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<center>[[THE BRUTALITY TALES]]</center>
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[[Born from an uncertain hex.]]
There was a fascination with the body that saw its reach beyond the womb. In her incubation, [[Red saw herself]]: a red instrument inside a red house, wet with possibility.
Why begin the tale at the womb, much like beginning at the sneeze, the halt before the presumed origin? [[I’m concerned with what Red knew before she did]]. When she was inside, not seeing, not hearing, but touching her troubled body with such fevered mystery. The matted fur, the hard nubs of her ears, and from the neck down, a smoothness reigned over her. She kept record of her holes, visiting them each day, surprised to find them widening and [[permitting of touch]].
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//Do not talk to strangers. Do not talk with the dead. Do not stop to touch the sharp edge of something shining. Do not let loose your hair. Do not stop for apples. Do not and yes, refrain from the taste of it. If it is pleasurable, then it is a spiraling desire to rot. Do you see here, the pattern of avoidance? Its dictates suggest that following one path, the singular road, dusty and alone, would be the only way back home. [[Red, are you listening?]]//
Red nods with her hands in her pockets, which were full of large holes.
“Why did you never touch me when I was little?”
Red’s question caught in the air and in her throat.
Red’s mother kept her eyes on the TV where Wheel of Fortune was playing. “I did,” she said in such a way that [[it could have come from anywhere without a mouth]].
It is common knowledge that parents lie and will do so even as the tiles turn from white to black in excruciatingly slow reveal. //Look at me. Look at me.// In her head, Red was shouting, but her mother did not move.
“Oh, Pat,” her mother finally sighed after the silence. Her eyes softened at the screen’s glare after the contestant failed to guess the final phrase, thus prompting the show’s end and the shiny red car, which will continue to be undriven until the next disappointment, for which Pat Sajak will be quick to console. [[She had such sympathy for the man]].
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“Are you even listening to me?”
Red blinks twice and then three times before stammering, “I’m sorry, what?”
Sheep slams her hoof onto the bar, rattling the row of onlookers who quickly resume their glasses of milk when she shoots them all the look. Red knows that look. Oh crap.
“Let’s go to Bora Bora,” Red says.
“This isn’t working.”
Okay, Red thinks. “I love you,” Red says instead.
Outside, the sheep are gathering together in the snow. Red watches the snow feather and alight on their heads and backs. Such frosted flesh would add a nice chill to the blood that surely runs hot underneath all that wool, she wonders and perhaps wonders too loudly as Sheep catches her gaze, which is perpetually out the window, the white cluster outside, their breaths coloring the dark with ice, and what they both know now, without speaking, in the indeterminable silence, that [[Red would always be hungering]].
“Look at me,” Sheep pleads.
Let us say that Red, in her youth, had an appetite as wide as her teeth.
She ate at first, the cold cereal mush, which was spoonfed to her by her distracted mother. At night, she crawled her way to the kitchen, to the glass vat sitting in the fridge where the mush grew thick and gelatinous, and yanked with her tiny and mighty force, the container to the floor where it smashed so ceremoniously that the whole house shook. Kneeling over the spilled food, Red lapped it up with long and hungry licks along the floor. Around the corner, her mother watched her lick the floor clean, spitting up glass from her cut lip, and then licking herself, which was sticky with crime and want. Red’s mother said nothing, backing away into the night.
Perhaps she had dreamed it, Red’s mother thought. But then there was the sparrow she found tucked under Red’s pillow. At night, she could hear Red sucking its little bones on her way to sleep.
Then there was the rooster whose usual relentless crows in the mornings were suddenly replaced by a long punctuated silence. On the pink carpet to Red’s room, she spotted a soft smear of a red stain with the tiniest of paw prints at center. She had a dream that night of Red lighting incense at temple, voiding every want. As Red prayed, her mother stuck her foot in Red’s mouth, pulling the jaw down with each step. Reaching within, she yanked out feather after feather like an endless chain link. [[She woke up from this dream, having not completed this task, and said a prayer for her suffering]].
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I should say, by now, [[Red has ceased feeling embarrassed]].
For it was said: “While no one has issued an invitation, the ghosts take up residence and conduct the rehearsal of the family tragedy from a tattered script.” The script, in this case, belongs to a larger story, of a familial history of deep shame. Red’s mother blamed herself. She had only wanted the best for her children. There, there, mother. In thinking about the past, Red’s mother felt her heart sputter with an old and familiar noise, which then came out of her mouth in the form of something like a sob. There were so many of them and she could only save the one—the lone pup in her belly, which she imbued with hope and a witch’s protective charm. It didn’t work. [[The pup grew up and she was a monster]].
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Once, when Red was in her crib, her mother fingered her tail and her teeth, which had grown at an alarmingly rapid pace for an infant of her size. Red’s mother had contemplated this for a while when Red was born but banished the thought. It visited her again, in the memory of her own mother who had scrubbed her with a broom handle and soap for so long and so hard that her skin peeled and was raw for days, though she could not recall why or what she did to warrant such punishment. But then there was Red, hushed in her bed with such soft howls that the mother hesitated for a second. Then she found her bravery, the knife in her hand, which came down quick on the tail, which glowed a terrible red when the blood pooled around it. Poor Red woke from the cut and did not make any noise at first, but her eyes grew wide and her ears grew oh so very large. Her mouth sprang open to cry but it was her mother who stopped her with a heavy hand. Its coarseness was a lesson.
Red looked up at her mother, the blade still hovering in the air. They were looking at each other in the way people often look at each other while looking past to find themselves. [[Red saw herself]] reflected in the blade, in her mother, the great tide of something terrible, ready to subside.
It was on a crowded forest dance floor that Red found her legs, which she shook against the night. Among the flick of sweat and hollering bodies where animal upon animal grinded into fur, wool, and puckered flesh, was Sheep who was dancing to merengue when they were playing bachata, dancing feverishly when the music grew slinky, made big gestures with her whole body when the song called for something small.
That moment was a parsing of paths—the way one discovers, almost unceremoniously, that one’s destiny moving forward would be splintered in many different directions. Or as Espen Aarseth says, “the linear can flirt with nonlinearity, but the nonlinear cannot lie and pretend to be linear.” Though Red would deny it at times, that she was never hexed in the womb, that her fate was sealed in some happy and forgiving future, there was no arguing that from the moment she was born, her life would be forked.
“Two left paws?” Sheep said.
Red glanced at the animal bopping alongside her. “I don’t dance.”
Except she did, eventually, at Sheep’s coaxing and because Sheep moved like a wool blur through the crowd, grabbing her by the paw and hand. It is true that one cannot pretend in these moments. Red felt a corner of herself open where Sheep would enter, and she saw upon entry, [[the day Sheep would leave her]].
“So we ask the question, later, and it often seems too late: what is it that has led me away from the present, to another place and another time? [[How is it that I have arrived here or there?]]” – Sara Ahmed
Perhaps Red was feeling bad enough that she followed Sheep home. There, they settled into each other until Red felt like she might stay forever in the plush of Sheep’s body.
“Do you trust me?” Sheep whispered, her voice like corn silk peeling off its husk.
“I want to,” said Red.
Together, they made their way to the cellar, which was populated by rows of cans and jars, a whole life of pickling objects from floor to ceiling.
In Red’s last moments, she thought of nothing but of a coarse and sweet winter in which Sheep was crawling across the snow. Her belly blossomed with a red wound that painted the snow with each pained drag across the ground. Red picked up Sheep’s body in her mouth, thinking of how quickly this flesh would puncture, [[if she could only just have one taste]]—
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Admittedly, Sheep was quick when she did it. At the absence of sharp teeth, Sheep used an axe with an impressively clean cut. The one fell motion, so exact, that Red barely felt it. Her head rolled off, smacking against a case of spicy pickled mangoes. Sheep was so tender throughout, plucking the head from the ground, and carefully combing through Red’s hair before slowly lowering it into a jar. This, Red could see from where she floated in the glass—a row of other similarly sized jars, some empty but a few of them filled to the brim with a yellow brine. What lived in them—Red had to squint to tell—the still heads of other wolves.
“Do you like this?” Sheep said. “Will you stay now?”
She didn’t answer, but in the walled solitude of this next jarred life, [[Red saw herself]].
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Red considered her obstinacy growing up as a form of what Philip Rieff, in his introduction to Freud’s analysis of the woman patient Dora, refers to as a “willful failure.” Like Dora, Red felt both the deep sense of unresolved melancholy and abject refusal of the terms ascribed to her being. What did she feel except mournful all the time?
At the playground, Red sat on a swing, kicking her little legs. A classmate, Reema, with two pigtails and a bright white grin, came up to her.
“We want to see,” said Reema, beckoning the children behind her who crawled under and over the fence to crowd around.
Reema handed Red a block of taffy, and though Red knew there was some alarm in this moment, she took it anyway and chewed. And chewed. And chewed some more, the candy creating a stiff bond across her molars. The children watched first, quietly, and then burst into laughter.
[[“Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”]] cried out one of them and then another said the same. Then they all burst into song. Unwrapping the taffy in their pockets, they wet the candy with their mouths and took turns sticking the sweet on Red’s hair until she was peppered with every pastel color of the taffy packet.
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There is no record of Red’s father.
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“And was that when you knew you were different?”
Dr. Blue Wolf had a way of attaching such big statements to small recollections. He looked at Red as well with the relentless glare that compelled her to agree, for who was she to counter?
“No. Yes. Fuck no.” Red had fallen into the habit of giving her answers in threes. Then finally, [[“I don’t know.”]]
The doctor held a watch before her. He placed a hand on her knee. A grin. [[“Let’s find out now, why don’t we?”]]
For Red, I would argue that not enough credit has been given to obstinacy. Or as Bhanu Kapil writes in //Humanimal//, “I’ve exhausted the alphabet. [[But I’m not writing this for you]].”
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When Red woke up, she was standing in a white field beside Dr. Blue Wolf.
“See there in the distance,” Dr. Blue Wolf pointed.
Over the hill, Red saw a group of chickens at a yard, fenced in by barbed wire. Red looked at Dr. Wolf who shrugged as if to say, //This is your brain. You tell us what to do.//
They raced forward, bucking against the wind. Red, who had walked on two legs for most of her life, fell down to all fours, surprised to find new speed in her movements. When she arrived at the yard, the sight of the chickens in full view, she took several steps back. Then, with the full force of her body propelling forward, she shot herself into the air, tumbling against the tops of the barbed wire fence. Dr. Blue Wolf followed suit, and in the yard, surrounded by two wolves, the chickens squawked and darted side to side in collective frenzy. The wolves descended upon the flock, the air coated in white and brown feathers, the sound of fat tears, the flesh moaning when pulled apart. [[And then, it was over]].
“Who do you live for? And how?”
Dr. Blue Wolf sold her with these questions about the authorship of her life. Admittedly, she was still at a lost for answers.
She thought he was a conman at first and he very might well still be. At the market where they first met, he had followed her from aisle to aisle. As she readied herself to tell him to get lost, he quickly told her of his specific approach to therapy, the one that had expanded his client roster three-fold over the past year. See, he had discovered a way to draw his patients into memory recovery as a way of perceiving the future. And what did Red think of that? Wouldn't she like to know what she had in store for her?
Red said, “There was a witch.”
The doctor smiled and took her basket in his arms to the checkout line. [[“Tell me about your mother.”]]
//What is there to say? She was a bullish woman, short in stature but strong. She hated smokers and played mahjong with the same group of girlfriends every other Friday night. Otherwise, it was just she and I in front of the TV. It was so strange though. One day, she decided we would go vegetarian, and she filled my plates with two broccoli heads. She watched me so carefully when I ate and at times would stand up, walk over, and take the plate away, muttering something like, “That’s enough!” Then she would yank me over by the ear to kneel before the two big photographs of my dead grandpa and grandma on the wall, yelling, [[“You talk to them! You tell them what you did!”]]//
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//[[And all I could do was listen.]]//
Eve Sedgwick writes, “The desire of a reparative impulse… is additive and accretive. Its fear, a realistic one, is that the culture surrounding it is inadequate or inimical to its nature; it wants to assemble and confer plentitude on an object that will then have resources to offer to an inchoate self.”
From which we learn the self is incomplete. [[The desire for wholeness—futile.]]
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For Red, her mother will make a red cloak and she will wear it all her life. May it bind her to her ill self and her hungers stay close to her that they may never come out. This would be a kind of life.
Red, shrouded in her namesake color, resisted at first, but realizing that it would be so much easier if she just let it—if she could just let her body fall into it, the bind would feel less like a bind, but a kindness. And she would learn to be grateful for this covering for which she could only move so far and so little.
In this way, she learns. [[Red was never meant to live]].
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Red woke a second time in Dr. Blue Wolf’s office. “So tell me what you saw,” he said.
Red coughed and a handful of feathers fell from her mouth to her palm.
He pressed on. “Did you like it?”
She licked her gums, which tasted of fresh copper.
“Did you?” Dr. Blue Wolf stood nose to nose with Red.
What answer could she supply but the truth? [[Red saw herself]].
The fact of the matter is that [[Red was never meant to live]].
The fact of the matter is that [[Red was never meant to live]].
The fact of the matter is that [[Red was never meant to live]].