Time: 20 minutes
Prompt: "The flower stems have grown so thick she can no longer see..."
Source: A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot
Tivaine makes her home in the perennial bed where small animals come to gnaw on the daffodil and gladiolus bulbs. At first, it was an optimal location. She could hide among the thyme clusters at the periphery, knife in hand, and leap on her prey while its mouth was occupied with fibrous vegetal matter. The garden has been too long neglected though, and now the flower stems have grown so thick she can no longer see the creatures that she hunts before they have heard or smelled her, and have fled the place. Also, Tivaine is slower now.
After a fruitless vigil in the overrun berry patch, Tivaine gives up and goes home. She sheathes her blade. She fights her way through towering stems back to the hovel of twigs and feathers and mole pelts that she calls home. The life growing inside her twists and shifts. Its fists prod and it kicks. It is nearly ready.
Three long strips of dried shrew flesh and a pickled rat heart are the last of Tivaine's food stores. They will be enough. She eats a few bites of the jerky and wraps the rest in a wilted leaf. She adds it to a row of disparate items placed in the center of a rat hide: a shard of mirrored glass that she saved from a rubble pile; a pair of polished black stones, each a little smaller than a kernel of corn—perfect for cracking skulls; a bone the length of Tivaine's thigh, scraped clean and very dry; and the knife.
The knife was a gift from Tivaine's parent. When Tivaine woke to consciousness and memory, she examined her parent's remains, looking for a message in its mutilated face or its ruined body. All meaning had been consumed. Infant Tivaine—animal Tivaine—would have seen to that.
That primal Tivaine would have torn her way out of the parent's womb and turned immediately to devour the soft parts of the parent. The liver and spleen and kidneys first. Easy to chew, nourishing. Then muscles. She would have clawed through the diaphragm and wrenched the heart and lungs and thymus free of the ribcage. After glutting herself on them, she might have been sated for a while. She might have rested while the meal made her strong—strong enough to crush the parent's skull with a rock.
The brain was the last part of a parent that the offspring ever ate, because with the brain came understanding, knowledge, and empathy. When she ate her parent's brain, Tivaine remembered.
She remembered the months of anticipation. The preparations. She remembered the making of a gift. And a name. When she ate her parent's brain, she remembered the name that had never been uttered. She was Tivaine.
Tivaine remembered a path that she had never walked, to a brook that she had never touched. She went there and she washed herself—washed the gore and blood of her parent out of her hair, off of her skin. Then she went to the hiding place that she remembered—a place known only to the parent. There she found the knife.
The knife was new and Tivaine had no memories from her parent of using it. She remembered only what the parent had imagined for the knife. Tivaine returned to the parent's carcass and cut it into small pieces with the knife. She forced the knife into the spaces between bones and she separated the joints. She dragged the flesh-covered bones to a clearing and stood aside to watch. Soon an animal came. It was huge—too big for Tivaine to attack. She was afraid that it would eat all of the bait. It left one piece.
Tivaine grew hungry as she waited. Two nights she stood vigil over the last fragment of her parent. On the third night, a smaller animal arrived—a rat. It took the mangled prize in its jaws and scampered toward the shelter. Not quickly enough.
Tivaine leapt upon its back and plunged her blade into its neck. The rat bucked and squirmed. It tried to dislodge her with its feet. It tried to twist round and bite her. Tivaine thrust her fingers into the rat's eye socket and dug hard. The rat shrieked. Tivaine withdrew the knife and thrust again. She cranked it forward and back, sawed. The rat scratched her with its hind legs, but it grew weak as its blood flowed.
Tivaine held strong until the rat stopped moving. She ate the rat's liver and spleen and kidneys. She kept its heart and pickled it the way she remembered to do. She skinned the rat and scraped its hide.
Tivaine carried the final bait bone of her parent—a thigh bone—to the brook and washed it and scraped it clean with the knife. At the brook she found two round stones and carried them back to the rat. She used them to fracture its skull. She left the skull open, the brain exposed, and she waited, with her knife, for the next scavenger to arrive.
Tivaine sets the stones and the pickled rat's heart beside her bed and then she wraps the knife and the shrew meat and the mirror and the thigh bone in the rat's skin. She carries the bundle to a place known only to her. A place that will be remembered. She hides the bundle well. She returns to her home, to her bed, and she eats the pickled heart. She waits.
When it comes—the pain inside—it is not so sharp as she had expected. It is vague at first and dull—almost nausea more than pain. It takes a long time. So long. Tivaine wonders if she should have kept the knife close by—she might have helped things along from the outside. But then the skin tents and a new, more intense pain screams for attention. A tiny claw pierces Tivaine's abdomen, then another. They push out from one another, tearing a rent, opening a door.
The morning light grows dim. Tivaine is aware of a shrill wailing—a new voice. In the final moments before she surrenders to the black and the silence and the cold, Tivaine sees a face. It is small and hungry. Tivaine thinks one more thought before she dies. One more memory. She thinks a name.
[about my timed writing exercises]