Daughter of an Executioner – Tade Davis

I lived in the middle of nowhere with my mother and father, the type of nowhere where you’re almost somewhere; you’re not amongst nature, not quite free from light pollution and noxious smells, but not quite near civilization, no one will talk to their mothers about who’s sleeping with who. The times I could make out the constellations, I liked to pretend I was a feral woman, whipping my hair in ecstasy as I’m fingered by my incubus boyfriend. The times I smelled gasoline and heard the distant noises of frenzied industrial life, I liked to pretend I was walking swiftly through concrete streets, in a hurry, shielding my porcelain face from lustful onlookers, my life being lived through the busy body-ness of trying to live. 

My father was an executioner. My mother was always pregnant. My twin sister, the first-born child, went missing years ago, never found, never heard from again. Every time my father came back home, he’d compulsively wipe his hands and face of phantom blood… “remorse is stickier than blood” he’d always say… as if to prep his hands for the incoming stickiness of new life, my new sibling, pouring out from my mother’s worn entrails. Maybe the spectre of constant death reaped the seeds of her womb, the infectious aura of death, swirling and inverting, activating her empathetic feminine wiles. 

I always went down to the river, my mother disapproved. I didn’t have to ask why, she didn’t want me to go missing like my sister. My mother mourned her like an early-term miscarriage, despairing for what could have been, a fragmentary catharsis. We all know by now she’s most likely dead…murdered, beaten, eaten by crows… we don’t talk about it. But in the same way you mourn a break-up and a death differently despite the knowledge of their shared fundamental truth, their absence, she mourned the loss of her daughter as if she went on a really really long walk. I liked to think she’s reincarnated as one of her babies, and if I die I can be her baby again, comforting her, reunited with my sister again. My mother hates it when I talk like this. She looks at me, her wet, ripe eyes full of zealous despondency, and tells me “don’t talk like that, only Heaven and Hell are real and nothing more.” This always ends the conversation. 

I go to the stream, the only site of beauty in this earthly purgatory. The water responds to the weather like the goosebumps and hair lining my skin, its surface a fractal mirror. In the mornings, the water is a trench of fallen stars, impossibly bright, blinding me if I look too closely. In the afternoon, the surface is powered by flickering electricity, less blinding, more somber, a warmer hue. At night, the water shimmers under the moon, like the cheap blue eyeshadow I stole when I went into town a few years ago. I slip into the murky water, naked. The trees, with their disheveled branches, eclipse the sun, like partially opened blinds, reminding me of when I’d dance naked in front of my half-opened window, secretly hoping someone, anyone, would catch a peek of my developing body, and shamefully think I was the most beautiful thing they’d ever seen. 

Dead bodies have been found in this river before. My mother always told me, despite what I read in my novels, drowning yourself is not a romantic way to go, it turns even the most beautiful women into “blue, bloated, pruney monsters.” She hoped if my sister’s body was dumped into this river that the fish would eat her before anyone found her. She thought it rather vulgar that I could swim in this water, but I told her it was no different than visiting a graveyard. 

Sometimes I think I see my sister floating, drowning, I patiently wait for her to yank me under. Does it make a difference whether she never comes back or if she’s dead? To me, I think it does. If she ran away and died I like to imagine her as the dust caked in the hard-to-reach crevices of my room. If she was murdered, I like to imagine her whole body ascending to Heaven, just like Jesus, and that her pain was not in vain but rather to somehow save my mother’s poor, tired soul and all her imminent babies. If she’s still out there somewhere, I like to imagine she’s watching me swim, waiting for the right moment to come out and say hello. 

The sun has set, the weather is warm and sticky. The warm water, indistinguishable from the sultry, damp air, envelops me. I float, senses bereaved, feeling nothing, staring at the sky. I gaze up at the stars and the moon and imagine I’m in space. I imagine Heaven is just like space, not full of clouds, but stars, there is no light, but it’s okay because how can you be afraid of the dark once you’re dead? 

I hear rustling in the trees. I look over but see nothing. Are they back again? At night, I sometimes have visitors. I hear them more than I can see them, my eyes never fully focus on any individual feature of the glowing faceless creatures. Their voices come from far, far away, yet somehow it always feels as if they’re whispering right into my ear, their breath striking the erogenous parts of my neck, accelerating my dull pulse. “We can take you to a planet where names don’t exist,” they always tell me. I ask them what that means but they don’t elaborate. They ask me to spill all my secrets, and sometimes I do, “why does it matter if we have no one to tell?” I tell them terrible terrible things, like when I prayed my mother would die so she would stop having babies in our bathtub, and they reassure me. They tell me my skin looks iridescent blue under the moonlight, the color of death steeped in light, like a dead body being brought back to life, a resurrection. I keep swimming, floundering around to avoid stepping in the putrid sludge full of bone dust and broken glass, and I wonder where they come from, where they sleep at night, and where they eat breakfast. Every time I try to ask, my words don’t come, like an animal trying to talk to God, my inarticulate mouth hanging open, my lips, throat, and tongue too uncoordinated to arrange a symphony of friction and constricted breath. 

I wondered if they wanted to kill me, I was fine either way. Maybe they provoked the divulging of all my secrets so my words, my breath, my affect, my being, could live on in the air, the water, and the dirt after I’m gone. Was it better to be cognizant of my love for my sister, to translate and transmute all my longing and pining into my every movement, breath, and musing, or to be erased of myself, my knowledge of her, in death, but be reunited? I wasn’t sure. That’s why I wasn’t going to wish for life nor death, I was simply going to float in this river, acquiescently entertaining my mysterious visitors, like an anesthetized housewife, or a prisoner on death row.