Daughters of Monsters
Short Fiction by Melissa Goodrich
You’re a daughter of monsters and your mother’s a daughter of monsters and she’s seaweed green and elky, her eyes are like tortoise feet, she is electric-eel friendly, you love absolutely nothing about her. Your father’s a monster too, but not as bad of one. His hands are wet woods, his neck is lightning—you are the daughter. Your mother’s part bird. Your mother lays eggs all over the place, in the pantry, in the Volvo, the utility closet, chews her face with her beaver teeth, waddles away like a duck. Get over it. You’re not a monster yet. You don’t know what you’re going to be. You don’t have to eat the chicken bones while your mother eats the meat, you’re fourteen years old still, what is sex.
Sex is one monster whose knees buckle backwards and the other monster’s red-eyes-red-throat-red-buttocks. Sex is a momentary flash and then a cat smashed under a tree, you’ve never heard it. You’ve heard the dishwasher run but not sex, you’ve heard the goose your mom plucked but forgot to kill and your boyfriend’s oyster mouth. Your boyfriend’s a monster, but you’re not. You’re yards of French pastries still. You’re fields of chairs that models pose in. You’re bookshelves in bookstores. Your boyfriend, he loves you. Because you’re a daughter and not a fucked up duck-beaver who lays eggs.
You climb a suitcase eat a staircase. Your mother combs your hair your father eats it, hair stew, cilantro and hair and a cinnamon stick for dessert. You live in the desert with monsters. This is what it’s like. Your father drags his tail out of the shower into the yard, around the cactus fence to the road. In the road lies a coyote who is dead or half dead. You hate things like that, but you’re a daughter of monsters. You have a sister also, who is younger and sweeter (although stupider) than you. She is growing more lovely each day. Her body turns clear as windows, so when you see her neck you see her thorax, so when you kiss her head you kiss her brain.
The boyfriend comes over one day and he’s got buzzard legs, oily skin. His face is slick as a counter, his mouth is a beak. He wraps his talons around your knees and squeezes. A knee comes off. Come to this great tunnel I made, he says. But it’s not a tunnel, it’s a nest. You’re going to be a dove with me for a long long time, he tells you, and when you look down, yes, your hand is a stupid wing and white. It is completely the wrong size if the bird you are becoming will be as large as a human girl, fourteen, breasts soft as gold.
Lemme see, he says, edging closer. He tries to lick his beak seductively but his tongue is sort of grey-purple and oystery and way too short. You pluck it out and eat it. He lisps, Yow yewl be sorry. But you’re not sorry. You pluck his scalp feathers and you eat those too. You are hoping they’ll endow you with special properties, that somewhere in the breaking-down-business of the stomach your body will decide it is the menace, and not him.
(You write in your journal one day, trying to figure out who you are and who you’re not)
(You write while, monsooning, the desert fits in blooms)
(You write while supper gets cold, while your hair in a pot stops boiling)
(You write, trying to speak, your mind full of sticks)
Your mother throws her breasts over her back when she’s cooking so they won’t bother her. She’s boiling corn, she’s shucking it over the stovetop and she’s half naked. Her hair’s in a towel. It’s hissing. Your boyfriend sneaks up behind her and takes a wallop of a suckle. Ew Henry, you tell him. Your mother turns around and says, Normally I would kill you but since you sucked my milk…. merely whaps him with a broom. But she’s still thinking of killing you. You can see it in her eyes, the bugling way she watches you.
Your mother is a mystery. You don’t know how it is she lays eggs and makes milk. You don’t know how it is you look okay, your sister looks lovely, and the new baby your mother is making will be stunning, will be fire, will make hearts snap like celery. Your mother is wildly pregnant. Your mother never nursed you. Your mother packs you a basket with cheap wine and cold pancakes, hands you an ax, sends you outside, and you know your luck is beige.
Dear Diary : Here is a picture of what the chalk I’m chewing looks like, after I’ve been chewing it for a while.
This is about after twenty good minutes of chewing.
Here’s a self-confidence giraffe I drew.
I think I forgot its knees.
One day, the new baby gets born. It’s loud when a pretty thing’s made. It’s gold. It’s good. The windows in the house don’t break.
Meanwhile you’re up in your room.
Your books, the books in your room, they’re starting to fly away. A shelf of girl-and-horse books. And they’re not just jettisoning. I mean they are literally growing wings and talons just like your hand is kind of a wing now, white as a glove, spongey-muscled. You’re thinking, What I am doing is wasting my life. You don’t have any skills yet. This thought rests like a cup on a ledge, glass and in a saucer.
Your books bang against the windows until they figure out how to open them and fly. The casita roof’s better than a shelf, huh? Stupid books. Above the desert, staring at the dirt. Preening their dirty page-wings.
Out in the yard your sister feeds the desert garden bricks. What exactly is she trying to grow? The middle sister waters the garden, you, the oldest, weed. One day there’s a row of statues, heads neat as cabbage. Next day they’re shouldered. She’s growing row after row of new suitors for herself, silver upward eyes, granite lips. She washes them with milk and they blink. She washes them with blood and they breathe.
The thing is you’re jealous. You’re being ignored and you’re not being loved. So you paint your face gray and you stand in a vault of cement. It comes up to your neck which is perfect. You can still breathe which is perfect. You’re tall as a hydrant now. You’re sealed-up, protesting. Your eyes drift across the road, towards a wisp of hair tangled around a stick, a flattened squirrel. Inside the cement your wing-hand is flapping like crazy. Maybe because the rest of bird-you is trapped in your arm? Maybe it’s asking something. Maybe it wants, like a gun, to go off.
The buzzard boyfriend flaps along but he doesn’t see you. Your monster parents stroll home from work, kick rocks, gnaw their briefcases, sob on the front stoop. Your father wanders into the yard and fills his stomach with stones. Your mother turns her ankles like she’s screwing in bulbs. They too don’t see you.
When finally one day your boyfriend figures out it’s you in the sidewalk and not just cement, he says, Hey, I brought you this toast. He says, Here, and shoves it in your mouth. It is like being planted, or shoveled, or pleased. You haven’t been talked to in a while. You’ve been hungry. You guess you like it. If you kiss me I’ll start to look good he suggests, so you kiss him. You haven’t kissed your boyfriend yet, only practiced on your pillowcase, and your pretty sister’s brain. But kissing a beak is like kissing a pencil tip. Be nice, you think, but this landscaping gig isn’t working out. It feels like a landscaping gig, it gets creepier as the night goes on.
You don’t like it, you do.
What happens next and it’s strange (you’re still fourteen, remember) is get married. Your younger sister is the bridesmaid and your boyfriend is kind of smitten with her. He’s turned pretty the past few days. His wings have molted and his beak has changed to lips. They look soft. His eyes leap up like katydids. His face is smooth as cloth. You, meanwhile, are becoming a dove. Both of your hands are wings now. You can’t hold anything, can’t button your shoes, can’t unlace your mother’s wig from her neck where it’s double-knotted. You’re getting married soon and can feel the flapping in you, the egg-laying-instinct, what your new husband’s hands will feel like crowded down on you, holding your heartbeat flat. It makes you anxious and so you go looking. You’re looking for what, your sister? You don’t even know how to describe your own sister, SO pretty, pretty as, you don’t know, rain when it stops? Your boyfriend takes your sister for a walk in the pantry and then closes the pantry door. You rag on the door. It’s sex. This is what it sounds like.
The consequences are: Your feet turn to crow’s feet. Your hair wilts like lettuce. Your neck grows dense as wood, and you grow dense, you’re turning into something else.
They fuck and they fuck and they fuck and you hear it because you’re there at the door. It’s a consequence. Your boyfriend isn’t a buzzard anymore, isn’t trying to be, but he has to fuck or he’ll change. Your sister’s knees start folding backwards. They’re ostrich knees. You are all becoming monsters. Your hands are wings. Your ears are feathered. Your forehead’s feathered. This is a sign, you think. Your sister weeps pinkish pearls. Your boyfriend grows fervent, breathes pitch like a locomotive, crowds the room with smoke.
When you open the door they’ve turned into cows. There’s no place for cows in the desert, and they moon awkwardly out of the house and under the sun. Their tails swing and (dumb) kiss a cactus. How hot in the yard where they live. Their snouts hard as glue. They try this go-nowhere shuffle, are moving like circles. And while you watch them, you’re done changing. You’re finally finished. You’re completely a bird, and the lovers steer themselves towards the road on new, flat hooves.
Your eyes keen blue and focus on the distance. In the place where your wings meet your ribs comes a tug. The sky in the desert’s high and you’re in it and whirling, you’re in it and wind-bound. You get high up in it. You’re all the way gone.
When you tire you land. You live in a mailbox now. You eat the mail. When a girl arrives to check it, you see how sad she is. Especially when they turn the electricity off, the water.
In the winter you land on her doorstep and sprawl yourself out like a kill. You’re sick, you vomit up bits of the mail. You vomit up letters, they spell :
gang , way
She lets you inside the warm red room. You shiver. A purification process ensues. She bathes you three times in milk, she bashes your brains on the counter. It’s granite, you think, it’s granite it’s granite it’s granite it’s
She pulls off and then cooks your feet.
You have to eat them.
After being purified your wings turn back into hands. Your feet grow back. You’re smaller. Which is not to say you think less of yourself but that there’s actually just less you. You take up less space. You are so amazing, the girl says. The girl’s name is Bryce. She is pretty as candelabras, she is pretty as rain when it stops.
You marry her. The moon breaks apart in triumph and the oceans secede.
You find, under the bed, a diary. Rows of love letters. A drawing of a little self-confidence giraffe. She loves it, holds it in the moonlight, kisses it and:
Yes. It turns into a daughter. It is a beautiful daughter, fourteen years old, galaxy eyes, a gush of gold hair. She looks like a doily. She looks like a beautiful chair. Your daughter loves you, she polishes your dentures, your doorknobs, and she draws you a bath and she draws you minestrone soup and she draws the man that she’ll look like one day. You want to be a man, you ask her.
You give her an enchanted vacuum and she gets to sorting out her life.
You and your bride grow older. You touch each other’s face. It is the same face. You lie down together in a bed.
When you pick up each other’s claws and wings in the morning, you find you forget everything. In the mirror by the bureau looms a ‘her,’ a ‘you.’ A kerchief half-on-half-off. You peer hard at yourself, hunched as a cashew. You cough into your claw, wipe the phlegm onto your gown. You’re a monster.
The word feels magnificent.
Melissa Goodrich is the author of the story collection Daughters of Monsters, the poetry chapbook IF YOU WHAT, and a collaborative fiction collection forthcoming from Goldwake Press. She earned her MFA in Fiction from the University of Arizona. Her stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, The Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, PANK, and others. Find her at melissa-goodrich.com and tweeting @good_rib.