1st Place – Flash 405, April 2021: “The Other”
This is my secret: my daughter was made of glass. She was shaped and molded, slick surfaces, sharp edges. As a child, I had read sacred books with onionskin pages. Her skin was like that: more delicate than the softest velvet.
I worked for days. Face dripping with sweat, skin pink with heat. I laid out my tools: a flat slab of marble, shears, tweezers, blowpipe. When it was done, I whispered, daughter.
She was everything I wished I could have been. I was a woman who could not forget the smell of burning flesh. My trade: glassmaker. My enemy: the blueness of the flames. My disfigured eye, the eye patch covering its ugliness.
As the years passed, I began to notice how her dress clung to her like liquid and showed off the dip of her backside, the swell of her breasts. I dreamt of men breaking into our house and taking her. I imagined them cupping her feet in their hands, marveling at the smallness of their size. So, I kept her locked away.
She was allowed outside only at night, when flickering shadows could hide her from prying eyes. But one night she came back, breathless. She had heard hoofbeats; a man with a sharp chin had followed her. He pressed his lips to the sole of her foot. Once, a gray moth landed lightly on her ankle. Its wings opened and closed. She was full of wonder at the brush of its body gently tickling her flesh. She told me his kiss was not like that: his lips imprinted wishes on her skin. I thought about what to do. Who knew how many men he had brought with him? I could not chase them all away.
Daughter, I said, come. She stood with me by the open window, waiting. My hand was scarred and strong from winding glass. The hand pushed her out.
The men watched as she shattered. Their horses reared, and they rode away without looking back. They had no use for her now that she was broken like me. I climbed down the winding stairs and wept. My daughter: jagged edges, slivers of glass. One hand intact. The toes of a foot, crushed. Her face: cracked to pieces.
My tools wait in the workshop, dusty with disuse. They lie dormant, like my daughter. Try as I might to repair her, I know she will never be human again.
“Sliver” was not what I thought I was looking for going into this contest. Beautiful language, yes, but how did it respond to the theme? However, the more I read this piece, the more I appreciated its subtly layered approach. To begin, the “otherness” of this world is present from the first sentence. The fairy-tale structure allows the uncanny to arise effortlessly, drawing the reader fully into an altered reality. Within this new world, we encounter a narrator with very relatable demons: loneliness and disappointment. While the idea that one might create an artificial companion (or “other”) to ease their loneliness is not novel, it was treated here with great nuance and tenderness. Finally, the fear that this companion might be altered or taken––essentially, that she would grow up––was heartbreakingly rendered. Each movement of “Sliver” had an intimate relationship with “the other,” alternately viewing the unknown with desire and fear, as it so often is.
Candace Hartsuyker has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in Cheap Pop, Okay Donkey, Trampset, Heavy Feather Review, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter at C_Hartsuyker.
Photo Credit: Aimee Vogelsang