badb the keener

CW: Mention of sexual assault and death of a parent.


When I was in high school I wrote about a boy named Death
who would sit on the end of my bed, reading stories
and asking questions about the nature of people.
“Why do they wake up in the morning?”
“Why do they go to sleep at night?”
“Why do they love?”
“Why do they grieve?”

Until then I had only known smaller deaths:
When I was little and I asked Daddy why our dog was wrapped in a blanket
and his fur felt so strangely cold.
When I spent two and a half years being raped by a boy who said he loved me
and I thought this must be normal
and this must be why the French call it la petite mort.
When my mother brought home a dead rat
and she showed me how to skin it and tan its hide
and its naked, skinless corpse was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.
When I fell insanely in love with a girl with beautiful hair and a whip-sharp tongue
but people were already saying cruel things about that fucking queer
and I knew I couldn’t ever say anything
and some days I thought the knife in my heart must be real.

I didn’t know Death until I was a little older and my mother’s body
starting killing itself from the inside.
It took a long time.
(Just me, her, and a boy named Death patiently sitting on the edge of the bed
waiting to hear the end of the story.)
I faced down airlines and hotels and the hospital in our nation’s capital
because my mother’s body was too damaged to protect itself.
A week before she died I crawled into a lonely part of the hospital like a wounded animal
and I screamed until my voice gave out.
Somewhere inside my own body, something cracked.

(She tells me that’s when She hooked a talon in me.)

It felt like huge torrents of black water welling up inside me, Old Faithful style
filling my throat and choking the screams.
It felt like closing my eyes and pushing on them with my fingers
until the darkness shatters into prisms of light
and my eyes are threatening to burst.
It felt like laughing so hard I start crying, but in reverse
and the agony turns into hysteria instead.

(It took years for the screaming to stop.)

When Death finally stood up and closed his book
it sounded like the harsh gasping of tumor-filled lungs slowing into long seconds of silence
until only the silence itself was left
and the bed just held a corpse as bare and cold as that long-ago rat.
I was alone with Death and my mother’s body in the room for a handful of small eternities
until the nurses came in and sent me away with a taxi driver
who muttered irritably about having to drive so much.

(Honestly, the screaming never really stopped at all.)

Death taught me many things:
That our world has no love for those with empty pockets.
That corporate mandate will trump human compassion.
That blood relationship does not always equal family.
That I am capable of terrible things without regret.
That some part of me will always be a little bit cracked open.

(I will always be able to find Her there.)



Part of an ongoing short works series in which I explore my personal relationship with Badb Catha.

© Marjorie Ní Chobhthaigh.
Please do not repost or quote in its entirety without prior written permission.

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