Kathryn Anastasi

CW: images of blood, drawing blood, and examination in a gynecologist’s office

[FICTION] Insides

I hope the bitterness drains out of me like a salted eggplant.


A smile I chase, miraculous cloudy eyes, embracing a friend or a child or my lover choosing words is arduous, too much thinking, that’s why I like writing with a pen. Pen to paper, nose to paper, my nose is my eye is my pen and it just comes out gliding smooth, blue-ink, blue-eyed blood. Peppercorns smashed between your front teeth and a cracked windshield. My room is so full of light that when I scratch my nose I see the flakes of dead skin floating in the air, spinning out of orbit, weightless and free from my dead face.


Yes, I’m dead and so are you. Welcome to this world with bits of free-floating faces and root beer floats. Maddening, maddening, I don’t know what I’m saying but I hear myself in an empty library singing operatically at the bench of a grand piano.


Maddening, maddening, like Lispector’s


“—I’m searching”1


I know what waits for me, the (mystique?), a three-eyed baboon, orange butt and shots of phlegm lined up on a table, swallow them if you can. What nonsense. What a pity. You’ll probably think I’m crazy but it’s all in line for me: I’m in the ocean, sea spraying in my face, you’re here with your palm on the back of my shoulder, flat and smooth and warm. You’re guiding me into the water— straight, smart. Rocks in my pockets. I dip, my toes sinking into the salty earth, soft. Soft, soft. Kneeling in the waves, salt water splashes over my head.


In Near to the Wild Heart, when Joana thinks of “the freedom she sometimes felt.” When she’s face down in the sea— on the seashore, happiness choking her throat. It’s her discovery of “the things behind the curtain,” or “the state she slipped into when she murmured: eternity.” How “it would magically deepen and broaden, without any actual content or form, but also without dimensions.” 2 The unnamable joy, the annoyance when someone bumps me with their tote bag. The way I feel so soothed in the bookstore’s cafe, rain light on the cobblestones of Prince Street outside. Almost midnight.


Internal: A few years ago, I started slipping into panics without noticing. (I pretend to read, holding Clarice as my shield, sip my coffee, a girl in a trench coat watches me) — a few years ago, I began slipping into a frantic heat when internal matter (again, the girl distracts me, squeezes behind me. I push my chair into the table, my stomach wedges into the table’s rim, the table is a circle. She says Ow Jesus Christ, but it’s not because of me; she’s stabbed herself with a pen, how fitting, a spec of blood percolates)—


In the back of a van in Mexico City, the girl’s friend began to talk about donating blood plasma. The needles, her blood thickening, the quality of the greenish liquid, the alienness inside. Fusing, coagulating outside of her pale arm— opaque, syrupy, volcanic, yes. How the friend saw it, later, vacuum-packed and stored cold.


As she listened to her friend, the girl looked out the window and into the deafening city. Her heartbeat slowed, the inside of her elbows tightened— skin like tight jeans pinching her jelly. Someone asked her Katie, (I was Katie then) are you okay, and she turned to them, huh? Your face, they pointed and she reached for her face. It burned hot and cold; she felt the blood clotting down her veins slowly like marmalade. The hand on her face was sodden. Rivers of tears — she wept without expression, unconsciously. A man waved churros injected with cajeta on the other side of the window. The column of caramel inside the churro reminded her of marrow— scooping it from cracked bones, refrigerated blood.


Her friends shouted in Spanish and the van pulled over. She scrambled up over the row and wretched in the gutter out of the sliding door. Her vomit — lemon-lime — splattered over a bag of Cheetos Horneados. Again, again, her insides poured out of her small mouth and into the street. When she had expelled all she could, she rolled over on her back on the pavement, uncaring about her body on the dirty sidewalk of the capital city. The sky was the lightest blue and from the corner of her eye she saw a man with an accordion begin to fan his instrument. It caught the wind and transformed it; she listened to it bellow and whine. The music bounded down the street and floated up into the smog. The man opened his mouth. He sang a famous song, a happy song. Catching her breath, she watched the sky and smiled, clumps of vomit clinging to her lips.


Months earlier at the gynecologist she sat in stirrups and looked up at the ceiling, where the nurses had pasted cartoon comics funny for pregnant women in the same chair. Her temple tightened when the doctor knocked twice before entering the room, radio pop clanging around inside her head like a rabbit. She pressed her lips together when the doctor spoke of the metal probe she would enter, along with 2 to 3 fingers, 4, a metal, the metal, metal, metal, metal, metal crank. A routine examination. It sat next to her, a simple machine made of metal. Soon it would crank her open, push against and expand the stony walls of her inner lining. Just do it, she screamed in a burst, all at once, so surprising and quick that the doctor wondered if it had happened at all. Such a strange girl, or maybe just a strange moment. Maybe just a strangeness in her own mind, the doctor’s imagination wandering off into space.


The probe probed, plunged, expanded, its cold metal pushing against her walls, the softness. Squirming. The gynecologist asked her questions about school as she pushed and wagged her fingers inside, ignoring the girl’s flushed face, the face damp with sweat.


A strangeness. (A funniness?) Drop the skin and she’s a sack of plasma, lava, organs, grey and brown and dense. Others spongy and light. She wondered. She crept slowly inside herself, on hands and knees she crawled through the arteries and down to her sanctum, her sanctum, or else her pulmonary artery. Her left lung, soft as a sheep.


A crab lung, but bigger, less yellow. Electric currents in her bones propelled her on. No science here: just instinct. (Science, science is needed, change your mind.) A spasm and she coughed herself up.


The blue sky, cloudless, concrete under her back, uneven pebbles. Bloody lip, chunky lip. Her eyes spun in and out, she smiled, gagging blood, thick as a dog. She watched a little blue swallow soar above her, over her. Cielito lindo, the man sang.


Her head ached. Alive with blood, vacuumed out, she lay empty, alone, silent, unafraid.


1. Lispector, Clarice. The Passion According to G.H. Translated by Idra Novey ; edited by Benjamin Moser ; introduction by Caetano Veloso, New Directions, 2012. p. 3.

2. Lispector, Clarice. Near to the Wild Heart. Translated by Alison Entrekin ; edited by Benjamin Moser, New Directions, 2012. pp. 33-35.


Kathryn Anastasi holds a B.A. in American Studies from Macalester College and is currently enrolled in the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at CUNY, Queens College. Her writing has most recently appeared on All the Women We Have Loved.

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