It’s Only A Cell if You Call it One, And We Never Did  by Gaynor Jones

I chain you first in our womb, sink my teeth flesh-deep and tear off a piece. Skin and tissue trail from my mouth to your bloodied arm and I listen to you crying in the darkness until you finally hear me, finally stop, finally curl up close. We aren’t twins, not in the usual sense, but we move as one, eat as one, pray as one. Sometimes the chain that binds us tight is a real thing, like the skin that day, or a length of stretched-out rope, or a studded belt. Sometimes it’s only a scrap of string, a dirty cotton thread pulled from my vest that we clutch between our fingers in the dark. Other times it’s an invisible line, from my eyes to yours, cutting through the bleak air as our bodies are moved around without our say so.

After, when the footsteps retreat and the door is locked and you crawl back over to me, I remember that first taste of you, run my tongue over my teeth, count the missing ones. I didn’t know what you were, not then and I was sorry that I hurt you, I was sorry that I caused you pain on top of pain on top of pain.  

I catch at dancing spiders twirling from webs, grasp at thin-legged beetles, anything we can grip on to, keep, name, cherish. I share all my things with you, and you share all your things with me. I sustain you, and you sustain me, only sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to never have chained you at all. The only thing harder than going through this alone is going through this with you. You see me think it, sometimes, I know you do, and then you bore your eyes into mine, pull the chain tight between us, slack to tight, day to night to night to night to night.

Even when they find us, even when we are free, the chain is still there. How can you break a thing like that? Why would you want to? At first, they try taking us to separate rooms, but we refuse, our souls pulled always to each other by that line, as black as our hearts. Your mother would like to cut it, that is quickly clear, but when she grabs at you, you snap at her, sink your teeth, flesh-deep into her arm and tear off a piece. They room us together from then on. In interviews, in examinations, in everything.

Over the years, we do separate, we have to. The chain changes but remains. The chain is a factual police report detailing dates, times, crimes. The chain is a seedy late night TV show, our eyes blacked out, the worst of our bodies pixelated. The chain is the wide-eyed expression of a bank teller who just asked me to spell my name and realized who I am. We message each other,

did you see it?

did you read it?

did you hear about it?

and the chain is millions of invisible lines, internet cables, airwaves, things we will never understand and will never need to.

When the people on the news call him a monster, I lick my teeth, remember your blood, remember how you tasted. Now, we can eat whatever we want, do whatever we want, be whoever we want, but we can’t, not really. Because what we want is the darkness, the closeness, the chain. They could never understand it.

You drive over some nights and we strip the mattress from the bed and we lay under the slats with the dust and the bugs and we press ourselves, hard into each other, elbow to elbow, wrist to wrist and we talk about it, the things they tell us to forget, the things they tell us to move on from, the things we miss. Not the pain, not him, never him, we don’t talk about him, not even when they flick the switch, and he is gone forever. We search our phones for the darkest movies we can find, write vile comments using stupid pseudonyms, tell the world how much worse we had it. We wrap our arms around each other. I trace the old scar with my new teeth, and we talk like we are the only people in the world, because we are. We talk about my eyes in the dark. We talk about your flesh in my mouth. We talk about chains, and girls that can never be broken. 

Gaynor Jones is the recipient of a 2020 Northern Writer’s Award from New Writing North for her short story collection, Girls Who Get Taken. She loves stories that feature wayward teens, middle-aged women who’ve had enough, and the darker sides of suburban life. She is working on her first novel.