For the first rememberable years of my life, I was a dog.
I would walk on all fours and refuse to eat unless food was placed on the floor before me. Dolls and teddies were hastily decapitated, cranial plastic and snowy intestines swept from beneath furniture months post-mortem. The hairbrush elicited fierce growls. I began to smell like fallen leaves, and other, less poetic decay. My howls pierced any door that dared lock me in, bloodied wood splintering beneath my scrabbling nails.
My mother thinks this fact is hilarious. I watch it bring literal tears to her eyes as she recounts it to the smooth-skinned couple who have just moved in two doors down. They nod along, poking politely at their plates of pale tofu.
This ritual unfolds often and without my participation. I find myself at dining tables and doctors’ offices, at barbecues and brunches, listening to the history of my formative years.
The climax of her story—my story, I suppose—is a phone call she received from my school. I feel it approaching from the way her voice dips low. My cue to be still. I arrange my mouth into a pleasant tight-lipped curve and clasp my hands where they are visible.
So much blood! She reveals with a flourish, the poor boy’s parents were furious, understandably. She takes a gulp of wine, or beer, or perhaps turpentine, and chases it with, and so many stitches! and, after another swig, I, of course, was mortified. Who knew a seven-year-old’s teeth could be so sharp?
She says this last part conspiringly, with an implied wink. It always lands. Gasps mingle with incredulous laughter. The more uncomfortable audience sometimes glances at where I sit, presumably assessing me for signs I may once again become feral.
This man at our table is a laugher. It is a gratingly forced sound.
Thank God she didn’t swallow! he chokes out, lettuce clinging to the soggy corners of his mouth.
This sets off another round of discordant braying, cacophonous against my mother’s high-pitched giggling.
I am wondering if he is also an ugly crier when my scalp begins to tingle and the hair on my arms stands on end. I am being watched. I look up to find the woman’s unblinking eyes studying my own, her head tilted.
How can she stand it? The thought is hot and heavy, coiling low in my stomach.
Only when I hear her heartbeat quicken do I realise my smile has widened to reveal a gleaming sliver. Her gaze does not waver. A startling thrill straightens my spine. For a moment, in the flickering candlelight, before darkness expands to swallow golden irises, her pupils appear elongated; vertical slits like double-pointed teardrops. I make an effort to breathe evenly and turn my attention towards our gracious host.
Unbeknownst to her, Cabernet has sloshed down my mother’s sleeve. For the rest of the dinner, I watch as crimson slowly eats away at white cotton.
I remember the incident, or rather the months of torture preceding it. I had learnt by the second grade, through the embarrassment of my family and a pitying therapist, to hide my canine urges. I was small for my age, and my social skills were not well-developed.
Some children want nothing more than an open field and a big stick. Others have the ability, from very early on, to sense such peculiarity. To sniff out difference.
I never spoke, and yet the boy noticed me. He would scream from across the oval and throw pencils at me in class. His favourite taunt was to wave his pinkie finger in my face, claiming he could crush me with it. He graduated to pushing during games, then pinching, poking, spitting, grabbing, and slapping. He found intense pleasure in figuring out the softest parts of my body. None of me was off limits. It seemed to him, my suppressed whimpers and bowed head, were signs of submission.
Boys play rough, my father would say, it probably means he likes you.
But I was not a boy nor a girl, and I had spent years watching the neighbour’s muscled Staffy clamp down on her toys and shake them so hard her head was a blur.
After the guests depart, muttering excuses and tense assurances of doing this again, my mother finally looks at me. For a second, I seem to catch her by surprise before her eyes narrow in familiar suspicion. The congratulations she slurs out is accusatory—I’ve lost weight—as her index finger digs into my now prominent jawline. I hold my breath until she relents.
When she has disappeared up the stairs, knuckles white with the effort of the climb, I inhale deeply and hold the lingering scent of flesh, mouth-wateringly metallic, for as long as I can bear it. Inhaling again, I search through unfamiliar sweetness—jasmine and saffron, ambergris and bergamot—until I find what I am looking for. Wrapped inside an aeolian antiperspirant is the rich umami of sweat, dirt, and fur. Lightheaded, I clear the table and do the dishes, before slipping out the back door.
I am telling you all of this because lately my jaw has begun to ache. At first, I thought I was grinding my teeth at night, and purchased a mouthguard which remains in pristine condition. My grades are slipping. I can no longer stomach fumbling hands on my skin. Something like hunger is building. I don’t think I can deny it any longer. Each time I look in the mirror, my teeth have grown longer and sharper.
Fantine (she/her) is a writer, bookseller, reviewer, and the current editor of swine magazine. She is studying a Bachelor of Arts with a major in creative writing. When not reading, watching, or writing (or working or studying), she can be found hanging out with her cat Zuko or having a drink with friends. She appreciates stories that allow space for the audience to imbue their own meaning.