NPS Photo / Nathan Kostegian

A girl looks into a mirror. Staring back: a feral thing with bloodshot eyes, its matted hair jutting twigs and leaves.

Trick of the light.

She shakes her head and the mirror ripples, then settles, like a pond after a skipping stone. Now, across the glass, the girl sees a matching limpid-eyed child in pigtails. She turns her face to the right and to the left, checking herself in profile, and nods, satisfied.

A final toss of her head, and the girl steps away from the mirror, opens the front door, and walks into the bright morning sun.

Stretching from her feet along the sidewalk behind her, the girl’s shadow rears on two hind legs and snarls at the sky.

◊ ◊ ◊

Do you remember childhood’s lessons? The civilizing work of parents the world over.

This is a fork, they tell me.

It goes in your right hand, and the knife goes in your left.

This is a napkin, they tell me.

It goes in your lap, after grace and before serving.

To cut meat, the fork and knife switch places, then back again to put the bite in your mouth. This is a salad fork. This is a soup spoon. Do not slurp. Do not chew and talk together. You put the napkin to the side of the plate before you put the napkin in your lap.

But, forgetting, I have already begun. Only after a barked command do I pull up from the ravaged table: my face smeared with honey, snout swelling with bee stings. My eyes alone betray regret, and the fear of having once again disappointed.

Have you put your napkin in your lap.

◊ ◊ ◊

I have a picture in my head I cannot shake. The broad expanse of my back, unclothed, vaguely curved as if my shoulders are rolled forward. A single hand, genderless, resting upon my bare skin. The hand ends just above the wrist. I end along my neckline and just above my hips.

The hand is warm and comforting. The desire it evokes in me is hot and scorching.

◊ ◊ ◊

A father’s bed is angles and planks. Pitiless, it casts no shadows.

A mother’s bed is down feathers and silken sheets. Bottomless, it swallows the unsuspecting whole.

A child’s bed is the right size, the right shape, full of stuffed animals and blankies. You think you could sleep soundly here: peacefully, safely. You brush your teeth, pull on your pajamas, and have drawn back the covers before a voice tells you, no.

No, this is not your bed.

This is not your family.

There is no home here for the likes of you.

Resignation trundles you back out into the night. Behind you echo howls of frustration and loss. (You know you could have slept soundly there, if only you could have been the child that was wanted.)

◊ ◊ ◊

Dream lover: I would bake your love into cakes, if I could. I would gift it salt and fat and heat; adorn it with confections. I would take your love and, mixing it with my own, render it back to you as the celebration all love deserves.

But I am too hungry.

Too impatient for cake pans and parchment, for preheated ovens or the restraint of a buttercream, I devour your love like a starveling. Like a bear just emerged from hibernation. I fall upon your love as if to eat it and you, too, down to the bone, cracking femur and rib with frantic teeth, slurping at your marrow—



I will not return violence for affection, even in a dream.

Sometimes famine is a safer choice than feeding. Sometimes we must walk into a cage ourselves, zookeeper and attraction both. Do not worry: I will lock the gate behind me and eat the key.

I will eat the key slowly. Lick at it like ice cream, make it last…

◊ ◊ ◊

A child is not a child forever.

I have my own kitchen now, my own knives and forks, my own table and chairs. My own bed, with a wallowed slump in the mattress on the side where I sleep and do not dream. I am grown accustomed to solitary habits: talking aloud to no one in empty rooms, shuffling slowly from errand to errand, arranging my bulk upon a park bench to watch and wonder as other people go about their business.

Looming tall beside me, my own woman’s shadow settles itself upon a fallen log, clicks open a compact mirror to check its teeth for lipstick, and patiently waits for me to finish.

# # #

“Porridge” is part of an ongoing collaborative writing project: revisiting fairy tales and mythology as a means of understanding, resisting, and healing from gender and sexual violence.

For more from the series, visit the project page.

19 thoughts on “Porridge

  1. I’ll be honest back: the first sentence of your comment made me literally snort-laugh out loud!

    Bless you, Jenny, for seeing in my words a feeling neither bubbly nor tragic. We live in optimism — meaning: human beings need hope and a belief in our own agency, if we are to survive — but HOLY CRAP can that be an exhausting place to sustain. I realized recently that a key function of writing for me is simply making space for the dark and the terrible to exist also.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahhhhhhh. I’ve missed you. The richness of this piece is like expensive fudge—one, tiny pinch of it a feast. I will come back to this again and again to pinch off more of the layers, the depth, the mythology. I haven’t been this satiated in a LONG time.

    Liked by 1 person

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