1. Through the Looking Glass
    Through the Looking Glass
    By Allison Rothrock
​I try to avoid both the cliché and the innovation, but that was all I reduced her to, and all I remember her as.  

Her skin was battle-bruised, her hair Medusan - coils tar-black as the East River carved ravines into plum-blue shoulders. One of those who wore fear like anger, who drank men like liquor and women like wine. Prayed to God on Thursdays when college students got free admission, wavering in front of Gentileschi’s Judith.  

My museum (though I didn’t “own” it in your sense of the word) had bargained vigorously for the thing, and it hung oppressively on the top floor, a bitter reminder. Judith plunging her hands into gore, wringing violence and justice in God’s name. I hated it, hated that I knew I was destined, like any other man, to this retribution. I always swept the floor beneath it the fastest.  

I lived in a self-contained, subterranean world, when time undulated and blurred the careful arithmetic of the city. Silence pulsing and pulpy. Sometimes I tried to grasp its weight in my palms, felt its sweaty quivering. Under the trembling glimmer of the streetlights, once I had stuck a silver pin through my tongue while everybody watched and nobody saw.  

And I never spoke to her, just watched her apparition, her body pixelated and half-formed under fluorescent lighting. Her eyes fixed on me, once, and carefully slid away. Sometimes I think that none of us really exist, or that I’m just disappearing so slowly that I can taste it. She smelled like nothing, stale.  

That, really, is why I began to dream of her with fevered obsession. She would rise clothed in lemon rind or laurel leaves and press her fingers into the hollows of my face. Her fingertips would sink further and further, until she had thrust her entire forearm through my forehead, yet she felt nothing.  

I felt silence.  

Last night, I dreamed of her choking on my name. What my name was, I don’t remember, and I won’t tell you. She wasn’t here today, on her knees in front of justice. Sometimes I think that she never existed except between my palms. Sometimes I think I was once a child, thrust into boyhood, I remember the iron tang of summer air and swimming in the creek.  

Childhood is just prerequisite violence, blood before salt. 

My museum is going out of business. When I lick Judith’s fingers, I taste her desperation and resolution, but can’t feel the man’s life ebbing away. My wretched throat convulsing. I haven’t eaten since I swallowed that silver pin.  

My museum holds a sterile, sacrosanct past. It is essential to forget that Picasso drove two women to madness and two more to suicide. Hold your tongue between your two fingers.  

When I press my fingers into my body - the mountain range of my ribcage, the mucous membrane of my nose - I press my father’s words into my being. My mother forced face-down into the dirt, a marble clasped  between her teeth.  
Quiet, boy. You’ll get what’s coming to you.  

Sunlight punishing my back as I fled daylight. The earth jangling and jagging and skittering away. I think that my mother lingers over my body like Judith over the man, in the breathless seconds before her soul's flight. Silent and gasping, a burnished wound picked over to exposed tendons, bewildered affliction.