art by Agata Maciagowska
When She is Empty
by Damien Walters Grintalis
Kat knew something was wrong the moment she opened the front door.
There was a change in the weight of the air and divots in the rug where Iriana's wingback chair should be.
The first stirring of pain bloomed in her chest, a dark flower of possibility. Of warning. Her bones softened, her muscles tensed, and her skin tingled, ready to shift into a new shape. Her body knew the dance well.
Perhaps a dimple in her cheek to show she laughed easily and often? Longer legs so she could run with a wider stride? More curves to fit into Iriana's hands?
No, she'd go for a run. A run would help.
She pulled out her shoes and glared at her defined calves. Iriana was the one who took her to the store to be properly fitted for shoes. Iriana kept track of their mileage and pace. The muscles in her calves, the running, made Iriana happy.
Kat threw the shoes across the room. The flower opened its barbed wire petals, and pain rushed in, bright and intense, as if a piece of her soul was tearing free. The sick-sweet tang of wet pennies flooded her mouth, sweat ran down the center of her spine, and her fingernails made half-moon bruises in her palms. Her back arched. The smell of damp flesh, of heat, filled the air. Tendons tightened, muscles shrank, nerves adjusted. A terrible symphony of pops and liquid snaps. She cried out, muffling the sound behind one fist.
When it finished, she had an ache lingering behind her breastbone and a newly slender calf. Not a runner's calf at all. She stretched out her other leg and clenched her jaw. The second reshaping was worse.
She coughed, liquid and deep, into her palm and grabbed a tissue to wipe away the drops of crimson on her skin. Save for the evidence in her hand, there was no blood in the room, no trace that anything had happened at all.
She wore her scars on the inside.
Jonathan was one of the easiest to please. He loved the piano. He said so on their first date. He loved women with curves. He loved cooking.
She forced her fingers long and slender. Forced her hipbones and her ribcage out. Padded the rest with extra fat and, later, with Jonathan's culinary creations.
When she had the piano delivered, her fingers moved over the keys, barely touching. She was never great, but good enough to make Jonathan clap his hands and ask her to play again and again.
They listened to jazz and drank red wine. She crafted the length of her toes and the arches in her feet so she could comfortably wear the high heels he adored on her. And he was happy. Until he found another woman with curves and heels that fit into his life better than Kat.
She swore she'd get it right the next time.
She slept with her phone on Iriana's pillow. A pitiful surrogate. The empty space in the bed felt like a cavern of failure. The sheets held a trace of Iriana's scent, lavender with a hint of spice from a sandswept land. How long before it faded, leaving behind only the memory of her skin? Kat breathed it in, not ready to let go.