The Invitation by Alice Paige
The dinner table is set. The two face each other, both smiling sharp smiles highlighted in red lipstick. A smile is a weapon. Both women knew this from childhood. It’s a kind of truth men aren’t aware of. They see the smile, but not the tongue curtained behind the teeth.
The two women, both with too pale skin, lean forward in their wicker chairs. The blood-red dresses they wear shine and shimmer in the candlelight cast from a ring of quickly melting candles rimming the room. No light shines from the table. There is no room on the table for light as this is where the corpse lies flat on its back, dressed in a black see-through shroud. The corpse’s face is gaunt and grey, desiccated. The old corpse is set out, as if for a funeral viewing. What is a viewing if not invitation to grieve?
“But this is no funeral,” one of the women says, or perhaps, both the women say at once. They glance towards the single curtained window in the room.
Outside, the snow falls. It is not a kind snow; it is a hungry snow that drinks sound from the air. The abandoned London streets are swallowed in a blanket of white. This snow mutes sound and is an offering of violence. A silencing. The streets are abandoned, a feat in the heart of London with its sickly, sprawling populace.
The two women smirk as they stand from the table. Slowly, they walk across the room, bare feet slapping against the dark, wooden floor, the candlelight flickering between their toes. Quickly they move from candle to candle burning clippings of the corpse’s hair.
“In case you are wondering,” one of the women begins, “this is for you. A welcoming,” the other woman finishes. Each candle flairs as hair burns and smokes. The room is a mix of sick sweetness. There is the potent stench of corpse flesh and burnt hair, but the candles provide a stark, contrasting smell of sweet honey.
The room fills with a startling sound like rubber bands snapping. The corpse on the table spasms again and again under its shroud as the final clippings of curled, grey hair burn. The legs of the table hop and scrape against the floor.
The two women hurriedly walk to the curtained window together and throw the curtains back. Sickly, grey light spills into the room. The window faces out upon a small, abandoned city square. Both women grab the base of the large window and lift. Painfully chilled air rushes into the room. The sound outside is still muted but, just on the edge of audible perception, there is a labored breathing that seems to invade the room as the window opens.
The two women walk back over to the table and place their hands atop the corpse. Their fingers slowly intertwine atop the soft, black fabric and their hands rise and fall with the corpse’s chest. The women’s skin goosebumps. They look at one another with cautioned excitement.
“Are you ready?” they ask the empty room. It is unclear who or what they are speaking to. They wait a moment, and, despite the lack of answer, they seem satisfied. Slowly each woman leans backwards, fingers still locked, and they begin to chant. The two chant in unison at an alarming pace, their bright red lips quickly enunciate each word with a labored intensity.
“It juts its fingers into the dirt, finds the face beneath, the orbital, the mandible,
cracks the ossuary, slithers into this shattered church, makes a blasphemous home
of once priest, rips the faith root and stem, hungrily gorges on intently scarified
meaning, is pulled, is plucked, is jutted like sharpened weapon, we call, we demand,
we twinned sisters, given twinned names, we control the star pointed razor,
the space beyond space, we space behind face, we who have pulled host from holy grave to give you shape once again demand you take shape once again.”
The twin voices drone on together, echoing off the bare, wooden walls and spill into the town square.
And that’s when I feel it. A tug in my guts. Not that I have guts.
It’s a strange sensation, to not have a sense of self until I suddenly have a sense of self. To be thrust into “I” once more. It’s as if I have been here the entire time, watching, but have only now just arrived. The two women fall into silence. I recognize them. We were friends once. Before. Before what? My mind feels like a waterfall climbing to be a river. Entropy turned on itself. A collecting.
My vision shifts as the room rotates, turning on its head. I feel my chest heave and my ribs crack. I cough because I can cough.
“You’re here,” Emily says. She is the woman to the left of me. Her voice is slightly softer than her sister, Emilia. I could always tell the difference.
I try to speak but my throat refuses to move. I am on my back. How did I get on my back? I was watching the room from above.
“You need to give it a moment. The body will be able to speak soon,” Emilia says.
I glance down to see the shroud covering the corpse’s body. No, not the corpse’s. Mine. My body. I inhabit the corpse. I can feel it around me like swimming in muck. Its skin is so tight. I try to move the tongue in its mouth and the tongue shifts slightly. Suddenly, I can taste. Its mouth, my mouth, tastes like ash and copper. Emily places a hand on my forehead. Her skin is so soft. So alive.
“We told you nothing would keep us apart Dahlia,” Emily and Emilia say together.
I scream in this body that is not mine. The corpse’s vocal cords hiss.
Alice Paige is a trans woman, poet, and essayist living in St. Paul, Mn. Her writing largely focuses on topics like mythology and queer love. Her work can be found at FreezeRay Poetry, Crabfat Magazine, Coffin Bell, VASTARIEN, Button Poetry, Luna Station Quarterly and Take A Stand, Art Against Hate: A Raven Chronicles Anthology. She is also a co-host for Outspoken, a Queer Open Mic.