We hang our skins on hooks by the door. We have no need for vanity or hides. Bobbie herds us toward the dining room where the table is set with white linen, floral china, scones, finger sandwiches, an elaborate trifle, a honey cake with marzipan bumblebees, and death-by-chocolate. It’s all too much. Bobbie’s desperate domestic artistry is a cry for validation. We respond with oohs and aahs. It’s the best we can do. Bobbie offers an assortment of teas. We are held hostage by her teapot stories while she pours.
“This one was my mother’s, handed down from her mother, from Poland.” We endure nine teapots, stories… The sleek one is from her sister. Her husband gave her the one she loves the most. We know this because she hugs the hot vessel. Or maybe her display of affection is to show how much she loves him, or maybe it is an indication of the depth of his kindness.
The air is giddy with conversation. Sarah is missing her liver. She nervously waves away my concern. Her husband borrowed it for something. He promised to give it back. She turns from me to talk to Alicia. Rose glares me down for being insensitive. I mouth, “I didn’t know.”
Bobbie asks if my son is competing in the pinewood derby. I tell her I refused to give him my lung.
“But we’re moms,” she said. “That’s what we do.” She shows me her gasping lung hole. “It’s an important project. It means the difference between Harvard or Bucks Community College.”
Rose chimes in, “I want my son to go to Harvard. Here…” She reaches into her ribcage, with a grunt and a tug, produces her soggy lung.
Bobbie points to the desk. “I’ll handle it later.”
Sarah leans in and whispers under her breath, “He’ll be lucky to graduate high school with a slacker mom like her.” I can hear her disparage me because the hand covering her mouth is missing two fingers. The women stare into my ribcage. My heart is small compared to theirs. They tsk and shake their heads.
I try to redeem myself by pointing at Alicia’s empty chest. “Where did your heart go?”
She takes a sip of tea then sighs. “My husband needed it at the request of his whore. She likes to pet it while they fuck. A necessary aphrodisiac.” She tries to smile. “The good part is — no heart, no heartbreak.”
They judge me cruel with their eyes.
Gail limps into the room, missing her kneecaps. Her daughter needed them to make a costume for school. “What could I do? The stores were closed, I begged her to take mine. She screamed that she refused to wear those creepy things, then she spit on me and called me a lazy swine.” Gail wags her finger triumphantly. “I demanded that she take mine or go to school without.”
Her sacrifice shames us. I try to show them the butterfly-shaped hole at the base of my throat.
Sarah honks a laugh. “You call that thing an organ? Your thyroid is meaningless.” They scorch me with their attitudes. I need to sit but cover my chair with plastic first, so as not to mess the upholstery with weeping lymphatic juice from my chunky cellulite thighs.
Sarah stands near the table sipping tea. Once it clears the esophagus, a tannin waterfall spurts from her ribcage, splashing the table cloth. We pretend not to notice that her stomach and intestines are ripped out. She gives unsolicited advice while we mop the puddles nonchalantly, to avoid her upset. She is still in denial about her husband being in denial. We all know the story. Her husband needed plumbing for some project. He was careless or befuddled or both. That happens when you’re drunk. There is tension in the room now. I curse my eyes. They see too much.
Tonya arrives late. She has no skin to hang at the door. She floats through the living room, angelic-like. Her husband demanded her kidneys, liver, and lungs early in their marriage. She obliged as any good wife would. But it wasn’t enough. He nibbled her fingers, collected her bones, and still felt hollow. He said she’d become too gelatinous and lost respect. He left her and took the kids off what used to be her hands. He did it out of kindness. She went out of her mind. We genuflect to her saintliness. We chat and eat dainty food. Ralph, Bobbie’s beloved mutt sniffs and licks at my oozing legs. I try politely to push him away but he licks more exuberantly. I shove the dog under the table, trying to hide my intolerance but my wincing gives me away. Bobbie calls him to her side, not to rescue me, but to save him from my harm. He gnaws at Bobbie’s shin bone while she tells more teapot stories. The table goes silent.
“I like dogs.”
Their tight lips, those that have them, say they don’t believe me.
“The world slurps at me too much. I can’t take one more lick.”
“Of course there is slurping,” Sarah says. No one will disagree with her. “That’s what the world is designed to do.”
They nod alleluia.
“Eyes, nose, lips, teeth, or not, we all put on a good face,” Sarah says.
I’m about to give her a piece of my mind but remember, I don’t have one.
Ralph races from the room with Bobbie’s tibia. “He just loves to play fetch,” she says. Everyone finds this funny.
I try to fit in. I start telling about how I misplaced my brain somewhere between childbirth and now but Sarah cuts me off. “Did you hear about Karen? She had an emergency spinectomy.” She relishes the gory details.
The cat sandpapers my toes; I grin and bear it. I disintegrate before their eyes but nobody sees me.
Tori Bond is an MFA candidate at Rosemont College and is currently working on a novel.