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Episode 62 is a GLITTERSHIP ORIGINAL and is part of the Spring 2018 issue!

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Stories My Body Can Tell

by Alina Sichevaya

 

My mama used to tell me I was born screaming, sticky, and uglier than every sin she’d ever known, which was all of them. I still like to remember that. Gives me a warm feeling in my stomach. Especially when it looks like I’m about to die the same way.

I’m remembering it now. My throat feels skinned, but on the inside, and my lips stick to each other, the blood from my nose drying over them. It’s definitely broken, and one of my lips might be split. One of my eyes is swelling shut. I’ve had worse—I’m not exactly dying—but it hurts to breathe, and my ribs feel like they’re falling to pieces inside of me. They probably are.

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 62! This is your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a GlitterShip original, “Stories My Body Can Tell” by Alina Sichevaya and a poem, “Daddy Death” by Jeana Jorgensen.

This episode is part of the newest GlitterShip issue that is now available. The Spring 2018 issue of GlitterShip is available for purchase at glittership.com/buy and on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. If you’re a Patreon supporter, you should have access to the new issue waiting for you when you log in. The new issue is only $2.99 and all of our back issues are now $1.49.

GlitterShip is also a part of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible, and a free audiobook to keep.

If you’re looking for an excellent book to listen to, check out Hild by Nicola Griffith which is a historical fantasy about the youth of St. Hilda in 7th century Britain. The book is full of lush historical descriptions and the sometimes brutal life of a young woman with extraordinary gifts.

To download Hild for free today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership — or choose another book if you’re in the mood for something else.

 


 

Jeana Jorgensen is a folklorist, writer, dance, and sex educator. Her poetry has appeared at Strange Horizons, Liminality, Stone Telling, Enchanted Conversation, and Mirror Dance. She blogs at Patheos (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/foxyfolklorist/) and is constantly on Twitter (@foxyfolklorist).

 


 

Daddy Death

by Jeana Jorgensen

 

Death is just.
Death is fair.
Death was ours first
and still he loves us best.

I only had one father that mattered:
Daddy Death, godfather to lost boys like me
who arrived alone and quaking, newborns at the gates
of the club, too new to know our language, our customs.

I was Daddy Death’s favorite, strong and young,
a pup lapping up rules and adoration and learning so quickly
to spot our kind in the waking world:
the closeted businessman, father of four;
the baker, the lawyer, the burly school bus driver;
and more politicians than I could count.
I eyed them all, a specter of Daddy Death in my vision
nodding, as if to say, he is one of ours,
he belongs to our underworld,
if only he’d let himself.

Daddy Death is fair and even-handed with all
(even me; especially me)
bears and pups and dykes and more
meting out punishment when deserved
but oh so tender, so gentle with aftercare.

That was before the rumors,
the slow illness preying on us;
whispering grid, gay, go away
and the clubs closed as the body count rose.

Aging monarch on shadowy throne:
Daddy Death lasted longest
but stopped going out
(except for the appointments)
and I was his messenger boy.
I, who passed well enough in the straight world;
I, who charmed all the pharmacists;
I, who could still see unerringly
when I meet a man that
he is one of ours; he may yet escape the plague
though Daddy Death looms over his bed
each night, an invitation, a warning,
a man whose heart can hold us all.

Love is a door, love is a dungeon
where a tender man presses pain
into your skin and shows you to yourself.

Daddy Death waits for me in the next world
while I do his work in this one, shepherding boys
so young to be in so much pain, but so was I at that age
and now we know so much more,
and the medicine takes root in our bodies
and though decimated, we grow strong again.

 


 

Alina Sichevaya is a writer and student based in North Carolina. She is a graduate of the Alpha Workshop, was a finalist for the 2017 Dell Magazines Award, and her work has previously appeared in Strange Horizons. In her spare time, Alina plays a lot of Overwatch and waves a string around for her very large orange cat. She can be found on Twitter at @alina_sichevaya and you can visit her website at https://sichevaya.wordpress.com.

Our narrator is Kirby Marshall-Collins. Kirby is a Los Angeles-based writer and director with a hunger for authentic, hopeful storytelling. She got her start writing Disney spec scripts as a child before going on to gain a BA in Theater, Film, and Digital Production. She’d like to thank her high school English teacher for always volunteering her to read in class–if she can do “The Odyssey” solo, she can do anything.


 

Stories My Body Can Tell

by Alina Sichevaya

 

My mama used to tell me I was born screaming, sticky, and uglier than every sin she’d ever known, which was all of them. I still like to remember that. Gives me a warm feeling in my stomach. Especially when it looks like I’m about to die the same way.

I’m remembering it now. My throat feels skinned, but on the inside, and my lips stick to each other, the blood from my nose drying over them. It’s definitely broken, and one of my lips might be split. One of my eyes is swelling shut. I’ve had worse—I’m not exactly dying—but it hurts to breathe, and my ribs feel like they’re falling to pieces inside of me. They probably are.

The girl doesn’t punch me again. She doesn’t have to. I feel like my insides are turning into soup as she hauls me upright by my hair. Somewhere in the parts of my head that aren’t full of feeling-like-shit, I think that I need a haircut. “Tell Craiden where she can shove her cheap fists next time,” she hisses in my ear. Then, she bites it. Just for good measure. It could be hot, if she doesn’t then pull away and take part of it with her. I don’t scream. Or, I do, but I don’t have the air in me to do it right and it comes out in a low, embarrassing wail.

“I don’t think she can fit an entire grown woman up her ass, but I’m sure she’ll appreciate the message,” I hiss. Flecks of pink spittle land on the carpet in front of me. It’s satisfying to watch them soak into the plush surface, especially when they’re next to the bright red stains that got there when the kid shoved my face into the floor and held it there.

“She can leave now,” says the man at the window, some official from bumfuck-nowhere with six lifetimes’ worth of gambling debts. How he can afford this kind of muscle is beyond me. How he can stand there, not even glancing over as I get the shit beaten out of me—that, I can understand.

The kid hauls me back to my feet, meaty hand still fisted in my hair. Some of it comes out in her fingers as she pulls me out of the study, and she readjusts her grip.

“Y’know, s’not,” I start, but forget my words. “S’not polite,” I say. “Beating your elders to a pulp, ‘s a dick move.”

“I’ll remember that the next time a crusty hag like you shows up at the door,” she says before letting go of my hair. I turn around, raising my fist for a last punch. Before I can even get close, she plants a hand squarely between my tits and shoves me backwards out the door.

I skip all three of the steps leading down to street and land on my ass, hard.

I get up. I rub at the ache in my assbone. That makes it worse, so I stop. I want to fall down again, on something else, maybe something that doesn’t already hurt, but I walk. If I don’t tell Craiden that she’s not getting her money back anytime soon, I never will, and that will end badly for me. Even worse than it’s already turning out.

All the way to Craiden’s building, the skin on my back aches, the same way it always does when I miss the woman who used to drag her nails down the name burned into it and curl up against me after. It’s a nagging, touch-hungry kind of ache, the kind that wants comforting. I do my best to ignore it.

My best is pretty shit.

Craiden runs a hand over her stubbly scalp, scowling down at me like I’m a stray dog she can’t afford to feed. “Give me one good reason to keep you, Jansse.”

I don’t have one. I can’t tell if that’s because there isn’t one, or because my head has stopped working.

“Well?”

I shrug. “Can I…” I have to think for a minute or two. “Can I get back to you after I get my face fixed?”

Craiden laughs. The stamps burned into her face, scars from her own extremely brief career as a fist-for-hire, wrinkle with it. “Honey, if you want your face fixed, you gotta go back to whenever it was you were young and decide to do something else with your life.”

“Know it didn’ go well,” I say, breathing in that shallow way I know helps get air past my ribs. I shift from foot to foot in the alley. Her doorway opens onto the hidden refuse of the city, piled up in stinking heaps of wasted food and waste itself against the walls of buildings. I wonder if I’m more like the wasted food or the waste.

“That’s not what I asked you for. One reason, Jansse.”

“I don’ know righ’ now, a’right?” I say, letting myself sag against the frame. “I’ll do better. Next time.”

Craiden sucks at the insides of her lips, drags her teeth over the top and bottom ones in succession. “Jansse, there’s not going to be a next time.”

“Wha’ you mean?” The split lip and broken nose are making talking harder and harder.

“You have to understand, at this point, I’m about to start sinking more money into keeping you alive than you’re bringing back to me,” said Craiden. “You get that, right?”

“Wai’—“I lean forward, shaking my head quickly before getting dizzy and stopping. “No, you can’—”

“I’m sorry, Jansse, I’d keep you if I could,” she says. It’s almost like she means it, her face folds in all the right ways, but I know better. What she says next hurts worse than the letting me go. “It’s just business,” she says. “You’ll still be a friend—”

My breath comes faster, the spaces between my ribs filling with the ache of panic to complete all of me. “You can’t,” I say, forcing the consonant out as good as I can. “I got nowhere else to work, nobody else—” I try to breathe enough to keep talking. It takes me a good few moments. “You’re the only one hirin’ at my age,” I say. “’M only fifty, please—”

“That’s the problem,” says Craiden, and she’s already closing the door. “You’re fifty, Jansse. You can’t do this forever. The fact that you’ve made it this long is impressive.”

“Wai’,” I say, and it sounds like I’m yelling from really far away. “Lemme try agai—”

The door clicks closed. The little sound it makes is louder than anything I can produce in response.

Fuck, but everything hurts, and the marriage burned across my back hurts the most, maybe because there’s nothing like getting your ass handed to you by a someone at least two decades younger than you and losing your job for it to make you want pity from someone who’s been done with you for years. Even my bones hurt, the whole ones, with the shame of it—this is what I do, and besides, it’s not right, losing to someone when you’ve got thirty years of experience on them.

I shouldn’t go, but focusing on where my feet take me and on staying conscious is too much work, so I choose consciousness and let my legs follow a familiar path of back alleys to a home that isn’t mine anymore.

It’s a little unfair of me, but I never claimed to be a good person, and besides, we’re both used to it by now. Avne’s a better person than I am. She has to let me in if I’m hurt, and she does, though her graceful dark face is pinched with disapproval. My insides do the same warm thing they did when I met her, even though she’s not smiling this time.

“There’s nobody following you, is there?” she asks as she pulls me through the door and settles me, oozing fleshy lump that I am, into a chair at her kitchen table. The faint light of her fire is more than I could see by outside. I don’t know how long it’s been since the last time, but there’s definitely more gray in her hair.

What a pair of old crones, we are.

“Well, Jansse? Is there?” she disappears behind me, and I can hear her pouring water.

It takes me a moment to find my tongue. “Nah,” I say. My mouth feels thick, the words distant. “Craiden don’ need me anymore.”

“She paid you like shit,” says Avne, and I almost smile, but my sticky mouth protests. Then I remember that she’s not paying me at all anymore, and I don’t want to smile after that.

“Thought you didn’ care what I was makin’,”I say. This is old talk, warm talk. My insides do the thing again.

“Arms up.”

I obey, as much I can, and she pulls my shirt and wraps off. The weight of my tits falling free makes my ribs hurt, and I breathe in sharp and fast before I can remember not to. My middle is a bruising, swelling, scarred wreck.

The only good stories my body has to tell are in the marks she’s left on me, the rounded twists of her name-letters burned into my back by the priest at our wedding, two decades ago, and in the stamps she sears into me every time I come crawling back to her for fixing-up.

“I do care what you make,” says Avne, stiff, dabbing at my face with a warm, wet cloth. It comes away red when she stops to rinse it off. “Especially when you come back thinner than when you left.”

I’ve got nothing to say to that, so I don’t answer, but after she puts the cloth down in the bowl of bloody water, she goes for my nose and I flinch away.

“Don’t be a child,” she waves her hand for me to come closer, and I force myself to lean forward. “I can’t repair it without setting it first.” When she does push the bone back where it belongs, I let out a groan that squeezes my ribs. I’m too proud to scream.

She keeps me talking, just about random bullshit, as she finds the right stamp and pulls it from the fireplace. It doesn’t hurt, even though the metal’s glowing bright orange when she presses it to a convenient clear spot on my cheek. My nose has been broken enough times that it’s hard to find good places on my face to stamp fixes onto, but she always manages to get to one.

Stamp healing always leave me feeling softer, warmer. I don’t understand how it works, but all I need to know is that after the little circle with the right character inside gets burned into me I start feeling like life’s way easier than it really is.

Names are different. They hurt going on and feel all kinds of ways after.

She goes to work on my ribs next, and my split lip. My ear, she can’t do much about—“I can’t grow your flesh back,” she says, but the rest she patches up until I’m warm all over. It’s like sleep, but better. She lets me just sit there like that for a little while, come off that flood of calm nice and slow, and when my eyelids are light enough to lift she asks, “What went wrong this time?”

I whisper it first, then say it louder when she asks me again. “I got beat by some kid bodyguard over money someone owed Craiden.” My body doesn’t hurt anymore, but I still have to look at the ceiling to keep my eyes dry. “She thought I was too expensive to keep fixing. And paying. I’m not useful anymore, not the way you are,” I whisper. I can barely hear myself say it. I clear my throat. “You got anything to drink?”

Avne pulls a bottle of something clear and colorless off the shelf above the fireplace and opens it.

I take a long pull that burns my throat in a way some would consider less than pleasant. I put it down on the table maybe a bit harder than I should, and it sloshes up the sides not unlike my innards probably did earlier. “You know how we’d used to talk about it sometimes, when we were still…” I try again. “You know how we’d talk about it when we were younger? Which one of us would still be working?”

“That’s not really what was happening, and you know it,” says Avne, looking at the bottle for a second before deciding against it, instead shoving the cork back inside. “I told you you couldn’t keep it up for long. That’s what I meant.”

This is an old argument, a well-worn one that fits between us nice and snug, but it’s deeper this time.

“It was fine, back then,” I say, more to my hands in my lap to her. “She couldn’t have been more than twenty, that’s what really fucks with me, and she’s got nothing of the art of it in her. Just muscle, y’know?”

Avne gives me a sad smile. She opens her mouth to say something, closes it again, and answers, “There’s an art to being a mercenary?”

“There’s efficiency, and then there’s just throwing your weight around hoping it lands somewhere.” I’m not crying, I swear I’m not crying, but my voice catches like I might and it disgusts me.

“So what are you going to do about it?” She sounds completely calm, collected, nothing like I’ve ever been.

“Can I—”

Avne stands so quickly it makes my head spin. “Don’t ask.”

That’s when I start crying. “Why not?”

“What do you think it’s like for me, when you ask to come back?” she returns, folding her arms around herself like she’s holding herself together by the force of it. “You say every time that it’s the last, that you’ll either stop breaking yourself for money or just stop coming back, and then you just leave in the mornings like nothing happened, and what am I supposed to do with that?”

There’s no point defending yourself when you know it’s only going to get you hurt worse. I learned that today, if nothing else, so I say nothing. We sit like that, and I drink, not enough. She only looks at me like she wants a response that I don’t know how to give.

“I get it,” I finally say, “but I’m outta work now. Craiden was the only one paying for someone my age.”

“There’s a difference between understanding and not having a choice.”

“That’s fair,” I say, because it is.

“I won’t get very far with you tonight, will I?”

I would agree, but that implies too much of a future for me to want to risk it by responding.

Avne replaces the bottle on top of the mantlepiece. “I’m not letting you back out there until you’ve slept,” she says, glancing at the door. “Leave at dawn, or don’t, but do it when you’re not on your last legs. I don’t need to put you back together twice in as many nights. Take the bed.”

“But—”

“Jansse. Take the bed. You’re a terrible liar, and even worse when you try to fake humility.”

This, too, is old territory, streets we’ve packed dustless with our footsteps. “Thanks,” I say.

“If you stay, we’re talking,” she calls after me as I make my way to her bedroom. “In the morning, when you’re functional, we’re talking.”

I drop myself on top of her covers and regret it—my insides were always slower to pull themselves back together than the rest of me—and watch her through the open door. She’s gone up in the world—the last time I was here, it was a curtain.

Outside, things creak and slosh and rustle as she gets rid of the evidence that I was ever any less than whole. I just lie on my side and blink. She moves, sometimes, into the narrow field of vision afforded me by the door. She lets her hair down. The gray makes it even more beautiful, I decide. It means she’s been around long enough to get it in the first place.

“Avne,” I ask, but it doesn’t feel like a question. “Y’know what?” My jaw feels heavier the more I try to talk, the comfortable exhaustion of the freshly stamped.

“What?” she returns, tone neutral in that careful way of hers that she uses when she doesn’t want to take any more of my shit. The light of the fire dims, is squeezed out to a sliver as she closes the curtain most of the way. All that’s left is the faint light cast by the better parts of town, but that’s far away too, so the room looks like dusk. I keep myself awake with little pinches to the back of my thigh, where she won’t see. I never manage to stay awake this long, and I want this time to be different.

“I never got you burned off of me,” I say. It slurs out of me. I let it.

Avne pauses. Something rustles, and her dim outline moves like she’s pulling her clothes off. “I know,” she says. “I’ve seen you shirtless more times than I can count.”

She doesn’t face me when she lays down on the spare folding cot set up against the wall.

There’s something on her back, something whole and beautiful and not quite discernible in the barely-light on her skin. I pinch myself again, I want to see it right before I can sleep it out of my memory.

It’s the curves of my name-letters, less intricate than hers, but still dark, the scar still raised against her skin, uninterrupted by the char of removal.

When the light works its way through my eyes, she’s not there—she’s already awake, from the sound and smell of it. Her cooking’s always been good, and at the scent of it my stomach pulls me upright and commands my legs to swing over the side of the bed.

The memory of last night almost forces me back down for a moment before deciding that out the window would be better, and I have the shutters open before I can even think about it.

I pull my hand back.

Names hurt going on and feel all kinds of ways after, but in the few seconds after the rod leaves your skin, it’s better than anything, even that soft wholeness you get after your insides have been stamped back together by someone who knows what they’re doing. That’s what makes me go to the door instead, and open it.

“Good morning,” I say.

Avne looks over her shoulder, her hair catching the light. Her smile is small, but it’s there. I want to keep it there forever.

 

END


 

“Daddy Death” is © Copyright Jeana Jorgensen 2018.

“Stories My Body Can Tell” is © Copyright Alina Sichevaya 2018.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes. You can also support us by picking up a free audio book by going to www.audibletrial.com/glittership or buying your own copy of the Spring 2018 issue at www.glittership.com/buy

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of “Gravedigging” by Sarah Goldman.