She Knows
Chelsea Laine Wells

She goes down soft like a circus elephant trained by cruelty to drop on command. 

They corner her in the school parking lot one night after a band recital, pry her clarinet case from her desperate grip to place it out of the way on the front seat of the open car, and bring her to the ground. Molars of loose gravel bite into her scalp, the backs of her arms, her heels where her cheap white flats fold under and leave her unprotected. It is simple and quiet: one starts, then finishes, then the next starts and finishes, and finally the third. Evening bleeds into night. Above her head is a cushioned custom speaker embedded in the car door that pulses and shudders with sound like a round black heart. She watches it as they take their turns with her, through the awkward rhythmless thrusting, skin sticking and souring, the ugly smell like salt and old blood. The music is a machine grinding against itself, but inside the dark edges of it a boy angel voice drifts like smoke.  She closes her eyes against the flat starless sky and the shifting legs surrounding her and sees this voice, sees the incessant orbit of his words she knows she knows she knows she knows she knows she knows drifting from the speaker like ectoplasm. Her hand floats up while the two who finished watch, standing flushed and silent, monitoring for an escape struggle that will never come. She presses her palm to the center of the speaker and feels the voice slide inside her slick as a whisper. It spirals outward and roots itself into flesh walls and thread thin veins, into alveoli like spider sac clusters, into the pulp and tendril of human clockwork. And finally probes, a gentle but insistent finger, into the soft disc of her egg nestled down deep. 

At the end they stand her up and hand her the clarinet case and say, Tell and we’ll kill you. She walks home slow and aching, elated, carrying inside her a secret already solidifying from smoke to cinder.

Five months later she gives birth to a lamb on the pink tile floor of her grandmother’s bathroom. There is a sucking downward pressure like being drawn into the earth from the inside so she locks the door and kneels naked with her knees braced apart and her shaking hands vised on the edge of the bathtub. Agony flowers to life like flame eating into her skin. Her eyes roll back and her mouth stretches by degrees widening widening widening as if under the power of an invisible opening fist until the corners tear. The killing effort of pushing packs her skull with a mass of silence like clay. Tissue rips slow as wet paper and blood dots the tiles between her quivering knees like burst blisters. She feels hooves, little three-quarter moons of black bone tucked tight against the compact body. She feels backwards knees like furred knuckles drawing down. She feels the twin corners of shoulder blade followed by a swelling expanse of ribcage spreading her open like pulling hands hooked inside and then there is the burning relief of her body releasing the lamb. It smacks wetly to the floor. She sinks down over it, trembling, her sweat-flushed face against the cold porcelain of the bathtub. It is done. She is destroyed, shredded, raining fluid like a profane stigmata, but it is done. 

The lamb is stone motionless, coiled into itself and bullet shaped from compression, coated in a rich slather of blood and marmalade. His eyes sealed, his mouth curved in a beatific smile. He is slick as a fish. With her weak hands, she cannot cradle him. 

After a time she wraps the lamb in a yellow towel and carries him to the trashcan in the sideyard outside the kitchen door. Blood trails unevenly in her wake, more then less, more then less, a reflection of her unwinding heart. This is the path that her grandmother will follow to the discovery of her body on the twin bed in the spare room. Cordless phone in hand, Parkinson’s fingers struggling to connect with nine then one then one.

Later some will say it wasn’t a lamb wrapped in the towel but a deformed baby born still and terribly premature. Some will say it was a white teddy bear paired with a wooden handled steak knife. Still others will say that it was in fact a lamb, a miracle signifying the Beginning or the End. Those who believe in the lamb travel to her grandmother’s house. They take pictures of the trashcan outside the kitchen door and kneel to pray in the sharp driveway gravel.

In the last liminal haze connecting life to death, reality to unreality, this is the truth that she knows: the perceived discordance between what is believed and what is not believed matters not at all. She dies with her eyes sealed shut and mouth curved in a beatific smile, the voice of the boy angel spiraling loose and sweet inside her. 

Chelsea Laine Wells’s work has been published in PANK, Hobart, Knee-Jerk, The Butter, Third Point Press, Wigleaf, and Heavy Feather Review, among others. She won a 2015 Best of the Net award. Chelsea is managing and fiction editor for Hypertext Magazine and founding editor of Hypernova Lit. Read more here.