September 26, 2012

(Today is a very special Wednesday. It’s my husband-t0-be’s birthday. Also, today’s piece is from my new novel, which will probably be pretty short but we’ll see. I have a week and a half to finish. Not a problem. This new story was inspired by a conversation I had with my cousin. She is not a fan of old-fashioned bathtubs that stand up on legs. When I was a child, I hated radiators. I thought they would chase me and eat me. So I combined our two least favorite inanimate objects to create a story that would torture the crap out of our younger selves.)

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…..a little girl stares at a broken radiator and whispers, [does it have teeth?] she feels along the metal casing, fitting her arms and legs into the long spaces between the radiator joints while singing, [if it has teeth, should we scream? if it has claws, should we leave? if it has fangs, should we hide? if it has anything, should we sing to god? if it has teeth, should we scream?] the little girl fuses with the radiator, her legs poking out of the radiator legs, her hands resting on the little thermometer spout. [i'm a little radiator, short and stout. here is my piping, here is my rust. when you turn me on, i blister and pus. i'm the radiator, hiss, hiss, hiss,] the little girl sings, waving her hands around her face. she twists her head and her chin bangs against the radiator metal. CLUNK. THUD. the little girl pulls back, her hands bright red from where the metal bent against her skin, compressing the arteries and leaving marks against the flesh. [you should be nice,] the little girl chides the radiator. she knocks her foot against a radiator leg and winces as a sharp pain runs up her shin and hits her abdominal wall. [ouch,] the little girl says. she shakes her head and drops onto the wooden floor surrounding the radiator. she pokes at the small holes beneath the radiator legs. her fingers disappear into the darkness. she squints slightly. the darkness twirls around her fingers, small wisps appearing like foggy teeth. [don't bite me,] she whispers. [that would be mean.] she presses her palms against her cheeks and pulls the skin down to her mouth until she can chew the inside cheek meat easily. she gnaws slowly, her jaws rotating in a wide circle, before she opens her mouth and lets the cheek muscle resume its original shape. [my skin hurts,] the little girl says. she leans closer to the hole, squinting until she sees a gray snake poke its head out of a broken pipe. the little girl snaps her hands back. [you won't eat me,] she shouts. she holds her hands to her mouth and breathes slowly, her breath warming her palms as she pants. she leans over the hole again but the snake is gone. maybe there was no snake. sometimes, she makes things up in her head. a clown in the closet. a knife in the oven. a snake in a dark hole beneath the radiator. [you don't scare me,] the little girl says but she is lying. of course the radiator scares her. all she sees is metal. even if the radiator never comes alive, the metal is still dangerous. she can never tell if it is hot or cold until she presses her hands against the top and suffers a burn that leaves her fingers throbbing for several days. but she can’t let the radiator know she is afraid. then it might come alive and bite. it might bite her and bite her. and steam might come out of its pipes and so she might be shrouded in mist while the metal teeth bite. where would the radiator even keep its teeth? in the oblong slots running vertically across its body? in the legs? in the small pipes trapped inside the metal frame? she wants to know so she can avoid the teeth. but she doesn’t want to know so she can continue thinking of the radiator as a harmless piece of metal. [you can't bite me,] she says before she can convince herself not to. she wants to taunt the radiator, squealing and hopping, grinning as she sings. [you can't bite me! you can't bite me. i'm a little girl and you're a radiator. you don't have any teeth, just some stupid pipes. nope. you can't bite me, you stupid piece of rust.] the little girl tosses her hair over her shoulders and presses her hands against the top of the radiator. she drums her fingers over the odd humped top and her hands bump against the raised portions, then dip down. still, mocking the metal makes her uneasy. skin can’t cut metal but metal can cut skin. maybe if she were made of metal, it might be better. then it would be metal against metal, clashing and cutting. she would have a good chance of winning. but right now, with her hands covered with skin and the metal tucked between her fingers, she could be chopped into tiny little bits just large enough for a radiator to chew without compressing a pipe. she would disappear right into the radiator’s hidden mouth. the metal would suction her up. her mouth leans close to one of the slots and she hisses, [just try to suck me up. i dare you. i'm faster than you. i'll just run away. so leave me alone. don't you try to bite me. or i'll show you what i do to metal. i'll toss you into the oven and bake you until your metal's melted. or i'll scream and someone will come with a soldering instrument. so don't even try.] but she doesn’t believe herself. she knows that solder needs some kind of gas. and if the radiator really wanted to suck her up, it would do it so fast, she wouldn’t be able to scream for help. she would be standing and then she would be in the radiator, all meat, completely dead. the little girl drops her arms to her sides. she bites her lower lip. the radiator glares at her, metal shining as if recently polished. [you should be dusty with spiderwebs,] the little girl says. she wants to ask, [why aren't you dustier?] but she doesn’t. instead, she just presses a hand against the radiator and moves it around the edges, feeling for something like a mouth. in the dim light, she doesn’t see the small metal splinter hanging near the notch lip. then the metal pierces her hand and rips. the little girl yanks her hand back. blood oozes from the wound. droplets flow down her fingers towards her hands. the little girl shakes her hand and blood splatters the floorboards with a raining pitter-patter sound. [it bites,] she shouts and flees.

*I can’t take credit for the “it bites” line. If I remember correctly, it was a line from an Angela Carter short story. So I’d like to think I’m paying a bit of homage to the master. And if you’ve never read Angela Carter’s work, order one of her books already (I recommend The Bloody ChamberFireworks, or Saints and Strangers.).

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