Fiction: Disposable Muse
Francesca’s body is swollen. Her period started on Easter Sunday. She feels her lower belly tighten between her hips. To distract herself from the pain, she considers the paradox of curating a digital presence while trying to remain anonymous. How could she manage such a task? By only posting body shots, head cropped out? Would strangers prefer only photos of her face? Will she even appear recognizable to anyone? How do you consume a collection of images? What is a curated body of work with no physical body? She can't be tasted, or touched, or struck. She knows she cannot suffer for the observer in a way that matters.
She selects a photo for her profile. It is a face, distorted by digital static. Has the image file been corrupted? Was it intentional? To those who are searching for her, will she be easily identifiable? Is the image manipulated enough that she can continue to hide? What little ripple might it cause?
What disruption might it make? Will it disturb the larger collection of stolen images with its disfigured pixilation?
She discards this photo. She will return to it later.
She has no words for the section labeled "bio". A biography is one person's collection of experiences. How does she possibly abbreviate the totality of her experiences in 150 characters or less? And why? And what is too much? A memory flashes in her head. She is driving through Towaoc, Colorado. It is flat, high-country desert. She has just left a man who got angry when she would pull her hair up out of her face and into a messy bun on top of her head. She did this when she was feeling overwhelmed, and he would rip the elastic out. "Ugly girl" he scolded. He punished her for self-soothing. So, she packed her bags and drove into the desert at 3 am on a Thursday in February, frost still on the windows, on the earth.
"Ugly girl." she puts in her bio.
She wrote a poem once. About a baby she almost had. Only 12 weeks, she was already feeling the warmth of otherworldliness that grew inside of her. She felt like a nebula giving way to new stars in the vastness of space. For most of her life she felt detached from her body. A shell. Then one day, a gentle shift, a vibration. She became protective, instinctive, aware. And warm. This body was hers and what grew inside needed to be fought for. All the obscurity and messiness of embodiment evaporated, and transformed her overnight into a warrior, catching flies in her hands. On a Sunday in December, her stomach cramped. It left her vacant. Christmas passed. Everything was quiet, like suffocation.
"Hostile architecture." she puts in her bio.
Nothing survives here. Nothing survives her. One time, in high school, she and her friends drunk on malt liquor recorded videos of themselves in a Wal-Mart parking lot. She remembers the shrillness of their laughter and the metallic clanking of shopping carts on asphalt. She remembers the chaotic joy of nighttime and sweet indulgence of girlhood. Somewhere on old hard drives those recordings still exist. Somewhere the girls are giggling. They don't collect dust but their quality decreases over time. One day, those recordings will be a blur, like a distant memory soaked in the warp of intoxication. This is decay.
She knows it's time to choose a photo to post. Something that illuminates enough of her but conceals anything identifiable. She struggles to pick, scrolling through a cascade of screenshots and downloads on her phone - not all hers, but all in her possession. Or do they possess her? If no digital footprints exist, does she even exist to begin with? Is she even real?
On Ash Wednesday she takes herself to mass at an unfamiliar church, acknowledges her need for repentance and receives the blessing. She stares at her reflection in the mirror, holy ashes on her forehead and silently prays for forgiveness for the things she did when she was scared. She prays for forgiveness for the things she did when she was sick. She is looking for meaning in everything, in anything. She is praying for a tether.
Again, the photo. She decides to create a new image. She poses with one hand gripping her neck as if she is choking. Her head is just outside the frame. Click to capture. She readjusts her body; this time she pulls her knees up to her chin and wraps both her wiry arms around her legs, forehead and cheekbone peeking out from behind. An eye and eyelashes obscured by strands of soft curls. Her limbs are covered in bruises. Will those who are looking for her recognize the bruises? Will they recognize the limbs, skinny with malnutrition? Can they tell she survives off carbonated water and KIND bars because everything else makes her sick? Will they be able to see the difference between what happened accidentally and what happened on purpose? Can they see the bruises connect like constellations and tell a story that is deep and dark as space? Is anyone even looking?
She erases her bio and enters "Disposable muse." and saves it.
She is sitting in a motel room off Highway 491 near Gallup, New Mexico. She can feel her pulse inside her abdomen and her throat. Not like when she was pregnant. This time, the thump of heartbeat is ominous. Tylenol is not enough. The curtains are closed but the bright blue from the neon sign next door spills through into her room and across the floral bedspread. The lamp buzzes. On the bedside table sits a half-eaten KIND bar. She pulls her cotton t-shirt over her head exposing her bare chest. In her overnight bag is a white scarf and a four-inch knife. She wraps the scarf around her head, hair hidden, grey eyes peeking through. Lent has ended. Fast is over. She still feels sacrificial. She props her camera on the dresser, selects the "live" feature, and positions herself in its view. Her gaze dampens. She opens the blade, pushes it into her wrist and draws it down. She does this again with her other wrist, then plunges it into her stomach. A deep red soaks the fray of the scarf while the video streams. The phone records long after her breathing stops.
Persephone's writing has been published by CLOAK, Expat Press, Hobart Pulp, and House of Vlad's Vlad Mag Issue 2.