First published in Printed Words 2019
I peeked round the corner, choking on the thick smell of blood. The shuffling sounds of many bodies, the heat from all these creatures crammed in too tightly. Through the semi-darkness, I saw the chickens pressed together.
I slid my gaze away from that writhing mass to the other side of the tall, mesh wire. My eyes fell upon the strange device. It took a second for me to understand what I was seeing. A chicken dangled, hung suspended, grabbed inside the wooden claw. A knife was pressed against its neck, and from the ruby blade blood ran freely, staining feathers, clogging streams trickling down the cadaver.
He slipped the necklace around my neck, his fingers clumsily closing the clasp. They lingered there, a bit too long, softly brushing the silky skin. I bit my painted lip, strangely tense, waiting to be released. We had to go. But still he didn’t move.
He probed a little, fingers wandering, caught on dimpled mounds of bulging spine, the yielding vales between taut tendons. Awed at the enormity of what lay beneath those hands, that pulsing stem of human life. So soft, so fragile. The thought ran on, sliding, merging, seamlessly transformed into a new idea. He stiffened, repulsed. With one last slippery touch, moved his hand away.
“You’ve got such a pretty neck,” he whispered. I pretended I hadn’t heard. In my mind, I saw the chickens.
After that day, I stopped wearing necklaces. The chains felt heavy, painfully restrictive against my throat. As soon as I let them fall, I immediately longed to escape their choking grip, to peel off the silver bands and free the clogging flesh.
He noticed. Asked me why I didn’t wear the gifts he’d bought. For some reason, I couldn’t tell him. It wasn’t normal to think like that, to bring to life those dainty strings, transformed to guzzling creatures in my anamorphic lens. I felt them tearing, biting into the diaphanous skin. And now I’d felt it, I couldn’t seem to stop feeling it.
He got angry, the next time I was getting ready. Grabbed the box of clanking bands and, with a fierce determination, pulled one out. Waved it cruelly, a hypnotic pendulum, swaying back and forth in timed precision. I shuffled away. Not tonight. He didn’t stop the swinging.
I stiffened as he pulled me close. Gently, he swept away the hair. It tumbled forward, those glinting locks, freshly brushed. Almost challenging, seeing what I’d do, he laid his hand against my skin. Just kept it there, a heavy clamp. I didn’t move. The moment felt too thick, unreal, a rippling stain across this still-life vista. Now we could never rub it out.
A heavy thud. The amber jewel fell hard against my chest. That shining chain wound up around my throat and clicked. There it hung. His hands slipped down. I stepped away.
All night I couldn’t ignore the sticky band. The heavy jewel pressed icy lips against my skin, an endless osculation, sucking hard against the flesh. I spun it, tugged it, pulled it hard. But still the clasp would not unseal. Round and round my neck the writhing serpent ran, endless rings around the stretched out stem.
I had to take it off. I did it subtly, making sure he was not looking. Slowly slipped the burning chain away from flesh and shoved it out of sight, buried in the velvet darkness. But despite all my precautions, I knew he’d seen. I also knew he could not speak, not now at least. The friends were here. Instead he smiled, the curving flesh expanding upwards, thinning in elastic bands as two pink arcs curled close together. He could have been happy, if only the eyes had not betrayed him.
I didn’t want the night to end. I kept reviving conversations, manic laughter splurging from the darkness of that gaping void. I felt each time I stretched it wide I’d go too far and paper skin would slash and tear, a terrifying chasm through my cheeks. No friendly creases embraced by eyes, they bulged and bulged, unblinking orbs. Chickens’ eyes.
I slipped into a puerile game, not sure exactly what I meant. I did a dance, the chicken dance, and squawked and flapped and laughed and laughed and folded arms in half to make those crumpled wings. They’d never fly. So soon they’d die. But now they hopped and twirled and staggered round and round that cage, macabre music playing as they danced their final dance; the slaughter dance, the dance of a creature marked for death. The blood surged faster, desperate swells, the heart beat harder, erratic palpitations. Every inch of body so desperately aware it was alive.
At last we left. He held my hand, a suffocating grip, leading as he marched us briskly back. I lingered, slowing, listening as our footsteps slapped across the silent street. Lighter, harder, lighter, harder. We weren’t in time.
He unlocked the door, stepping back to let me through. I hovered, uncertain, but stepped inside. Everything felt so wrong. I dumped my coat and wandered up the stairs, my little finger trailing softly on the bannister. I murmured something, far too quiet, my voice escaping in a singsong swell to drift around the house.
I shuffled to our room, not sure what to do. Perched on the bed and stared, shocked, at the gauntness of my face, that strange reflection staring back inside the mirror. It had been too long since I’d properly paused to gaze upon that sheet of glass, since I’d really taken in that small, lined oval. I’d forgotten it could change.
I heard him follow, those footsteps clomping through the room. I didn’t move, staring, still as stone. A second later, the footsteps stopped.
In one swift movement, fat flesh clasped together, a clumsy necklace, a thick, distorting collar I was suddenly forced to wear. I couldn’t get it off, couldn’t slide out of that vice like grip which had me pinned. A dizzying ache began to pulse in numbing waves, sliding through those throbbing points of pressure.
I met his eyes in the reflection, the whole scene smothered in that gorgeous glaze of tragedy. His lips were moving, saying words that didn’t reach me. “Pretty neck, pretty neck” I seemed to read. But now I wasn’t sure. The world was swaying. He wasn’t stopping.
I saw it then, those tiny silver blades, the open scissors innocently strewn upon the painted dresser. Impulse flew. I groped and grabbed and plunged the blade towards his neck.
Silver flashed, the balance tipped and flimsy paper tore apart. A tiny drop at first, a single cerise bud that bloomed and bloomed, the cherry fattening, ripening until it plummeted to the floor. Plop! I plunged again. A scream, a cry, I felt the grip slide free. Stumbled back, the room a sparkling shade of grey.
And as the world began to fade I saw him there above me. He held his neck, a wounded beast, and anger marred his face. But I was leaving now, I didn’t mind. I watched the peeling scarlet gash, entranced to see that flimsy skin make way for leaking blood. That tiny slice expanding out, staining his whole neck in gorgeous red. Just like the chicken, he bled and bled.