ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
The series runs every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.
ENOUGH: Original Fiction: The Lines of the Space Between Us
There is a room. In the room, there are five walls. One wall is blank and hollow—white white white with a hole at the bottom. The hole is black and gray, murky green from mold. When we put our fingers into it, we can feel its depth and also its flimsiness. If we work at it for long enough, bits of mildewed plaster chip off. We keep a pile of plaster and paint in the corner where this wall meets the one next to it.
That wall is white also—a muddier white. If we knock on it, our knuckles turn red and raw. Its paint is uneven, and covers a hard, notched surface. If we run our fingers down it, we can see lines on our skin.
The third wall is covered with carpeting. The carpeting covers the wall floor to ceiling, side to side. When he comes into the room we lean against this wall, and he laughs. He moves toward us, and the carpet rasps at our shoulder blades. He laughs again. Debris etches patterns into our skin.
The fourth wall slants towards the fifth. These walls have nothing. No carpet, no lines, no holes. If we lean against the seam between them, we can hear motion. Rushing wetness, roaring movement, trickling blackness. We can’t see anything.
We can’t see anything. When he comes into the room, we can’t see his face. No eyes, no mouth or nose. We can sense him. His laughter comes from across the room, across the floor, inside us. Sometimes we can see his teeth. They are charred, chattering. Maybe this is where the laughter originates.
His teeth are mostly quiet, but sometimes they have things to say. They clear their throats and act important. They are the only sound in the room. They laugh and laugh. Then they laugh again. We put our hands behind our backs and count the new lines going up and down our fingers. We wait for the scabs to fall off, then we save them in our pile in the corner. We save the scabs so we won’t lose the lines. Then, we wait for new ones to come.
He enters the room. There is steam and heat. His teeth tell our teeth to eat. We can’t, and we lean against the carpeted wall. It scratches our backs and thighs. Its threads stick to our skin. His teeth laugh again. They are confident today and can’t stop making noise.
He puts his fingers in our mouths. Our mouths taste rusty and wet. Like fruit and dirt. We move back and forth against the carpet. We put our palms against the wall. The threads stick in the new lines on our hands. His teeth laugh some more.
We can’t see his face. Now we can’t even see his teeth, because they are so far above us. He leans his head against the wall. His teeth have quieted, but we can hear them breathing. Tiny, quiet, waiting breaths. Like mold spores in the wall, waiting to grow. He puts his biggest finger into us. We can feel the heat from its puffing and rage.
When he’s not here, we ask ourselves why this finger is so angry. We think it is because it’s so far from his hands. Maybe the others banished it, we say, and now this finger is jealous. The other fingers can soar through the air. They can drum against the wall, rasp the plaster with their nails. Maybe this finger wishes it had a nail, so it could scrape and scratch. Fingers get hungry, we tell each other. They need to peck and scrabble in the dirt until they find something to eat.
That is why it is so angry when he brings it here, we think. It has been hungry, and the other fingers don’t share. They don’t care. You’re too ugly and big, they tell it. You must have been sneaking. Surely you’ve eaten all the good food, leaving us crumbs. Go away. There is nothing here for you.
When he comes into the room, this banished finger is hot and angry and scared. It pushes forward with its soft, blind head, looking for something to eat. It searches and searches. The other fingers are smarter. They know where to look. They find what they want. They’re cunning. But this finger forgets every time. That’s why it keeps looking inside us.
Maybe it finds something every once in awhile. We’re not sure, and we argue about this. How could it be bigger than the other fingers if it doesn’t eat? Sometimes we think it is just pretending to be stupid. But most of the time, we decide that it can’t really think. It doesn’t know how. It keeps looking inside us until it gets tired. It gets tired and sick. It goes deeper, until it can’t hear the other fingers jeering at it.
Usually, just as it is about to find something to eat, his teeth shout at it, too. His teeth are louder than his fingers. His teeth shout without using words. They laugh, low and guttural. The finger falters. Then it realizes how sick it feels. It realizes that it will never find anything, will never amount to anything. It feels ashamed. It feels so ashamed that it becomes nauseous. It vomits. Then it is empty.
His teeth are still laughing. They laugh into our mouths. We can taste their moving, murmuring voices. His fingers laugh into our mouths also, but we can’t hear them as well. His other finger has gone away somewhere. It is embarrassed and soft. Softer than his other fingers, which are hard and calloused.
He leaves the room. He takes the food he brought with him. Maybe he feeds it to this other finger, because when he comes back into the room, it is big again.
When he isn’t in the room, we make up games. We pick the dried vomit the finger left in us off of our bodies. It has trickled out of us, crusting on our skin. We like to be clean. We see whether we can peel the material from our bodies without letting it crumble. When we succeed, we put what we’ve picked from ourselves into our pile in the corner.
Unfortunately, our bodies have holes. That is part of the problem. Sometimes we try to patch ourselves up. If we weren’t so leaky and broken, the finger might not search for food inside of us. We look around the room. We study the hole in the first wall, to see how it fixes itself.
The colors of the first wall’s hole are dark and weave together. When we touch the hole in the wall, it gets bigger. Parts of it flake off. We see that we can’t learn from it, because it doesn’t know how to repair itself. It just grows, leaving behind older parts of itself for our pile. It opens wider and its yawns become larger and we can’t hear what it is saying at all. Maybe if its mouth were smaller. But it gapes too much. Its hinged jaws are cemented in place. The hole in the wall can’t give us advice.
The holes in our bodies don’t get any larger but we haven’t figured out how to close them up either. They won’t disappear and we can’t fix them. So, we play more games. We touch the holes in our bodies, testing to see whether they’ll get any bigger. The answer is yes: as long as our fingers remain in place. The holes drool liquid. Sometimes it is thin and dribbles over our fingers. Sometimes it is thicker. It smells like cut-up fruit left on a wall in the sun. Our bodies are leaking.
Sometimes when he comes into the room, his finger looks for food in our mouths. This is difficult because then we can’t breathe. Our noses plug up. Our throats close. Our mouths open wider. They have to. Streams of saliva run down our cheeks, onto our chins and necks. Our jaws begin to feel like they’ve been wired in place like the mute hole in the wall.
Maybe he is trying to feed us, we say, when he’s not in the room. Maybe he’s sacrificing the largeness and stupidity of the no-nail finger, since we don’t want the other food he brings into the room. But no, we decide. We don’t think so. His finger does the same things in our mouths as it does in the other holes in our bodies. Looking, searching till it gets scared. Then it vomits. Sometimes we do, too. We don’t know whether we’re scared. We’re not embarrassed like his finger. We know his teeth aren’t laughing at us. We’re too small. We’re not bigger than anything in here. We’re only bigger than his biggest finger, and it’s too stupid to make fun of us. It wouldn’t dare. It knows that our teeth might get angry.
Once, we thought it was laughing at us. That was a long time ago—soon after we came here, maybe. We have trouble remembering. Maybe it was yesterday, or earlier today. We don’t know what our lives were like before. We only remember that there was a before, and that now is an after. That day, our teeth got angry. His biggest finger was in our mouths, and our teeth shouted at its wordless mumblings. They shouted Be quiet! and Go away! They told it how stupid it was. We tasted redness and iron and hurt.
Then his teeth shouted at us. Our teeth were quiet. They huddled together and listened. His hands came with his other fingers, and they shouted, too. They squalled against our faces and hair, our shoulders and arms. They used their nails. We counted the new lines on our bodies until we lost track.
We discuss his smaller fingers. They may hate the larger one, but they hate us more. His fingers stick together. They protect each other. Our fingers will protect each other too, we decide.
But then we get worried. What if his fingers only learned to fight through experience? What if they learned to shout at us by shouting at their larger idiot brother? All of our fingers are about the same size. They have nails. They are smart. None of them search for things to eat. They search only for the lines the walls give them. They are satisfied with that.
We decide that we must train our fingers. They must work together to help us figure out how to patch up our holes. The walls can speak, but our fingers aren’t equipped to listen. So they touch the walls. They learn their contours. They learn about space and flatness and void. They learn about the creeping, eating threads of the carpeted wall and they learn about the hardness of the wall that gives lines. They learn about the beginning and end of the hole in the first wall, because the wall with the hole was always first. The wall with the hole created the others. Our fingers keep learning, and the hole gets bigger as they learn. It gives pieces of itself to our fingers, to the floor. We put these pieces in our pile in the corner.
One day our fingers probe the hole in the wall and it closes around them. Our fingers are afraid. They speak shrilly to each other. They have trouble breathing. They’d thought they were beginning to understand how the hole worked. They’d believed it was only a matter of time before they could use this information to seal up the holes in our bodies.
Now our fingers are terrified. They get paint and plaster under their nails. Our arms pull and pull, and our fingers come out of the hole. Our nails feel full. They are caked and coated. We haven’t been hungry, but we are ravenous now. We put our fingers into our mouths. They taste like chalk and birds and dust and laughter.
We take our fingers out of our mouths. We study them. There are no lines. We look at our pile in the corner. All of the lines are there. We look back at the hole. We see that it hasn’t really closed at all. Large sections of it have broken off in the back. We’d thought it was open before, but now it is open. We have trouble understanding. We’d thought that all holes had a point of origin, a point of termination. We were wrong. This hole goes on and on.
We look through the hole. We look at our hands. We hear him coming into the room. We hear his fingers talking to his teeth, talking to his sad, sad, hungry big finger. We smell the heat and the steam and the anger.
We look back into the hole. I look back into the hole. There once was a girl. I look back through the hole. A long time and a little time passed. I kick my pile in the corner. It scatters across the floor.
I can hear rushing. Rushing wetness, roaring movement, trickling blackness. I can see motion. Trickling motion, roaring wetness, rushing blackness. I can see through the hole, I have threads from the carpet on my tongue, my hands have no lines, my pile has no lines, my pile is scattered across the floor, and I can hear him, moving into the room.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus original series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women and non-binary people that engages with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe that while this subject matter is especially timely now, it is also timeless. We want to make sure that this conversation doesn’t stop—not until our laws and societal norms reflect real change. You can submit to ENOUGH here.
Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.
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