Medusa at 13

by Maggie Nye Read author interview June 20, 2016

Wake one night to pinching pains like gnat bites below the elastic of your panties. It’s summer and the nights are hot. You and your older sisters sleep covered in a wet towel like your mom taught you. In your ghetonia, this is air conditioning. Press the towel against the flat plane of bone that makes a v with your hips to cool the sting. Feel the gentle shifting under your hand. Do not choke on the fear that rises in you and do not make a sound. Swallow it down to your belly where it will live and grow. Unwind your sleeping hair from your sisters’ and slip out of bed without waking them. You are lithe and your body is rarely noticed.

Lock yourself in the bathroom. Pull the sagging elastic away from your waist and see what is growing from out of your skin. Take your sister’s tweezers from the drawer. They are coated in beige dust that smells of orris root. Try to breathe quieter under the bathroom light which brings your bones to the surface of your skin. When you are calm, take your panties off and sit with the soles of your feet together. The floor will be cold and it will sweat in the damp night heat. It will pimple your skin.

Now look at them—A dozen wiry snakes as short as the first segment of your finger, their big glossy eyes reflect your face, which is not altogether a child’s face. They’ve broken through the spongy white skin you never paid much attention to. Sometimes you pressed your fingertips into that skin because it was soft and smooth and it settled you. It’s ugly now—red and swollen and the black snake bodies sway blindly. The skin is thin there and you can see them receding into you like black veins, feel their pull deep inside of you where they are rooted. A knot of snake bodies that move in your stomach and they move in your chest and your lungs too. They make you sick with winding and nip toothlessly at the insides of your thighs.

Get rid of them. Pinch their heads until they crunch, until their bodies split open and seep ink. They tug at your insides and make you nauseous. When you are done heaving, see that three heads have grown from the headless stalk of the snake you thought you’d killed. An unsolicited hiss issues from the most secret part of yourself. Wise up now. Clamp the tweezers low on the body. Low enough to pinch your own skin and pull slowly, loosen them from you. It will feel as though you are uncoiling your intestines. Pull until the string-thin tail has passed through you. Then clean up your animal mess. Flush the snakes. Bury your blood-freckled panties deep in the trash bin under lipstick smudge Kleenex and flattened toothpaste tubes. Slip naked back to bed and bury yourself between your sisters.

When they grow back—don’t kid yourself, of course they will—pull yourself together. Don’t cry when your sisters laugh at you, when they make you fetch and wash your soiled panties from the trash. Act like the woman you’re not. Dab yourself with witch hazel for the swelling. The sting of it will make your snakes hiss. Find the daily joy of this punishment and the relief, when you choose it, of Q-tips soaked in argan oil. Once a month, your snakes will shed their casing. Collect their iridescent skins in a jar and when you wake from nightmare, shake it by your ear. The rattle will send you dreamless back to sleep.

About the Author:

Maggie Nye's work has appeared or is forthcoming at Hobart online, Phantom Drift, and Pleiades Journal.  

About the Artist:

With an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, Sarah Edmands Martin specializes in illustration, animation, and storytelling. She experiments with eclectic media, allowing diverse processes in printmaking, projection, and early photographic methods to inform her designs. She has two other degrees in English literature and painting from the University of Maryland and, concurrently, teaches design at the University of Notre Dame. Sarah loves to make and collect GIFs, and, in another life, would very likely have been a taxidermist.