BY ERIN SLAUGHTER
Let’s say that, as your mother’s story goes, you were born hungering. Let’s say you came into this world gooey-hot with blood and slick and before the howling inside could make its way up the ladder of your throat, to find grounding in your tongue, you conjured a boulder to block the chasm of your lips. To close out the vulnerable shadow of light. Let’s say your mother’s myths are truth, that your first act in this life was to shut up and look around: quiet, quizzical-eyed.
Let’s say your mother’s milk, as the story goes, was never enough; that you gorged your infant-belly swollen until you puked a white sea across the wall. A nightly ritual sprung more ancient than words. In those first moments, swallowing sound, looking around at the world, what did you take in? What unasking need took root in you?
Let’s say that hunger comes from lack. Let’s say lack and hunger are twins that live inside the mysterious caves of our bodies and whisper to each other in the dark. They hold hands down bone-jagged hallways of spine, hoist each other into hollow wrinkles of esophagi. And other tunnels the body struggles to fill with anything lasting. Let’s say that lack is a swan and hunger a swallow, lack a taxi driver and hunger a pedestrian eternally running late for a flight. When the house they live in quakes and shivers with want—pretend we don’t know how it starts, the hunger, the bruise-like, blossoming void. How they are seeds planted in a camera-shutter’s flash-glimpse of abandonment, just seeds sucking greedily at the same dumb damp earth. Fledgling roots that intertwine, despite themselves, and grow dexterous fingers. How quickly a hand becomes a shovel, aching to be useful: to dig, to plant, or destroy.
Let’s say the theory holds true: too many Disney movies turned you into a whore. And what we all know, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is that whore is just the name we give to anyone whose want grows antlers.
Let’s say the tired cliché is more truth than accusation: girls with dads the shape of void wander around looking for other men, cardboard men, songless bird-like men, to fill them. A desire too rooted, too drowning—desire for the sake of itself, for a want that turns what it touches deathless. Must’ve been spellcast into you—the specter of a hunger that lives in you still and beckons more than blood and bellows out fill.
Let’s pretend anyone can walk away from a life like this blameless.
Erin Slaughter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Kentucky University. She has been a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Contest, and was nominated for a Best of the Net Award and a Pushcart Prize. You can find her writing in River Teeth, Bellingham Review, Sundog Lit, Tishman Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Elegy for the Body (Slash Pine Press, 2017), and the forthcoming GIRLFIRE (dancing girl press, 2018), and is editor and co-founder of literary journal The Hunger. She lives and teaches writing in Nashville.