(a fairytale in reverse)
by Sionnain Buckley
Maybe the moral of this story is to not eat the people we love.
But certain things must follow if you let someone get close enough to take a bite.
It would’ve ended differently if it weren’t for everything that came before. I died by her hands but what did I expect—if I tasted so much like pumpkin, she was going to want to eat me. Since the day I arrived, she fed me nothing but pumpkin, so I was going to smell of it, I was going to have it on my lips. The palms of my hands had long ago turned orange. My sex had a wafting perfume of it, I’m sure. I’m sure.
She ate me gently, if you can believe such a thing. She ate me slowly—every night we made love, another piece of me swallowed. The skin between my shoulder blades, one of my little toes, a strand of hair, and another, and another. I may never have noticed, but she got to my lungs eventually, got to my heart and the tender meat of my brain. She saved the best for last, and by then it was obvious.
I noticed my eyebrows were gone one morning, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. This could’ve been the first sign, if I was looking for one. But I never much cared for my eyebrows, and she still looked at me just the same, completely unphased, completely enamored. She leaned into me, lips against my ear, and asked if I wanted pumpkin ice cream for breakfast, whispered it like we were mischievous children. We’d been awake not a minute, and already we were hungry.
She fed me because she loved me. I fed her too. Out of my own hands, letting her suck my fingers clean. We took turns cooking, trying to outdo each other with our experiments: pumpkin soup, pumpkin fritters, curried pumpkin, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin pot pie. Reaching for variation in what never varied. Each day she harvested just enough, scraping a bit more of the walls into a ceramic bowl. Eating your own house is both a convenience and a risk, but I didn’t worry. I trusted her. The shell grew thinner, the house vaguely brighter, but I welcomed the light after so long inside. I missed the sky sometimes, missed the smell of the wind.
It’s hard to know how long I was in there with her. She had no clocks, no calendars, no windows even to watch the sun. Each day bled into the next—we read books, played chess and rummy, shared stories from our childhoods and little secrets. We repainted the kitchen table at least a dozen times—with hordes of butterflies, or a seascape, or portraits of each other, blown up to garish proportions under our dinner plates. She convinced me this was all I needed, to live by an internal sense of time, to live for simple pleasure. We slept when we felt the dreams creep. We woke when our bellies grumbled or our bladders groaned or our bodies wanted.
Our bodies—soft, orange-tinted, aching for each other. We would wake from orange dreams (always orange: the sky, the people, the monsters), reach toward each other in the dark, breathe in the sweat locked in the bends of our limbs. How could I have waited so long, how could I have hesitated? If only I could go back and climb into this bed sooner—the very first night—then I could have had that many more darknesses with her. My mouth is on her and I long for the past. Her legs are between mine and I pull and I pull, if only to bring us back to before.
On the night she first invited me to bed, she made pumpkin pizza. When we finished eating, she wiped a drop of oil from my chin with her thumb and licked it. She asked me if I wanted to hear a folk song she grew up on, and it seemed to me a vulnerable thing to ask. She sang it for me, her voice wavering and scratchy. When we kissed, I told her she tasted like pumpkin. She grinned and said I did too.
There were days before that, or weeks, when she made up the couch every night, gave me her comfiest blankets, her best pillows. She gave me looks too—laughing looks, like she could read my thoughts, or like she knew I couldn’t read hers. It was my first time in a pumpkin, but not my first time getting looks like those. The ones that precede certain questions, certain carefully positioned gestures. It was not a large house. The space filled with the tension until there was nowhere to turn but toward each other.
She was a stranger. I didn’t have to trust her, but she invited me into her house, cut me slice after slice of pumpkin bread, refilled my mug of pumpkin wine, suggested I stay the night. I didn’t know how to say no, not politely, not after she’d fed me. I’d lost count of how much I’d drank, and now something about this wine made me slip my boots off under her kitchen table and suggest a game of chess. I didn’t mention I was something of an ace at the game. Just beat her five rounds in a row, and by then I wanted to stay.
The morning I found the pumpkin she was waiting for me. Or I arrived, and she was there, and she looked at me so evenly that I was convinced someone had told her I was coming this way. She squinted in the sunlight and asked if I wanted to sit and rest, asked if I was hungry. My feet were throbbing in my boots, and I could spare an hour or two, especially at midday when the sun was highest, especially if there was food on the table. So she brought me inside.
It had been about a week that I’d been traveling, southward through the marshes. I knew I had someplace to be, that my message was urgent if not dire, but I couldn’t help but be entranced by the herons, the turtles, the otters, that all scattered before my path. My boots crunched through the mud deafeningly, and I wished for lighter feet, for padded paws or wings, so I could pass silently through that place as well.
My sisters hugged me goodbye on our front step, angling the door so our mother couldn’t see. She knew I was leaving but she wanted to forget it. Food had been scarce in the town for months now—the winter stores depleted, the crops all blackened and dead. It had been decided that someone would go south to the next town to see how they fared, to ask for provisions. I volunteered, hungry as I was, and restless. Tired of watching people pray. I promised I wouldn’t come home without good news. I’d find us something to eat.
About the Author:
Sionnain Buckley is a writer and visual artist based in Boston. Her work has appeared or is slated to appear in Winter Tangerine, Wigleaf, Autostraddle, Strange Horizons, and others. Her fiction has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions, and she is a 2019 Rhinebeck Resident with The Seventh Wave. She also serves as a prose editor at 3Elements Review. More of her work can be found at sionnainbuckley.com.
About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQIA+ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as "queer," while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. Submissions are open from June 1 to July 1. Poetry, prose, visual art, reviews and interviews will all be considered. Visit Submittable for more details.