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Grace, he said, flickering her name. Grace, a staticky word chopped into the bottom of the sea. Soft, beery slither ran down her face from where he spat. The water came in waves and washed gold summer through her bones. He was above her again, his hair deep silk on her face. His voice was in and out below the waves. His tongue loose, wet, electric with hurt. A burned hum shuttered from his lips.

 

GRACE’S BODY WAS SLICK IN THE HEAT, HER TEADRESS CLUNG BETTER THAN A BIKINI. YELLOW ROSES BLOOMED WETLY ACROSS HER SWEET CURVES. THE MEN BUILDING THE HOTEL CAME OVER. THEY COULD NOT STOP. THEY REACHED FOR HER. HER EYES WERE NOT FOCUSSED. SHE DID NOT SAY NO.

 

The bed was higher than before. The ceiling, lower. A cup of water was in front of her. The blue shape of a hand, shadowed, behind the cup. A taste of dirt in her mouth when she drank. Grit on her tongue. Her hands were scored, deep tubes clustered in their centres, plastic, sheer, endless. She bit them, bit at the holes to make them disappear. Scraps of skin were all she could tear off, a thin paste of flesh ruching in her teeth. The hand pushed on a mask, blinded her with gas. She ate bad sleep and fell down.

 

THE GREEN HEAT BLEW OVER GRACE AS SHE CLIMBED THE HILL SHE HADN’T FELT THE COLOUR OF THE SKY FOR SO LONG. PALE FLAVOURS SKIMMED HER TONGUE, HEMP, LICORICE, APPLE, SOAKING HER THIRST. THERE WAS NO END TO THE LIGHT.

 

The room was a vacuum and she clawed bare brick to hold on. I’m falling I’m falling. She said it so many times that the hands returned from the shadows and tied her to the bars on the bed. She could see him above her, like usual, and settled. His hair had been scissored raw, bloody pores clamped his hairline and a shock of blue-black stuck angled to one side. His eyes were scalded, but he pushed and pushed at her and she took all his gush inside her.

 

GRACE WAS HUNGRY FROM HER CLIMB, A CLEAN HUNGER NOT FROM PILLS. HER TEETH UNJAMMED AND SPILLED SALIVA, READY. THERE WAS A GOOD SMELL OF BURNING, A FIRE, SWEET WOOD FROM THE FOREST, CLEANED, CHOPPED, CHARRING. A WRIGGLE OF LOVE KEENED THROUGH HER, HE HAD LEFT IT FOR HER.

 

There were so many men in the room, and she didn’t like it. Curdled fog of dead smoke dripped from them. She knew what sort of men… They wanted her to speak but she wouldn’t. Bo, she asked, where’s Bo? And they huddled together and said strings of nylon and cut out pictures, taping to the wall, of her babies, of Thomas and Bo. dotted lines scratched through their joints, limbs and muscles. Cuts of meat.

 

THE SMELL OF BARBECUE REACHED THE MEN WHO WERE BUILDING A HOTEL ON THE TOP OF THE HILL. STEAKS ONE OF THE MEN SAID. LET’S GO. ONE SAID OR THEY ALL SAID. THE THREE MEN ALL THOUGHT OF IT BECAUSE IT SMELLED SO GOOD. IT WAS SATURDAY AND DOUBLE PAY BUT FUCK IT THEY’D BROUGHT A FEW BEERS AND NOW THEY FELT LIKE EATING, MAYBE FLIRTING. IT WAS A HOT DAY AND THE GIRLS WOULD BE IN THEIR BIKINI TOPS BY NOW. NONE OF THEM WAS A SINGLE MAN BUT WHAT HARM EVER CAME OF LOOKING. THE PIGS WERE UNRULY. SHE HADN’T THE TIME FOR IT. SHE WAS GODDAMN HUNGRY AND NOT FROM THE PILLS. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME. IT WAS THE ONLY TIME.

 

A fresh paper gown.

 

HE’D LEFT THE AXE FROM HIS HEWING IN THE WOODSHED. THER WOODSHED. SHE’D DONE IT UP WHEN THEY’D HAD NO PLACE TO GO, WHEN THEY WERE FIFTEEN. IT WAS STILL PRETTY LIKE IT HAD BEEN. DRIED FERNS AND FLOWERS, A RUG FROM OLD SCARVES. HER MOTHER’S CHIPPED SOUP PLATES PATTERNED WITH ROSES. A TEACUP FOR EACH OF THEM. A SOFT PILE OF BLANKETS THAT SMELLED OF THEIR BODIES. IN THE CORNER A BOX OF HIS TOOLS. SHE TOOK OUT THE AXE AND WENT CHASING THE PIGS.

 

She felt his fists ramming right through her, lost in the water. Weep jerky. Milk poured down in yellowy clots and she knew it would stop. The water was lucid. He pulled her down. The pink of the sky glowed, it glowed and her body was looped likes a virus, endless. Touching the sky, she was vivid.

 

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Laura Ellen Joyce is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Coventry University. Her recent monograph Luminol Theory (Punctum, 2017) uses bioluminescence as critical theory. She has written two experimental genre novellas: The Museum of Atheism (Salt, 2012) and The Luminol Reels (Calamari, 2014). Her forthcoming critical book on Ovid, rural horror, and landscape will be published by Bloomsbury in 2019. Find her at lauraellenjoyce.com.
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