The Unsuitable - Molly Pohlig
you killed me, remember that.
yes, i remember. i remember.
you don’t remember me.
i may not remember you, but i cannot forget you. i poke my finger a little further underneath the scab and the pain radiates like the heel of your palm pressed against your closed eyelid, all starbursts and twinkles. i am dead i am dying i am dying you are dead. it throbs and pulses and my arm twitches three times and then falls still.
* * *
The way Iseult moved, it was like she was defusing a bomb all day long. If you are defusing a bomb or, say, building a house of cards that for some reason your life depends upon, you will move slowly and carefully. Every move measured. She moved to make herself seen, but only because a disaster could be imminent, and everyone needs to be accounted for in a disaster. The skin on her forehead was so paper thin that you could see the messages her brain sent to her body: Take a step with your right leg. Now the left. And the right again. Brush that lock of hair off your cheek. Smile. Stop smiling.
It was the way she moved that caught your eye, in the beginning. Each foot lifted too high and set down too precisely, and you would be forgiven for looking above her head to see whether she had strings, or peeking around her back expecting a rotating handle. The next thing you would notice would be the folds of black crepe that constituted her mourning dress, so voluminous that you wondered how many people had died to inspire such a display of lamentation. Had a fire turned her extended family to ash? Had they been poisoned by a vengeful maid? You were not to know that her clothing was merely the work of an overzealous aunt and her slavish seamstress, who drowned the poor girl’s frame in enough yards of dyed muslin to clothe the inmates of a small orphanage. And as for deaths, there was only one, years ago. One. And it resulted in all of this. The clothes, and everything that came before, and after. Just the one.
The clothes held her secrets close. She could fold her bitter hands, fingers flapping like hummingbird wings, underneath the mountain of fabric. Her sole request as far as style went had been pockets, and her aunt had noted, pleased, that when they were filled they produced the illusion of a feminine silhouette. She did not like to be touched, and lived in fear that her pocket collections would be discovered. But she lived in fear anyway. If you listened closely, you would hear a mild disturbance, the slightest jangle, as she passed by, but it was so muffled by the fabric that you reasoned you were hearing things.
The lace collar crawled to the top of her throat, and the fierce edges worked hard to press their way through the pale flesh of her pointed jaw. She strained to push her head above it, her too-tight sleeves pushed past her wrists, making her arms seem even longer than they were as her hands tried to escape the lace cuffs.
She has walked through the park all day, and if anyone had asked what she had seen she would have responded as though her tongue had been recently cut out, and she hadn’t yet figured out how to communicate this new change. But no one asked. She mounted the wide slippery stairs of her front steps as usual: One foot, two feet. One foot, two feet. One foot, two. Every movement programmed to undo