Whip the Bones by Melissa Wiley

This is how she bakes her body into a soufflé. Without access to bowls, eggs, or oven, she crosses her arms into a knot tied with ligaments. She stares at pillows cross-stitched with leaves hardened into lemons. Only the leaves are attacked by butterflies, she can’t help but notice. The leaves have no trees while the butterflies are monstrous.

The yellow spread of sunlight staining their wings has rotted symmetrically in places. To look like eyes from a distance—to scare away predators, she realizes—while the leaves spin at pillows’ edges. They spin as if the butterflies could do nothing to save them. As if they were not the ones who sent them falling into a disintegration.

The butterflies have molted from no pupae yet were born with two sets of eyes regardless. Their wings’ larger pair has wider pupils to admit no light with which to see no predator walking softly in the forest. Their larvae have never stuck to pillows’ surface, have never known the shapelessness of egg whites waiting to be whisked into small, white mountains, into peaks that soon deflate into craters of albumen. However pretty they may be, she feels slightly sorry for them.

The flapping of their wings is deafening inside Dunkin’ Donuts, where she sits drinking coffee with milk curdling into the trunk of an elephant. She stares at her pillows for companionship, because she has left her keys in another coat pocket while she went shopping for something to soften the arms of her couches. She went looking for these two pillows, it seemed once she found them, and now she is temporarily homeless. Her husband has also left the apartment. He does not answer his phone and would not return from wherever he has gone in a hurry, because he would not understand her urgency to bake a soufflé today rather than wait for tomorrow evening. He would hardly register the importance of baking herself with it for flavoring, for sweetness as well as other things. For the pleasure of whipping her bones into cream.

And she must do this quickly. Otherwise, she’ll be eaten raw and perhaps poison an innocent human being. Otherwise, she will never be baked as she’d like to be, never prepared and seasoned properly. Rather than being served for a fine meal’s finish, she’ll fall victim to birds of prey, which frankly eat anything. “Fall victim,” she says in a whisper to her own chest cavity, as if being picked apart by birds atop a mountain were a kind of falling, as if this were the same as succumbing to gravity.

She must start by finding a way to beat herself along with however many eggs are listed in the recipe. She must mix them into a froth looking like the crest of a wave lunging toward a quay, one interposed among a row of communist bookstores lining Paris’ Left Bank, she’s imagining, where she hurtles herself against the Parisian brick with her mouth agape as if she were the one doing the devouring instead of the cooking. As if she were a wave consuming sand and towels and other dry things. As if the moistness of her body craved an arid settling somewhere she doesn’t speak the language yet enjoys the vowels’ slurring all the same.

She might begin by flinging herself against any nameless building. She might start by biting her ankles, knotting her skin the more tightly, twisting her calves behind her shoulder blades, splintering them for even finer breakage, turning her feet sideways until they split from the sockets of her legs. Because she must make herself less heavy. There is no bowl inside her kitchen large enough to contain all her veins much less all her arteries. She must start by making herself smaller until she fits inside something.

As it is, she finds her bones so solid she must begin by smashing herself the harder against any available walls while no one is looking. She must fold herself again and again backward until her joints begin snapping. At present, however, she feels no pain, because she is only planning the breakage. She folds her legs neatly onto the pink, plastic seat beside which her pillows say nothing. She looks out the window at the beautiful men passing.

And after lunging too far forward trying to see the last of them, she reminds herself she soon will rise over the lip of a ramekin, a single ceramic lip she imagines immune from all feeling while her own lips stay parted—for kissing someone, her reflection seems to say in the glass of the 7-Eleven opposite—as if before baking itself into what amounts to a large French muffin, her body is creating larger openings for the air to enter her system. Otherwise, her head will never rise high enough to graze the roof of the oven.

Sky is a relative term, she’s decided while looking up at the blueness behind the clouds’ shattering white. And she will settle for a gray one. She must, because the oven is aluminum.

Were she only living in Tibet instead of Midwestern America, were she only Buddhist instead of nothing, she could deploy a rogyapa, or breaker of bodies, to chop her bones into smaller pieces while she still breathes, leaving her lungs intact for whatever may qualify as the time being. She could summon a man to detach her hair from the scalp beneath with a knife sharpened for the ritual flaying. She could instruct him to break her joints and sever her limbs from her torso the same as he does with those monks who have outlived their dotage, those who keep dying yet may escape further reincarnating, those who may transcend samsara while she keeps being born in different bodies. Almost daily, he separates meat from bone, spreading out the fat of inner thighs among glabrous stones silent with knowledge. He is giving the birds their alms, because she has stolen the air from them all along without knowing.

As it is, she feels more French than Tibetan, because she has been to France while she avoids heights of a certain loftiness since traveling to Machu Picchu with no end of vomiting. She grows dizzy at high altitudes, it seems, so dizzy she retched all her supper into a toilet each evening, and she doesn’t like climbing, mountains least of all. She prefers baguettes, scarves, and riding bicycles through gardens on flat topography. She prefers French accents and the love they make in movies.

The donuts lining the shelves to her left would sicken any Parisian, she thinks. They’d make them turn their lean violin noses up toward the ceiling without playing any music. And she feels herself superior thinking of the soufflé she plans on baking, superior to the man behind the counter selling donuts filled with jelly as well as superior to the Tibetan Buddhists busy breaking bodies. She will boil her blood into a reduction. For a sauce, she thinks.

She has spent only a few weeks in Paris, a little less in Provence and the Cote d’Azur, where people sunbathe naked in public. Still this was long enough for her to understand that despite being from Indiana, despite eating corn with supper all four seasons, she is French by disposition. She is French by virtue of liking to eat and taking her time about it, by luxuriating in wiping her chin with a silk napkin and doing nothing for the remainder of the evening. She is French enough to bake a soufflé with a woman inside it.

Everything happens for a reason, people are fond of saying, much to her annoyance. The reason she fell from out her mother’s body, she’s now prepared to counter if anyone raises the subject, was to rise with the yeast. She knows few facts, but this has made itself apparent. She is too succulent not to make use of the juices that leach from each orifice.

So she walks to the unisex bathroom as if entering a chateau in Brittany, where she bends her head to lick the sweat pooling in her elbow crease. She runs a finger between her legs then lifts each breast to moisten the shadow space. She extends her tongue and gives herself a taste.

Only until she can leave Dunkin’ Donuts without freezing on her doorstep, she cannot begin baking. Sometimes she feels she's being delayed on purpose, absent all consideration, though she tries not to resent it. She remembers human bodies once warmed to aching are being devoured by birds in the freezing Himalayas. She takes cold comfort in it.

Yet rather than snacking on herself on the odd public toilet while reading the graffiti, she'd like to experience herself being eaten. She’d like to feel the cut of the spoon through her skin and shiver at its steel ablation through her organs. She’d like to know someone else’s tongue will come alive with the taste of her and will let her linger. He’ll hold her there a moment while she swings on his uvula, swinging until she becomes quiet and falls down his trachea with a cascade of saliva.

She washes her hands and returns to her pillows for company. Rather than rising from her seat as she imagines being swallowed, her head collapses onto the table in the nest of her elbow. She transfers her heat to its surface, not quite liking to share the warmth of her body with something inanimate, something with no mouth or gustatory sensation.

Her mother wished aloud on more than one occasion she’d become a journalist, a vocation that would have made use of her propensity for overcommunication and garnered a profit. Only she never cared for facts but to facts has always preferred eating. What little news she bothers reading strikes her as arcane forms of poetry, as doggerel absent all comedy, as metaphors for appetite alone. The only thing she knows for certain is that we are hungry.

Spirits are even hungrier evidently, though about them journalists write next to nothing. Tibetans believe traditionally that vultures are more than the scavengers they seem. They imagine the birds are dakini, female goddesses inhabiting the upper regions of the atmosphere who fly without the aid of feathers, who are held aloft only by their desire for men with the phalluses of gods presumably. And bird goddesses of the Paleolithic Period suit her sensibilities, especially if they occasionally grow angry and start pecking at those still living. Especially if the arches of their eyebrows are lined with electricity.

The earliest known cave paintings are found in southern France, a place where people appreciate a souffle’s airy beauty. At Pech Merle in the Midi-Pyrénées, pregnant bird women dance on a cave ceiling. Some anthropologists suggest these are female shamans of primordial Asian cultures from the Silk Road dating back to the Iron Age, when the world began teeming with weaponry. She reflects on this while still stirring the milk inside her coffee, dissolving the elephant’s trunk into an elephant body. The only way to grow wings, she reflects, as a woman these days is to feed yourself to the dakini, to sacrifice your body so they can fly for longer and scavenge at a wider ambit. So that even as they digest the entrails of humans they look a vision of femininity.

The lightest she has ever felt within memory, the closest she has come to being a soufflé begun rising, was when being pushed on the wooden swing her father made when she was two or three. She can no longer replicate this feeling, though, without baking her body, without subjecting herself to a terrible heat incinerating her outer layer. Yet when your leavening deflates too quickly, no one considers you a fact worth reporting.

The only person who may appreciate the wisdom of her decision is her building’s handyman, the only person who might be in possession of fewer facts than she is. David is still in the process of installing blinds in her apartment and so has left his drill on the windowsill in her kitchen. David started divorce proceedings a few months before this, but his wife has since returned to him with their old curtains. He smokes enough marijuana across the hall to give her a contact high by eleven in the morning, though she still doesn’t float high enough, she’s certain.

David smiles at her as if she’s a friend when she isn’t. He also has no sense of the wind blowing through her from all the emptiness she’s known inside her apartment the same size as his. Still he may still eat all her bones regardless, if only because her husband doesn’t like chocolate. And this is kind of soufflé she will be, as has long been decided.

She calls him eventually around four-thirty p.m. even though he's told her as well as all the other tenants never to call him on weekends. Only she’s already spent three hours at Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner drinking one cup of coffee and is growing restless. Turns out he’s driving back into the city from Michigan, he tells her when she calls him. And he’s sorry he can’t help, really he is.

So at last she starts pressing buttons, all the buzzers lining the entrance. She presses them as if they’re a control panel for a spaceship and all the other astronauts’ heads have exploded from forgetting to wear their helmets when sticking their heads out for less oxygen. And now it’s up to her to steer the vessel back to her home planet, because limitless as the universe seems to be from this vantage, there’s only one place she knows of that allows her the pleasure of eating pastries on summer grasses. Someone eventually buzzes her in, when she sits on the stairs outside the three rooms she and her husband are renting. Most of her neighbors are watching television. She listens carefully for fucking but can’t hear any.

And while she waits on the stairwell crusted with dead ant colonies, she imagines this as a lustrum, the interval of rest between two censuses when Rome was ancient. She imagines someone on a floor above or below her is offering the gods a sacrificial lamb, because gods like mutton or at least they did according to early Romans. And she imagines they'll want a light dessert to complement it, a soufflé lighter than a soufflé has ever been, a soufflé almost too human, rising and falling as if breathing and containing its own contradictions. One that seems to hesitate, unsure of being eaten.

She's never seen much of a point in counting, because in time the total will only change again. So a lustrum to her makes more sense than a census. But if you have an empire, you want to know how much of it there is, she acknowledges. If you have nothing, you resign yourself to expiation, to the period of restfulness. You resign yourself to waiting the day’s remainder on your husband to let you into your apartment, where you have nothing in particular to do but can at least finger yourself in private.

Once he comes home and finds her slumped on the stairs an hour or so later, she thanks him then walks to the kitchen in silence. Her bowls all present her with a startling emptiness, and part of her questions the value of whipping her bones inside them. Part of her prefers simply standing here in their presence.

In recent days, she has lost all her writing work that pays anything while several friends have moved to other cities. She has no one now except her husband she can talk to in the evenings. The music classes she has been taking have also been canceled because only one other person felt them vital enough to continue living. So she sits home weekdays and does nothing but listen whole hours to the parrots across the hall, because David rescues them from bird adoption agencies. Because though they could easily spend their days relaxing, the parrots are panicked. They tweeze their own feathers out with their beaks when they might be resting.

Yet while the parrots are crying she feels her body loosen. She feels her tendons melt like icing spread and too soon melting across a cake just risen with no intent of collapsing. Because there is less of her now too since the emptiness inside her has expanded, there is also less to mix with the flour and eggs once she starts cooking. And the less time spent mixing, the sooner begins the feast. For the moment, however, she's not hungry.



Yet she turns on the oven while tossing her pillows on the couch and feels her elbows soften. Her bones will break more easily if she coaxes them with heat. She knows this innately, though this is her first time cooking anything living. She feels herself dissolving and loving the feeling. For the feeling to continue indefinitely, she will do whatever is necessary.

She is not unhappy, she’s quick to offer to anyone who might wonder. She is only in the process of being emptied to yield more easily to leavening. There's nothing in her life now to keep her from devolving into anomie as if she were a whole society. Yet instead, she's begun smelling things. A few days ago, she lingered at the dry cleaners when picking up wool sweaters she had dirtied. The owner was ironing a pair of trousers, and the smell of the steam was intoxicating.

Water become steam, the smell of heat escaping, is now to her a body. It is the only kind of lover she can expect to meet in the afterlife she has already begun anticipating. She feels the vapor kneading her shoulders. And because she has so little to occupy her time these days, she feels a presence even from an iron exhaling. She now needs almost nothing, as if she too had become vaporous. She is now only a witness to everything else happening. She knows no facts and does no counting. She's never baked a soufflé before and is also out of eggs, which she has no intention of buying.

All she knows of soufflés, none of which she can now remember eating, is they collapse shortly after they're done cooking. They collapse within themselves five to ten minutes after extraction from the oven, and to this alone she looks for salvation. The meringue cannot sustain its own lightness and quickly deflates, rupturing more often. Resourceful cooks fill the cracks with sauce or cream so its insides seem to be bleeding.

She is not resourceful, however, not nearly as good a cook as was her mother. She cooks next to nothing and eats out most evenings. She has the time too but none of the equipment. No ramekins, no whisk, no spatula. No eggs, no flour, and no sugar either, because she pours only milk in her coffee. She has only an empty bowl and her own body, which over the years she's fattened to make the whipping easier.

And she has felt less hungry than normal lately, which is odd for someone who regards food with such arrant sensuality, who used to eat a bar of chocolate every morning. She feels as if all her organs have been whipped together in her sleep, until soft foam peaks have begun to form from her kidneys. She feels them poking through her when she wakes, yet it is a pleasure poking.

She feels so much less solid of late it’s almost as if she didn't need to do any preparing. It’s as if she were being prepared by simply being willing, to the point she wonders whether she invoked all this emptiness subconsciously, whether she caused the work and friends and music classes to all vanish. She half suspects she has done it by some secret wishing, has desired the nothing into being, has walked too hard in the kitchen purposefully as a means to spoil the soufflé that was already cooking. She perhaps has done this so she could bake another and herself inside it. A soufflé for the birds alone, she realizes.

What else explains the sudden love of steam from the pores of an iron? Something she formerly would have never noticed. What else explains the ability to linger peacefully for three hours at Dunkin’ Donuts, which formerly she never would have been able to do with only butterflies grown monstrous? This while she herself is only a leaf looking more like a lemon, a leaf falling more deeply inside the pillow’s softness.

Fifteen years ago her mother gave her a bottle of lotion, a plastic container shaped like a ramekin. It was a body soufflé, a body soufflé made from no body, there was hardly any need of explaining. She didn’t open it until yesterday morning, when she applied some around her navel carefully.

She assumes lotion ages, because it looked yellowed as newspapers kept past their relevance, though it may also have been yellow to begin with. And she expected to find some mold grown on it when she unscrewed the lid. Yet once opened, she could not resist patting it, as if it were the face of a child or the rump of a kitten. It was a soufflé never fallen, and how someone had managed to bake lotion she could not fathom. Even when her mother gave it to her, she wanted to preserve it. She wanted to pack then carry it from one apartment to the next, dependent as she was on its capped fragrance.

And as she sat in her armchair, listening to the parrots—wondering about their squawks’ significance, what past dreams still haunted them—she smelled something pleasant, something richer than steam as well as creamier, though best not to taste it. It was the soufflé she had spread on her body earlier that morning. The smell suffused not only her skin but her whole empty existence, and had her life been any more crowded, she would not have been so intoxicated. She wondered why she'd waited so long to open it.

Perhaps she didn’t need to bake anything, she then reflected. Perhaps she was already cooking. Already she was becoming lighter, browning from the sunlight filtering through windows shaded only by trees still leafless. Possibly her mother was baking her. Her mother was doing the cooking while leaving her daughter to leisure. Such is female spirits’ generosity.

Her body soufflé is scented with vanilla and lavender. These words are still just legible beneath the cap, though the list of ingredients has worn away into letters bereft of coherence. Fifteen years and still the soufflé feels springy. The lotion is just as buoyant when she slaps it as it would have been if she’d opened it years before. Though for this she knows there is only one reason. Because she has not stomped while it was rising.

She has always walked softly in her socks while a cake cooks in the oven. Her mother never made a soufflé to her knowledge, but she made cakes fairly often, and the principle is largely consonant. To whisper and tiptoe around them.

She could consider herself done already if she wanted. She could sit here smelling the lavender and vanilla baked into her skin, because the heat in her apartment makes the air feel tropical while the snow is falling. She could sit here admiring her own body, her thumbs particularly. Because they stick off of her hand sideways as if they want to say something. Because they're so funny, though they never do bother speaking, these curves from the fat of her hand, below which her wrists have lines ringed round them. As if she has done nothing with her life but bend them.

Metal bends because of certain crystal patterns, she has recently read. It is miraculous according to the man who wrote the book of which she read only the dust jacket. Still it is a fact. It is a hunger for something. We want metal to curve and so we heat then reshape it, into a clothes hanger perhaps. Whereas her thumb curves out from her wrist without being asked. This is not a fact, however. It is a beauty she can witness.

Sometimes she wonders whether all of this heat inside her—she feels it, she feels it each day more strongly—will ever broach a coolness, whether she'll stop being this oven baking her innards. She's no longer a young woman, yet still the heat rises inside her as if she’s not done cooking. The heat rises as if trying to alchemize something, as if it wants her to keep fucking, taking off her clothes, exposing the crack of her buttocks to men as she’s walking.

This while her apartment’s oven isn’t even working. Next morning David comes over, apologizing again that he couldn’t help when she was locked out yesterday. He wrests the oven from the wall after wiping the sweat from his face with his collar so she can see his stomach muscles contract into six pale diamonds.

He mends the appliance and smokes a cigarette on the fire escape, where he sits squatting. He tells her she should turn down the heat, that this place is steaming and he feels himself baking as a consequence. He walks to her living area and opens the window, though she feels close to freezing. Her skin starts to pickle, as if pickles will solve something, as if pickles were ever the solution to anything. He says she's done a nice job decorating. She directs his eyes to the terrarium she's filled with red mosses, which the man at the florist told her formed as a result of two other mosses mating. Two green ones made a ruddy baby, one she thinks look like moss with ketchup poured over it, but David has little interest in plants this pretty. His eyes shift from the terrarium to the chess board she has resting on a drum from somewhere in Asia she has yet to visit. He tells her to come see his apartment, to see what he’s done with a place that’s a mirror image.

Only his wife is sleeping, so she’ll have to walk as if a cake is baking and take off her shoes. And once she pads inside behind him, in his eyes she sees a knowing. She sees his eyes follow hers around his living room, across the lamp with a lion’s head for a base with zebra stripes painted across the shade, so that the torso of one animal rests on the head of another species. She compliments him on the wallpaper he’s chosen, when her eyes catch the light reflecting off a steel pole beside a clock face. “That’s Kara’s, for practicing,” he says as if she's asked him a question when she has said nothing. Kara is an exotic dancer, she realizes. She regularly hears someone come in at five-thirty in the morning.

She turns her attention to the curtains, patterned with the blue chains of chain-linked fences, keeping the room in darkness and cooler as he likes it. Because when you sleep, your body temperature rises. “This room,” she wants to say, “could use some ketchup mosses.”

Were the curtains open in his apartment to the buds of the March magnolia blossoms, she could see the building where ten years earlier she'd lived in a studio apartment. She has not come far, she realizes, and this is evidence, but she still likes the neighborhood. To save money when younger, she heated her one room with the oven, which her mother thought hilarious but her boyfriend, now her husband, said was dangerous. “Why?” she asked him. Because the gas could clot her lungs with carbon monoxide and she could die from the poison. Only how would she know and what would be the harm of it? she riposted. Because she would be sleeping, she continued, silent. She would be cooking. She would be dreaming while her blood drained itself of oxygen. The same as she's now doing, she has begun suspecting.

This would, of course, be the way to leave this world, in a kind of somnolent ecstasy, the best and warmest escape routes to becoming a dakini. Only now her husband pays the heating bill for her. Still she wants to make her oven useful, cooking more than ordinary things.

And if there is no one here to eat her, if no rogyapa will break her for faster feeding to the vultures, she will still make herself lighter. She will sneak back into David’s apartment and let the parrots peck at her. She will let them devour the meat between her ribs, the softest parts of the body the Tibetan Book of the Dead maintains is illusion. She will allow them this rather than continuing to pluck out their own feathers to allay their sense of abandonment when they’ve been adopted. Because voidness occupies the main of any body’s interior, the vast space inside each atom. So much voidness means that when she stands naked in the window the person in the unit across from her should see through her, even were she busier.

The vultures would eat her raw. But better to cook herself so no innocent person contracts salmonella, even if it is only parrots. Better to be safer.

Before that, however, she walks back to her own apartment, where there is no pole beside the mantle, and takes off all her clothes. Because she is no longer shivering, her skin no longer pickling and possibly growing greener, because she has also closed the window. Because all cadavers buried in the sky by Buddhists are exposed equally to the elements. Because there is no embalming as there is no need of preserving that which is already lifeless. Because when she removes her clothes she grows only hotter, as if someone else’s fingers were touching her, though they are only her own acting like those of others. Because though she has cut herself by accident so many times while slicing onions and shaving her legs in the shower, her skin feels an unbroken contour. Just below it her nerve endings lie in a tangle, however.

And she tells herself this is decadence, this undressing before a window so closely facing another out of which a person might be looking, though the sun’s glare prevents her from seeing, though no one is likely home either because this is late Monday morning. She tells herself this is the reverse of being sexless while no one is here to fill her with his phallus. She knows this is nonsense.

And in the absence of a face in the window across from her, in another unit the opposite direction of David’s apartment—in the absence even of the appearance of eyes only staining the wings of butterflies mimicking a mammal for intimidation purposes—she undresses only for the bird women, she realizes.

Revealing of skin she knows too is not enough. Yet she hates to think that were she only Tibetan, someone would break her spine for her, severing it in several places so she could be carried more easily up the mountain and be done with it. She hates the ease she cannot access. So the vultures will never find her lain supine upon stones scented with juniper to attract their notice. Because however lovely the splay of bones upon a mountain, the rogyapa would mix her bone dust with barley flower for easier digestion.

And while she heats herself naked into something lighter, there is no one to see her, no one to put money inside her panties as they would in those of Kara. Hers are white cotton with red stitching looking like tiny fireworks' explosions.

Before David fixed the oven, he came and repaired the bedroom blinds, because they were falling without her having noticed and her husband had called him without her knowledge. Their hamper was propped against the window, and so many of her panties are stained with the remnants of menstruation, stained brown as if returned to their real color, drained of their fireworks that have now faded. Because this is what happens once blood reaches the dryer. The lining of her uterus resembles mud being splattered. Five pairs of them sat on top of her husband’s shirts looking spotless in comparison.

And David must have seen them. He may have even smelled them, because she imagines this is not beyond him. He must have wondered why she keeps them. Because he cleans, he says, the floors of his apartment every morning after his wife has fallen unconscious. So this may disgust him. A woman wearing underwear that is clean but looks damaged by fluids detergent won’t reverse into a whiteness. She doesn’t bother bleaching them because her husband doesn’t notice.

Ten years ago she and her husband, whom she was at that time only dating, were watching ice skating on the Olympics in her studio apartment around the corner, lying on her bed when she leapt up and began twirling. “I’m doing a triple axel! I’m triple axeling!” she started shouting then laughing once she felt dizzy. She spun herself so fast, so deliriously, she lost her balance and fell against the window frame, when the window fell out onto a parking space. She fell partially with the window pane that quickly crashed to pieces and she surrendered to the falling. She felt the end of her life approach in an ecstasy. Her husband not yet her husband didn’t try to save her either, at which they both laughed once she recovered—once she somehow fell forward, hysterically laughing. Her heart was pounding through her chest loudly as a hammer striking something harder, yet it had been glorious, the almost dying. The twirl so thrilling it was almost as if her carpet were as slippery as ice in the Olympics.

The ice on the sidewalk has now started melting. The temperature has begun shifting so quickly she hardly knows what clothes to wear from one day’s close to the next one’s beginning. She wears layers she can take off easily when she grows warmer, when she pretends she’s stripping for an audience, so she can pretend someone is watching when he isn’t. She can pretend someone is sitting at his kitchen table across from her bedroom window not eating anything, only holding out his fork pretending it can be used for tuning, that it resonates at a pitch she would recognize as perfect had she better hearing, if only it struck something.

Even people with no thoughts of baking their body are attuned to a tingling when a beautiful body approaches. Even forks resonate to a certain kind of music, to heartbeats, to the sound of a body’s breathing as well as other things. And while she molts out of her sweaters and jeans, she remembers snorkeling with Eddie Lover last winter in Belize. With two gold incisors framing his middle teeth, Eddie has lived all his life where she and her husband vacationed for a week, where he conjures eels from their caves for tourists to make a living. Because there are caves underwater, she saw clearly as she swam behind him, loving Eddie Lover no more than any other man living. She watched a fish who sees the world by flashes of electricity almost bite the hand of a man so fat she hated to picture him naked and thrusting. His name, however, forced her to consider it as they swam toward eel castles.

Sky burial is only a matter of convenience for those who live in certain climates, those born closer to the heavens. Tibetan monks living closer to rivers bury their dead subaqueously, though some traditions hold that water burial is for beggars only, because compared to mountains rivers are lowly things. As if none of us have ever asked for anything. Pleaded over and over more likely.

The Chinese government, however, asks Tibetans to practice cremation. They try to enforce this through regulation as if ashes ever fed anyone, as if dying should not also be a feeding, to eels or handymen or vultures or whoever finds the body. As if beggars too should not be granted sky burial and fed to the bird women, about whom they may have fantasized in their poverty.

At the moment there is too much of her, she realizes, to fit inside an oven. Her bones are too strong for her, though she awaits their shrinking. But it is good, she tells herself while smelling her wrists perfumed with juniper essence, and she begins to dance as if on ice across her kitchen. It is good. It is holy. To be eaten. She says this over and over.


Melissa Wiley is the author of Antlers in Space and Other Common Phenomena, an essay collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press. Her creative nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in literary magazines including DIAGRAM, Atlas and Alice, PANK, Superstition Review, The James Franco Review, Prick of the Spindle, Tin House Open Bar, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Drunken Boat, Poydras Review, Gravel, Pinball, East Bay Review, Eclectica Magazine, Gone Lawn, Split Lip Magazine, Menacing Hedge, Specter, Lowestoft Chronicle, Souvenir Lit Journal, Pithead Chapel, Great Lakes Review, and pioneertown.