Triptych: Gender Reveal in an Asian Restaurant
Christmas dinner is held at the hip local Asian restaurant. We are pressed shoulder to shoulder, in an image of the chummy family that we try to play. Dolls with hands crafted to hold each other’s in harmony, pleasant smiles painted over cracked porcelain faces. We make small talk, skirting around issues that needle their way through the gaps in clenched smiles. Judgements and probing personal questions seep between our pearly whites, staining enamel and gum a pulsating crimson. We are surrounded on all sides by families, couples: people who cannot seem to care enough to have a more intimate yule celebration in the comfort of their own homes. A synthetic beat warbles against industrial metal ceilings, grating against my eardrums until peeled, clumping flesh plugs up the holes. The sleek wood backing of my chair pokes at the binder already digging into my skin and bones. Stitching embeds itself into the folds of malleable flesh, reminding me of the reality I’ve pushed down into my bones.
As my flower bloomed
I wanted to revert to
my pursed-petal bud.
Phantom touches creep along my synapses, poking and pulling on nerve endings until I am twitching in my seat. Once a firm grasp is taken upon my frontal lobe, reality easily slips out from under me, surroundings blur out of focus. Panic leaves the mental state to torment my body; gnawing away at my insides, sinking its claws into lungs, wringing the air from their withered passages. Wheezing in and out, short and heavy until I cannot tell whether I should be forcing my chest to rise or fall; I’m only aware that the motions are not happening fast enough. I
try to ground myself against the glossy wood of the table, but it slips away from my grasp. My flesh tightens up, squeezing the sweat from my pores. The walls and supports of my body shrink around me, pushing me into the corners of my already unbearable prison until I have no choice but to flee between compacting ribs. Clawing my way out through the bars of my cage, fleeing the restaurant to present myself in an offering to the graffiti of a cherry red Oni on the brick wall outside. My fingers grasp at curved tusks in a plea to be devoured by its open, smoking maw. Instead they slip in between the coarse stitches of masonry, denying my prayer. A faint whisper echoes on the December wind: “What can I get for you this evening?”
Demon, pull apart
my form, thread by thread, until
I tangle in fangs.
Phantom fingers recede, and my agonizing respite vanishes with them. As I am thrown back into physicality, reality reconstructs itself, boxing me back into my prison. My sister talks animatedly about similar career goals with my step mother. Both are blissfully unaware of my momentary lapse in physical presence. I stand up, tensing my limbs in an effort to stop shaking. I excuse myself from the table, and my father’s gaze bores into me. Brow furrowed, he mouths: “Is everything alright?” I try to nod and smile but my face is numb, weighing down the corners
of my lips. I merely blink at him, a Morse code response to assuage his worries. A tear falls as my lashes scrape against my cheek, and I turn on my heel before he can ask anything more. A dimly lit bathroom is the first escape I find. Wood and plaster muffle the sensory barrage that made me falter in my steps. As soon as the stall door slams into place, I wrench my bindings upwards and let the bathroom air freeze the sweat trailing down my breasts. My mind screams for the security of the binder, while my aching chest wails in relief. Sobs hiccup past my pursed lips, each hitch of my diaphragm pushing tears out of the corners of my eyes. I curl up on the dirty checkerboard tiles, fogging them up with shuddering prayers.
An empty bathroom–
stall locked to hide the body
I cannot call mine.
Elliott is some lizard cryptid dressed as a college student. You can support their poetry at www.littleprinceling.storenvy.com