splitting of my atoms, bone into confetti
The party pieces float, trapped in the vacuum of human space.
“Don’t cry,” my sisters say. “You’re big now.” 
“Big girl.”
“It’s just your turn.”
The next night, out crawl my cousins from the curtains 
Knives in hand.
They spot out my eyes and work carvings down my cheeks, 
Dab up the blood and pat, pat, pat
It against my lips, then pinch the skin between their claws.
“A good colour,” they agree. 
“She’s a real heartbreaker.” 

When my aunties come, I weep and weep,
Their hands are worst of all. So calloused and skilled, 
They take out my ribs, suck the meat from the bone, 
Only force them back in place once they’re clean.
I am a jigsaw made of delicious fleshy parts.
“No pain, no gain, darlin’,” they sing as one. 
“A moment on the lips, forever on the hips.”
Fourth night, I lie still. I think there is nothing else to give. 
I am now rocks ground up into sand
And the tide keeps coming, washing in and out. 
Mum takes me in her arms and is so gentle
As she plucks away my liver, my kidneys, stomach, lungs, 
The heart goes last. She grips it between manicured nails 
Squeezes till the juice runs clear.
Out comes a needle and thread
To sew me back together, to run cross-stitch across my mouth. 
“Remember, child, it’s a cruel world out there.” 

Heather is a writer who lives in London. Her work has appeared in the Dear Damsels Annual 2020, Virtual Zine magazine, and was shortlisted for the 2020 Fish Flash Fiction Prize.