Alyson Miller

A trip to the butcher, the weekly one with the fisher-net shopping bag squashed into her pocket, fist tight. Her mother, a half step ahead and nose high, staring at the horizon as though fighting waves of sea-nausea. Inside, the smack of bleach and ammonia, a counter of glass and steel so bright she could not help but stare into herself, an image projected a thousand times inward—a girl looking into a girl looking into a girl looking into a girl. In later years, the visits would make her think of gynecology, the cold touch of a beaked speculum and the surprise of gloved hands. The window was curtained with bodies, frocked with neat rows of ducks stripped naked and goosebumped, under which lay thick straps of tender lamb, pink for roasting. The wrapping of sausages long and intestinal and pork chops with gleaming bones, sharp and white, dropped into the woven shopping sack that grew satisfyingly heavy. And then, while her mother counts coins into the butcher’s hand, she sees the body of a suckling pig stretched out behind the counter, its stomach zippered open and ribs exposed, peering through the layers of creamy fat. Its face is as round and full as a boy’s, its baby eyes a vacuum of space. As she watches, an apprentice approaches, weighing the heft of a short cleaver in his right hand. A sharp strike and the head rolls away, skipping along the floor to finally rest with its nosed pressed against the coolness of the clean, white tiles, as though kissing them to gently sleep.

The nightly ritual, stepping out of sweat stained clothes and into the bath, toes first curling away from the heat. She’s particular—waits for the temperature to cool against her shins before risking the rest, then holds the tap to lower into the tub, her body squeaking against the porcelain; a flicker of goosebumps rising along her arms. She won’t add bubbles, preferring to inspect the strange underwater shapes of her body, distorted by the shifting lens. She has never lived under the sea—breathing in, she pushes under the surface, the Mock Turtle’s voice calling to clean away the jelly-fish, and for the seals and salmon to form two lines to dance. She opens her eyes and stares into the ceiling light, yellow and moon-like, its glass case freckled in dust and spider webs. Her head feels warm and large, her feet enormous and webbed at the end of the bath, a kind of Lilliputian nightmare. You can really have no notion of how delightful it will be / When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea. The bright blue of a clear ocean, sky-coloured, or the reverse, and then she is hoisted out of the tub, wrapped thick in towels and shaken, and as her head, balloon-sized with the water, rattles back and forth, she imagines shells and sand and small crabs falling from her ears and hair, clicking onto the tiles and falling away inside the cracks.

Alyson Miller is a lecturer at Deakin University, Geelong. Her short stories and poetry have been published in both Australian and international publications, and she has also published a book of literary criticism, Haunted by Words: Scandalous Texts (2013), and a chapbook of prose poetry, Dream Animals (2014).
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