The man, a sort of apparition, was going around the neighborhood, slipping in and out of our houses. Like a dick. In and out. He showed us a perverse mirror. A thousand insecurities. I was the fat woman whose husband was unfaithful with younger women. I tried to tell the man it wasn’t true but the only thing that came out of my mouth was the word no. On the third visit from him I twined myself around the pain and thought this is mine. If something is my own then it can’t hurt me, right?
Jane in her picture window, done up and vacuuming like some 1950’s nightmare, day and night. Kimmy who stopped everything and became smaller until she was unseen but still existing somewhere, like an idea. Like it was better to be invisible than to be plain. Amy was always fussily painting herself.
The man didn’t kill us. He made us stronger. But it was a crude, misshapen strength. We became Elephant Women, a large muscled bicep here, a thin, atrophic limb there, hobbled legs, hobbled thoughts, odd protuberances. The fear of his return was more excruciating than what he’d already done. The pain of the potential for greater pain. One of the women started a Facebook group. We tagged each other as QUEENS and offered virtual ((HUGS)).
I tried drowning the man in alcohol but I ended up drowning myself instead. I passed out with Netflix at top volume and woke up to a blank screen asking if I was still watching. In the panic of that silence I understood what we must do. I created an event for the group: EXORCISM: GET THE MAN OUT.
Each woman showed up lugging her load. Jane showed up with a Dirt Devil and tidied as we convened. Amy arrived with a kaboodle full of cosmetics, applying her makeup. I kept repeating the word no.
We formed a circle. Clarissa wrote something on a piece of paper, folded it into a tight little square and placed it in my mouth. I didn’t see what she wrote but the words felt strong in my mouth. I clenched them between my teeth. I turned and gently pulled the Dirt Devil from Jane. We stood in that circle, each woman taking the burden of the one beside her.
Jenny Stalter is a writer and former private chef. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Eunoia Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Tiny Molecules, and New Flash Fiction Review. She was longlisted for the 2018 Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction and is a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee.