Happy birthday, Hillary Leftwich! Celebrate by reading this Leftwich fiction we published in 2020! It was recently selected for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions 2021, alongside three other Big Other fictions. Be sure to watch Leftwich reading “Past Hertz” during the 2020 Big Other Book Awards Ceremony!
I wake up every night unable to open my mouth. I’m grinding my teeth in my sleep. My dentist tells me it’s either fear or stress. Figure out which one, or both, and you’ll figure out where the pain is coming from.
Pain can be a symptom of something hidden, waiting. A phantom group of cells. If you’re in pain, try not to think about the baby kidnapped from your neighbor’s trailer when you were twelve. You saw it on the news. Everyone did. The family dog shot and left to die. You were scared and tried to sleep in your mother’s bed but she pushed you away. You slept on the floor next to her bed, staring at her closet door. Your mother hid secret cardboard men in her, inside her, and in her closet. It scared you. Sometimes the hidden men turned out to be real.
The mandible is the only part of the skull consisting of bone able to move. Clenching your jaw while you sleep can cause overuse of muscles. Sensitivity to pain. It’s a type of “hurt syndrome.” Where the pain begins is unknown. Every pain has its root. Every pain must have an outlet, an ending. Everything is connected.
I’ve been feeling you in my bones. You’re a low hum. You’re the frozen field across from my house when I was seven. Seven was when I first realized I would die one day. Seven is the last time I was clean, untouched. In the field, no animal tracks scarred the snow. A perfect pasture.
The “Hum Phenomenon” stretched from New Mexico to the UK. Vibrations between 32 hertz and 80 hertz were reported. Once you hear it, you can never unhear it. The first time you were inside of me, I could never unfeel it, the static. I could never unfeel this feeling of static. This feeling is a frozen field. I want it to rest there, remain stationary, safe from itself.
When I was sixteen, our neighbor blew his brains out in his bathtub. The morning he died, I was touching myself under my fake satin sheets. The feel of the fabric against my legs was your skin, the feeling of your skin. More static. I heard the shot the second I climaxed, my knees buzzing. Later, the police said the suicide had been planned. Our neighbor woke up that morning and made himself breakfast. Eggs. Bacon. Hash browns. He climbed into his bathtub with his 9mm after writing a letter to his mother. His head exploded, his teeth scattering like pills on the blue bathroom tile. It took two days to find all of the pieces of his skull.
Suicide euphoria occurs after someone has fully committed to killing themselves. Happiness. Peace. Acceptance. These are all signs. Robin Williams was found hanging by a belt in his closet by his assistant. When going through his belongings, his wife discovered his watches were missing, and later found them in a sock, tucked away at a friend’s house. When she asked the friend about the sock full of watches, they had no idea why Williams had hidden them there.
There are vibrations of our past that can never be buried. They said Williams looked like a cardboard cutout of a man when he was found dead inside his closet.
If we take away someone’s euphoria, we’ll never know where they hide their watches.
It took two days for the throbbing to stop in my jaw. It took two days for the hazmat cleaners to find the forgotten pieces of my neighbor’s skull. It took two days for the family dog to drag itself from the abandoned field after it was shot, only to die alone on the doorstep, waiting for someone to return home. They never found the baby stolen from your neighbor’s trailer.
I’ve been feeling static in my bones. Gun crack. Watches ticking. Frozen field cracks. You. Where pain begins is unknown. You’re finding my forgotten pieces. They are hiding behind blood and bone. Untouched. Clean. Vibrating.
Hillary Leftwich is the author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock. Her writing can also be found or is forthcoming in print and online in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Missouri Review, Hobart, and elsewhere. She is the poetry and prose editor at Heavy Feather Review and organizes/hosts the monthly reading series At the Inkwell Denver.