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Sleeping in Metal and Bone

It is summer the first time I dream of hooks at the end of my fingers. The cold metal buried in the soft tissue and then curving outward into a small, delicate point. How I creep through the shadowed damp of our backyard, the odor of soil rich and deep as I hunt through the underbrush you’ve promised for years to clear away, and snare tiny, wriggling creatures before stuffing them into my mouth and biting down.

In the morning, the sheets are tangled and sweaty, and the air is already stifling, the opened windows useless, and I tell Henry all the dreams I did not have. Dreams of traffic and lunches and my mother without her makeup and making eggs in the kitchen of my girlhood, and he drops a kiss on my forehead and goes to put on his socks.

“What about your taxes? Did you dream about that, too?” he says, and I bring a fingertip to my teeth. Bite down. Feel the gentle give of flesh.

“A girl can hope.” He laughs, and I laugh, and then there is coffee and attention focused on our phones—texts and emails and notifications to catch up on after so many hours away—and the daily ritual of rushing to an office and a classroom that carry an imprint of the people we think we are.

I drive and bite my fingernails down to the quick, nipping at the cuticles until blood appears. Nasty habit. My mother used to soak my fingers in hot sauce to keep me from doing it, and the burn of it became lovely. I don’t think she understood the sort of thing she was creating inside me. Do mothers ever understand how they stain their daughters? The monsters they create?

I spend the day teaching lessons I don’t remember planning and telling myself I’m not hungry and that my fingers don’t ache. There are no hooks in this wakeful world, and the loss of them feels somehow devastating. Like waking to a cold bed that once contained warmth. Like a handful of dirt in an endless, gaping hole.

On the way home, I stop at the store and order a pound of roast beef at the deli counter. Thick slices. I gobble it down in the car and lick the pink smears from the bag. I bury the bag in the trashcan, and when Henry comes home, I’ve brushed my teeth. Flossed.

“Dinner thoughts?” he says and sets his phone on the counter. It buzzes, and he turns it over.

“Burgers. Or steak,” I say, and hope Henry thinks I’m iron deficient. Maybe suggest a supplement. Tell me how good it would be for me. For the empty part of my body. For the thing he would like to place inside it and then name as his own.

Instead, he turns away, taking his phone with him. “Fine. Make a reservation, yeah?”

Henry vanishes upstairs while I dial the number of one of those chain steakhouses that likes to parade itself with the shiny varnish of upscale when in reality the steaks are delivered weekly. Frozen and individually vacuum-packed and then boiled before thrown on a grill top. Mashed potatoes in a vat. Décor pumped out of some industrial warehouse. Vases and framed pictures identical to all the rest. Tasteful with just enough faux chic to appeal to suburban mothers.

I don’t care as long as there is blood. And a knife. Yes, most certainly a knife.

I ask the server for a glass of cabernet, and Henry lifts an eyebrow, gives a slight shake of the head. “Water is fine,” I say instead and clench my teeth. Henry orders bourbon on the rocks, drains it, and then orders another.

“Tough day?” I ask and sip my water. It tastes of Sulphur. The brackish water of a marsh. But it’s the better choice for me. For my body. Henry’s platitudes about my health float unspoken between us. I should be pure. Cleared of anything that could pollute or damage or destroy. The typical patterns of my body cleansed so the blood, the loss, the doctor’s visits, the palpitations of my abdomen, and deep ache in the core of my body would be absolved. My body cleared of what’s blocked it from doing what God intended. Henry’s mother’s words. “God’s natural intentions,” she’d said with a nod of the head, and Henry had picked her phrases up with the solemnity of prayer.

“Just busy.” Already his second glass is empty, and I want to lean over it and inhale, but I hold myself still and watch the other servers carry trays stacked with meat and dense loaves of bread out of the kitchen. My mouth waters. I take another sip and pretend the ice is something that could dissolve me from the inside out.

“Did you take your vitamin this morning?” Henry taps his glass with the outer edge of his wedding ring.

“Of course.”

“Good. When’s your next appointment?”

“Next Friday. 10:30.”

“I’ll take the morning off. Come with you.”

“You don’t have to,” I say, and he brings the empty glass to his lips and then drops it back to the table, rattles the ice as if it could shake another droplet of alcohol loose. I wait for him to say that he wants to be sure I’m okay, to be there for support, but his phone buzzes, and he glances down. Turns the phone over.

“You don’t think I made the appointment,” I say, and his forehead creases for a small moment, but then smooths, his face placid. Controlled. A mask of calm.

“Don’t start, Rilla,” he says, and I am going to respond, going to tell him about the smell of blood when it drops out of you in heavy clots, but here’s the waiter with our food, and my hunger is stronger than my need to reveal the details only I know and understand to Henry.

I forget my fingers are no longer hooks as I stare down at my plate, the edges rich with grease and pink fluid, and reach for the meat, ready to bring it to my lips, but I remember myself and grip the knife, the fork and cut a piece too large for my mouth and then stuff it in anyway.

The room vanishes. Henry vanishes. The vitamins and morning temperature taking and tracking apps and doctor’s appointments and prodding with metal tools in raw, dripping parts of myself, all of it drops away, and there is only the action of my teeth tearing and grinding, and the liquid and solid pushing down my throat. I moan aloud.

Across the table, Henry pokes at his steak. “Too rare,” he says and calls the server back over with a wave of his hand. While he’s busy instructing the server that when he said well done, that was exactly what he meant, I lower my face, pretending I’ve dropped my napkin, and lap at the blood already congealing on the plate.

Before Henry’s re-cooked steak makes its way back to the table, I’ve already finished and sopped up the remaining juices with a torn piece of bread. While Henry eats, I swipe my tongue over my teeth, hunting for any pieces that may have lodged there. I bring my fingers to my mouth and tear away one of the small scabs, press my tongue against the blood flow, remember my mother snatching my hands away, her lip curled in disgust.

Henry orders another bourbon, and I know I will be the one to drive us home. Before . . . before, he’d joked that the one of the benefits would be having a ready-made designated driver. Nine months guaranteed no DUIs. Probably longer since I would breast feed. Of course.

Had I laughed the first time he said it? I try to remember myself then. Five years younger. Longer hair. Fuller hips and tummy. An unscraped, unscooped womb. Probably, I had. Probably, I had kissed him, and his phone would have stayed on his nightstand while we tumbled into bed.

Four times Henry held me while I cried. The fifth time, he girded himself for battle against the betrayals of my body. He bought book after book, highlighting passages for me to read. Brewed raspberry leaf tea to strengthen my uterine walls, and carried steaming mugs to me, watching as I drank it silently. Called specialists and homeopathic practitioners and passed along the notes he took in his looping handwriting. Booked appointments for acupuncturists and meditation sessions designed for alleviating any potential stressors. And I swallowed and nodded and read and breathed and kept silent and still and allowed myself to be weighed every morning, Henry frowning at the digital numbers should they rise or dip more than two pounds.

“Consistency is key here, Rilla. You have to pay attention,” he said as if I hadn’t noticed, hadn’t felt every small change, every movement or stretching of ligaments, or slight wave of nausea, or smells grown stronger than they should be.

“Can I tempt you with our chocolate molten cake?” The waiter smiles down at us.

He points a finger at me. “That’s the last thing she needs. Just the check,” Henry says, and the waiter withdraws. Henry’s right hand rests against the top of his cell phone as if he fears not knowing exactly where it is.

Three nights ago, I went through it. Checked his text messages, his emails, his photos, and then his deleted photos, his history. All clean. All normal. Emails limited to work correspondence or junk messages. His search history dominated by methods for naturally increasing progesterone. Nothing to hide. Nothing illicit. Nothing outside of his research for methods to fix his deficient wife.

I should have been relieved. For the rest of the night, I lay next to him without sleeping, knowing in the morning he would ask for my temperature, watch over my shoulder as I weighed myself, monitor my breakfast and my caffeine intake, and I could not resent him. I had wanted this. I had been the one to push, to drop hints and then suggestions and then a schedule that would lead to a May delivery. Perfectly timed, with no swollen ankles during the damp heat of August and the long weeks of summer vacation unwinding without the pressure of teaching.

“You can drive, yeah?” Henry says as he signs the check, and I nod and take another sip of water. Already, I’m hungry again. I bring a hand to my mouth to nibble at another scab and then force it down. Not while Henry is watching.

“You’re quiet tonight,” he says while I drive.

“Just a little tired.”

“Early bedtime,” he says, and I imagine he thinks it’s a question or an invitation he’s given, and I nod and let my left hand drop from the wheel, my fingers curling beneath my thigh, but there are no hooks to press through my jeans and into the soft meat of me.

The house is dark when I pull into the drive, and Henry frowns but says nothing. I’m the one who’s supposed to turn on the motion-sensor floodlights before I leave in the morning.

“I forgot to turn on the lights,” I say, and Henry grunts in a non-committal way, but his shoulders are hitched up by his ears. A tell I learned long ago for his buried frustration.

Inside, we enter the rooms we frequent, flipping switches, bathing the house in light, and I listen as Henry moves heavily upstairs, imagine that I’m pacing him, just a step behind him in this lower portion of the house. I don’t think he would hear me if I crept up the stairs. If I was standing just behind him.

I drink another glass of water, waiting for the small noises of Henry getting ready for bed, for the air to carry in it the heavy weight of sleep.

“You coming up?” he calls down after fifteen minutes.

“In a bit. My stomach isn’t feeling right.”

“Shouldn’t have gotten your steak rare,” he says. Ten minutes later, Henry is snoring, and I open the freezer, defrost two burgers in the microwave, and eat them while they are still cold. I wash the plate, scrub the blood from my hands and chin, put the plate back into the cabinet, and then force myself upstairs.

I lie down beside Henry. Curl into myself. But there is a vacuum in the center of me that I cannot fill. I bite at my cuticles until I fall asleep, and the dream is there. Ever faithful. The hooks burning at the ends of my fingers, and my hands full of meat. It tastes of winter. Of air. Of clean snow on the tongue. I do not look down at the small creatures, but when they cry out, it is the sound of an infant after it has first come into the world. An insistent mewling that both repulses and attracts. I continue to eat—my hunger overtaking the horror of this thing I’m doing.

In the morning, I take my basal temperature and record it in the small journal next to the bed. 97.6. The same as the past four days. Henry will be disappointed. He’d been hoping to try this weekend because he’s leaving for a conference in Tampa on Monday and will be gone for three days. Three days leading to another month lost if my cycle is longer than normal.

“Any change?” Henry mumbles.

“No.” Beside me, his body stiffens, but he says nothing, and I think I could suffocate in the thickness of all his silences.

I push myself up and away from him, already hungry, already thinking of how I can stop at the store before work and buy more hamburger meat, and the ring finger of my right hand suddenly blooms into sharp pain. I hiss and examine the fleshy pad. The skin there is neatly bisected: a simple, clean cut as if from an incredibly sharp knife. What blood there was has dried to the color of wine, and there is a stain smeared against my pillowcase and the duvet cover. I’ll have to wash it later, but I stare down at the markings, trying to discern a pattern where there should not be one. I shake my head and bring my finger to my mouth.

Somehow, in the night, I cut myself. That’s all. There is no symbolic meaning. Nothing to interpret. Even as I long for meat, I tell myself this. I bandage the cut. I shower and go over the day’s to-do list. The copies I still haven’t made. The stack of papers that still need to be graded and then returned.

“I’m going to head out early. Love you,” Henry says.

“Okay. Love you, too,” I say, but he’s already gone.

This early in the morning, the grocery store is empty, free of the vacant-eyed mothers with carts filled with cereals and microwavable nuggets, their crying children in tow. I spy a single employee near customer service, but he’s facing away from me, and I head for the butcher department. Not even the inoffensive pop music that normally filters through the aisles has been turned on yet, and I feel invisible as I stand over the cellophane and Styrofoam packages. I touch each one, considering potential flavors and textures, wondering if I have the time or even the ability to eat an entire bone-in ribeye before the first period bell rings.

I buy two packages of sirloin tips instead because the cuts are smaller and easier to hide in the palm of my hand. If I need to, I can put one of the packages in the top drawer of my desk and sneak bites during class. If any of my students ask what I’m eating, I’ll tell them it’s beef jerky.

But I can’t wait. I tear open one of the packages once I’m back in the car. Chew. Swallow. Breathe. The meat is gone in less than a few minutes, and I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. I wait for my stomach to cramp, wait for it to reject what I’ve eaten, but there are no sharp pains, no sudden nausea. I force myself to ignore the second, unopened package and bite my nails instead. The cut on my finger reopens, and I can’t tell if it’s my own blood I smell.

Dr. Isadore is running late. Beside me, Henry fidgets, and I collapse into myself, pulling my awareness back and back until there is a void in the space I should occupy.

“How is she already behind?” Henry says, and I don’t need to answer him. Better to float in this darkness. Better to pretend I haven’t woken each morning to more lacerations across the tips of my fingers. Better to forget how I’ve torn them open with my teeth because I’m always so hungry now, and my mouth has memorized these small, desperate acts of violence and demands them of me. Like drawing breath. Like the unknowable, automatic beating of a heart.

My temperature has remained static since the week before, but there is a familiar heaviness in my abdomen, and I imagine my womb engorged with blood. My mouth waters, and I swallow.

Finally, a nurse leads us back, and she chatters as she records my weight, my blood pressure. “You know the drill,” she says with a pink-glossed smile. She hands me the small plastic container and jerks her head toward the restroom.

Henry waits outside as I dribble urine into the container. I wash my hands without glancing at the mirror. If I do, I’m afraid I’ll see my fingers split open, metal glinting against crimson.

We wait another twenty minutes in the examination room, and when Dr. Isadore comes in, she maneuvers past Henry who has planted himself beside the door. Her hand is cool as she grasps mine, and I want her to touch my neck, her fingers trailing along my jawline before dipping down to rest against my collarbone.

“Mrs. Hachette,” she says. “How are things?”

“Her temperature should have jumped a few days ago,” Henry says, and Dr. Isadore lifts an eyebrow but keeps her gaze on me.

“A longer cycle this time probably. Nothing to be too concerned about. What about your cervical mucus?”

I shake my head. Henry inhales behind me, but Dr. Isadore shoots him a look, and he stays quiet. I don’t tell her how he’s begun to check for the thin, egg-white fluid that is an indicator of ovulation, how he slides two fingers along my sex before inspecting what he’s taken from me.

“Let’s take a look here,” she says and turns to the computer, whistling softly as she logs in and pulls up my chart. “Blood pressure looks great,” she says and then pauses. A frown briefly tugs at her mouth, but then her face is smooth again, a slight smile frozen in place. “Pardon me a moment. I just need to check something,” she says, and Henry makes a sound in the back of his throat. Only when Dr. Isadore is gone does he find the courage to let out a Jesus Christ. I wonder when it was he became a coward.

Minutes pass, and I ignore Henry, focusing only on the dissonant sensation of my hunger coupled with a fullness I cannot explain. I bite at my fingernails, and the cuts on my fingers burn.

“Stop,” Henry says, and I jerk my hand away, hating the flush working its way up my neck. Hating that he’s caught me and that I cannot bring myself to tell him to fuck off.

When Dr. Isadore comes back into the room, the nurse trails behind her, and their gaits are all business and efficiency. In the nurse’s hand is another of the clear, plastic containers she gave me before.

“We were hoping, Mrs. Hachette, that you might be able to provide us another urine sample?” Dr. Isadore says.

“Is everything okay?” Henry asks.

“Everything’s fine. We just think there’s an error in the chart and want to verify.”

“What sort of error?” Henry asks, and I don’t know how they could know about the meat I’ve been eating, don’t know how they could see it from a urine sample, but I know they understand what it is I’ve been doing, and they are going to tell Henry. They’ll tell him, and everything will unstitch.

“We always take a small sample of urine before sending it out to the lab. To do a simple test for pregnancy—”

“It’s not possible,” Henry says.

“Likely a clerical error. Based on what you’ve told me about your cycle, I don’t think the timing is quite right, but I’d like to check again, if that’s fine with you, Mrs. Hachette?”

I stand and follow the nurse out. I repeat the process, my body moving as if in some twilight state, and then I am back in the room, and the door is closed, and Henry watches me.

“It’s not possible,” Henry says again, but there is blood in my body that is not my own, and if I focus on the tender parts of my fingertips, I can almost feel the alien cold of metal, and I know he knows nothing of what is or isn’t possible. For instance, in this moment, I know that it is possible for a woman to lose herself in the machinations of her own body; that it is possible to need to fill yourself with raw meat, with blood and how even then, you will feel nothing close to satiation; that it is possible to grow hooks at the ends of your fingers that are needed to fill this abyss that has opened just beneath you.

In college, I read a book about Quantum Physics—the quantum field and infinite awareness and possibilities. How the human body cannot delineate between realties when it comes to deeply experienced emotions. I am building a new world made of meat and blood and pain. A world made of my body. Somehow, all these things are possible even if I have not created them with my hands. Not exactly.

Dr. Isadore returns, and her smile is radiant, and I already know. Of course, I already know.

“We’d like to run some blood tests to check your progesterone levels, but it was absolutely a positive. Congratulations! Something must have been off in your tracking. Maybe you took your temperature too late after waking—honestly, something as small as that could be the culprit.”

“No,” I say and shake my head. Dr. Isadore stares back at me, and I say it again. “No. No blood.”

“It’s really the smallest amount, Mrs. Hachette, and given your history, we’d really like to be sure—”

“I said no.” My finger is still bleeding from where I bit it, and I lift the bottom of my shirt and touch my belly with the tip of it and wonder if this conglomeration of cells can smell it. If there is some kind of recognition. Mother to child, connected by the gristle of cord and blood that some ambivalent doctor will inevitably sever; a chasm grown ever deeper as the years pass and the body fails. When this child puts me in the dirt, I wonder if there will be something in its blood that sings to the bones I will become.

“Rilla,” Henry begins, and his voice is sharp. A warning and a question living inside the syllables.

Dr. Isadore drops her voice to a soft murmur, and I know she is trying to placate me. “It may be a bit too early yet, but we could try a transvaginal ultrasound. To check for the heartbeat. To make sure everything looks as it should. But I’d really like to order a blood test, too. The sooner the better, but I understand if you’d prefer not to do it today.”

“Fine,” I whisper, and Henry pushes himself upward, the chair clattering and then crashing to the floor with the violence of his movement as he leaves the room. The nurse drops her eyes, a flush rising in her cheeks, but Dr. Isadore keeps her gaze locked on me.

“Rilla?” she asks, and I rise and place one foot before the other as I follow her, and she moves slowly, carefully, as if I might dart away at any moment. A prey animal caught in the moments before pain, the seconds unfolding into death. She leads me into another waiting room, her fingers brushing my forearm as she guides me to a seat.

“We’re going to have the tech work you in. She’s wrapping up with another patient now, but she should be able to get to you next. Can I get you anything? Water?”

I shake my head, and she leaves me to stare at my fingers. At those clean cuts. Outside, somewhere that is not this room, Henry is counting days, but what is happening here is not of his making.

I will hear the heartbeat. I will leave here and go out into the world. I will let the hooks come through my fingers and feed this child with blood and let it grow into what it will. I will not control or shame its monstrousness.

My phone buzzes, but I don’t open my bag to take it out. I already know what Henry will say, how he will take up paternity as a right. As something to be claimed rather than grown. If I’m lucky, he’ll be unable to ignore the impossibility of the dates. Unable to ignore that there is no feasible way he fathered this child, and, cuckolded, he’ll demand a divorce.

“Mrs. Hachette?” The ultrasound technician is tall. Angular. Dark hair razored into a bob and a bare face that points to the kind of agelessness women envy.

She leads me into the shadowed quiet of the ultrasound room and hands me a paper sheet that is supposed to lend the illusion of modesty.

“Everything from the waist down please,” she says and points me to a small restroom tucked away in a back corner, and I know all of this. Know the quick rush of cold against bare legs; the exposure of lifted knees; the foreign cold in that most heated part of the body; the moment before the moment the technician goes still, her eyes locked on the grainy image as she searches for what is supposed to be there, her lips parting to softly say, “I’m so sorry;” Henry’s face turning away as if I could not see the blame he wants to give me written there.

I have known it all.

“This will be a bit cold,” the tech says, and I inhale and concentrate on the hooks that lie in wait just under my skin and how I will use them to feed this thing I’ve brought to life.

“There we are,” the tech says, and her face relaxes into a smile. “Little bean. Let me just adjust . . . there. That’s the heartbeat. Nice and strong.”

I close my eyes, but it doesn’t keep the tears from coming. I press a hand to my stomach and listen to the soft noise that is my child’s heartbeat. If I listen carefully, I know that beneath, it will sound like something else. Like the sound of metal wetly emerging from skin. Like the sound of my own rage grown into something beautiful and violent. Like the sound of hunger when it can no longer be ignored.

“Would you like a picture?” the tech says, and I can barely bring myself to nod, to do anything other than keep myself from sobbing.

Twenty-five minutes later, I am walking out of the office, my underwear damp from the lubricant I couldn’t fully wipe away, my fingers trembling against the insubstantial, black and white, glossy paper, and I know that I have made this real. That there is no god or devil that could understand the joy of this creation I have brought forth.

Outside, Henry is seated on a bench, his phone beside him, temporarily abandoned, and he looks up as the automatic doors open, and his face is serene.

“Wait here. I’ll pull the car around,” he says, leaping to his feet, keys jangling in his hand.

“It’s fine,” I say and take a step backward, back toward some imagined safety inside the lobby, but already he has turned away, his footsteps clipped as he hurries toward the car, and I am hungry and tired and want his posturing to be over, but mostly there is the hunger growing more insistent, and I bring my hand to my mouth, bite at the flesh there, but it does nothing to abate the sharp, feral ache in the pit of my belly.

But Henry is there with the car, his grip firm against my arm as he opens the door and guides me into the passenger seat, his hand bumping against mine as I reach for the seatbelt. “Let me,” he says, and I freeze as he buckles me in. He is close enough that I can smell the sweat on his skin. The salt tang of it coats my tongue, and I swallow. Close my eyes and listen to the door slam as he closes me in.

“I made a few calls. Dr. Browning is booked solid through the end of the year, but you remember Mark? Did some consulting for us about five months ago. He said he could put in a good word for me. Maybe get us in a bit sooner. He’s the best doctor in the city. Specializes in difficult pregnancies. I want you to see him as soon as possible.”

“What’s wrong with Dr. Isadore?”

He scoffs as he slowly pulls onto the highway. Behind us, a car honks and swerves to pass, the driver lifting his middle finger at us. “She’s not right for us. You saw how she was today. Like I wasn’t even in the room. We need a doctor that will talk to me instead of treating me like a piece of furniture.” Henry pauses, scratches his chin. “And you’ll want to start upping your folic acid. And no more sandwiches with deli meat. Listeria, you know? Are those pictures?” He gestures with his chin to the paper still clutched in my hand and reaches across to take them. “My God. It’s amazing. We had to have miscounted. That last time. What was it, like five and a half weeks ago? Maybe six? It had to have been then. We just didn’t realize.”

I focus on my breathing instead of screaming.

“Bill told me last week the waiting list at his daughter’s Pre-K has opened up. I’ll call them later today. See what I can do about getting our names on it. They offer violin lessons every Wednesday. Some hotshot from the university they bring in.”

The wheels hum beneath us. A steady thrumming that sounds like the whooshing heartbeat I’d heard not even thirty minutes prior; behind my eyes a nascent headache unfolds, and I nod and smile, nod and smile, but Henry doesn’t see because he is nattering on about how I really ought to up my water intake. And not just with tea. In fact, I’ll need to cut out caffeine altogether. No more of my three cup a day habit. No more black tea turned pale with cream to push me through that final period before the bell rings, and I am alone in the quiet of my classroom, my ears still ringing with the incessant student requests and complaints of “how,” and “why,” and “but.”

Henry chuckles, mistaking the pallor on my face as dismay rather than a radiating hunger that feels more a part of my body than any of the slippery meat of my organs. “You’ll survive. That’s why there’s decaf.”

My stomach twists and cramps, and I whistle a quiet exhalation through my teeth. In six turns we’ll be on our street. Our street carries so much more meaning now. The house Henry bought—the one he’d said I’d adore; it was exactly my taste despite the fact that I hadn’t seen it—would become the home of yet another person who had not seen it; who’d had no control, no say, over where she would breathe and sleep and eat and dream. It makes me wonder if she—this creature swimming in the safety of the amniotic sack—will grow to resent the walls, the doors, the ever present smell of varnished wood, in the way I do.

Henry babbles, and I envision my stomach expanding, stretching as dark veins emerge, the blood so close to the surface. My mouth fills with sour spit, and I swallow, but it isn’t blood, and my hunger scrapes and scrapes at my already raw nerves.

“And no more baths. Showers only. Internal temperatures can get too high in baths,” Henry says as he turns into the driveway, and I curl my fingers against my palm, the nails too short and torn to cut against my skin.

We will go inside, and Henry will go upstairs to change, to get himself ready to go into work. Thirty minutes, and I’ll be alone. Thirty minutes and I can tear open the package of stew tips hidden at the bottom of the refrigerator. My fingertips burn as I press harder into my palm; my eyes closed as I think about hooks. About meat.

But Henry pauses at the kitchen island, absorbed by his phone as he taps at the screen. “Bryce is going to take over for me the rest of the day. I figured we could have some lunch and head over to Dr. Browning’s office.”

“You need an appointment,” I say, and Henry flicks his hand in dismissal.

“He’ll see us. Trust me. It’s a business tactic. It’s more difficult to turn away people in person. It’s intimidating, you know? Teaching doesn’t exactly call for anything like that, so you wouldn’t really understand how it works. I’ll get him to see us. Don’t worry.”

I sway on my feet, the sunlight filtering through the kitchen window shimmering and then fading into shadow. I need to eat, but Henry has planted himself against the island, and I can smell the meat inside the refrigerator. I bring my fingers to my mouth.

“Stop it,” Henry says without looking up from his phone, but I have already sunk my teeth into a shred of skin and pulled, and the scant blood on my lips isn’t enough, and the girl in my belly is screaming, her hungry, little mouth open wide in desperation, and my fingers sting and then burn and then a pain I have never known explodes at their tips, and it isn’t the child in my belly screaming at all. Henry has his hands on my shoulders, and he is shaking me, his mouth forming words I cannot hear, and we are so hungry.

Henry’s eyes go large when I sink the hooks into his chest. Disbelief and shock and confusion painted across his features as I dig down and down and down and then rip my arm backward, a chunk of meat dangling from the metal grown from the ends of my fingers.

Inside my womb, my daughter—born of my blood, born of my bone, born of my will—twists her impossible body, and I shouldn’t be able to feel her, but I do, and it is a pain and beauty Henry could never know.

“She was so hungry, Henry. You wouldn’t really understand how it works,” I say.

When I begin to eat, he makes no sound, and it is the first time I’ve ever sat in the same room with my husband in silence.

About the Author

Kristi DeMeester is the author of Beneath, a novel published by Word Horde and Everything That’s Underneath, a short fiction collection published by Apex Books. Her writing has been included in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year volumes 9, 11, and 12, Year’s Best Weird Fiction volumes 1, 3, and 5, in addition to publications such as Black Static, Pseudopod, The Dark, and several others. Find her online at www.kristidemeester.com.