Short Fiction by Hailey Piper
Never underestimate the seductive power of a woman who’s minding her own business.
“There’s just something about her,” they say. I see myself splashed across a pulp magazine cover, a distraught man in the background. The tagline reads: “He met a woman he Could. Not. Resist.” As if that’s my problem.
These writers don’t realize it’s me they’ve placed in their stories. I’d hoped to escape them when I left England, but their tide is unending. They scarce remember passing me on the street, only the fire I’ve lit in their minds, hearts, and other places. Later they sit with their notebooks or keyboards, tapping out the story of how a man’s peaceful life was shattered when he met me in some chance romance.
Sometimes I’m cast as a vampire. Other times I’m the half-human spawn of an elder god. I might be Eve. Never the same, but always me.
Half of these fictional sisters show no interest in men, while others drown in men’s wishes. She dressed that way that night knowing she’d rock his world. Her genetics must’ve known she’d meet him someday and grew her bones and flesh to suit him. We’re all so subtly loud in men’s eyes.
Feast on a true story.
I visit a grocer to buy tomatoes, plump ones. A man approaches. Were he to write about me, it would be my fault, but the pen is in my hand today. Whether I wear a hoodie two sizes too big with baggy jeans that hide my figure or a skirt that barely passes my waist, it does not matter. I am buying tomatoes.
“Hey, pretty lady. Doing anything tonight?” He shuffles behind me, impatient. “What, you have a boyfriend?”
It’s never the same. A compliment, an insult, requests for my name, marital status, smiles, evening plans, swept to sea on tides of apathy.
“If you’re single, why not go out with me?”
“Because I don’t want to.”
Here comes the outrage. Some don’t need to be spurned first. Even seeing a woman they like reminds them of their frailty, how their blood is dragged as the moon drags the tide. I don’t know them inside, but I’ve seen what comes out. I’m more fortunate than most. For the woman across the street, this is the moment he beats her or runs her down with his car, anything to destroy her.
His angry words breathe down my neck, all names I’ve heard before.
I turn, the first time I set eyes on him. “You will leave.”
A writer would have slunk away to jot me down as beldam or succubus. A painter might color me an untouchable mother. To a musician, a ballad would pretend we were lovers. They dream of joining me as I dream of leaving them. We live in a world where my fantasy is to buy groceries unmolested.
But this man is no creator. There is no art to him, only crude craving by the responsibility in his pants that I never knew was mine. He would destroy me.
I abandon my shopping today, tomatoes in their basket. “Follow,” I say. A stupid part of his brain might believe he’s going to get his way.
Killing him would be kind. He would die believing himself like those pulp heroes, a tragic figure who lays his fate at my feet. When they persist, I give them purpose. These men wish I was a vampire, a cosmic demon, a witch. They wish for a clean death.
My workshop is a wooden shed behind my cozy house. By the rustic shingles, sweet green grass, pleasant canary yellow paint, you could never tell what I do there. I keep it insulated, the walls soundproofed. It stinks with heavenly residue. No matter how many airings out I try through its open the wooden double doors, the smell remains.
The persistent men never notice. I lead this one inside, where on a wooden workbench I keep my tools shaped from fallen stars, across from the four poster bed. It’s soft, comfortable; its guests will spend a great deal of time on it. I order him to strip and then lie down. He’s too eager to tear his clothing away and stretch across the crimson sheets.
That isn’t the only stripping I need.
Doors closed, I dig my fingers into the workshop wall and tear aside a curtain that blocks this world from the shining heaven few ever notice. In that place, flesh is scarce and sanctified. Even his. Its cosmic perfection pours into his body, makes him ready to be given purpose. My fingers begin the work.
“Lie still,” I tell him. His fearful eyes dart this way and that, but he won’t get up. It is enough to work with.
There are worthy causes everywhere you look. Here, a woman’s vertebrae rub together, causing her daily pain. There, another’s skin is missing after a house fire. Blood, hair, eyes, intestines, bones. When I’ve placed a persistent man in my workshop, I strip what he has, cleanse it in unearthly light, and use it to mend the hurt I see around me. His pieces live on in these healed women, aware. They are pieces put to better purpose than serving him.
A month passes. He is only bone and fragments of skin and muscle. Still aware, still staring from the bed. I need not tell him to lie still anymore; he has no choice. In my neighborhood, a girl falls from a tree and snaps her leg. It could heal with a fracture line, but I make it good as new. Another woman cannot move on after her mother’s untimely death. She doesn’t know, as I offer her coffee, that it’s laced with the strength to find purpose again. She thanks me for the coffee, not the gift from the persistent man.
Everything he was becomes forfeit, even his time, even his will. I waste nothing.
The work finished, I eat what little is left of him. It is only fair after he’s put me off supper for weeks. He lives briefly in my digestive track before those remnants, too, are stripped away, become me.
Eventually the women and girls he’s helped will grow new cells in their livers and skin, replacing his pieces. He’ll fade from the world little by little while the good he’s done persists.
Hand that fate to the pulp hero, to the writers, painters, musicians, let them blame me for finding that some men are greater as the division of their parts. I do not shatter lives. They shatter themselves against me, panes of glass thrown at an immovable rock, long weatherworn by rain, eroded slick by frothing waves.
And the tide is unending.