by christopher m. drew
The doctor thinks that I’m shrinking. I step off the scales and perch on the edge of the bed as he scratches his pencil across a clipboard. He holds my wrist and pinches the skin of my arm in the jaws of a calliper. As he presses the concave disc of his stethoscope against my breast, he tells me that soon I will disappear completely. “Short stature. Disrupted menstruation. These are side effects,” he says. “Due to a reduction in the concentration of your reproductive and thyroid hormones caused by profound neuroendocrine dysregulation.” But he is wrong. He doesn’t realise that, during winter, a peach tree is dormant and produces growth inhibiting hormones to keep it from budding. I feel the familiar ache inside me, the hollow craving, but I suppress it with a gulp of water. I have no choice.
If I flower too early, I will die.
2. Bud Swell
Before they sent me away, my parents would invite my classmates over for dinner. They’d arrive in low-cut tops and padded push-up bras and talk about their grades, their families, their future. I’d slice my food into little pieces and make small talk while I snapped covert pictures of their heaped forks and stuffed mouths for my scrapbook.
Afterwards, they’d follow me into my bedroom and we’d watch a movie or listen to music until they made their excuses and left with a lingering hug. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated their company. They looked after me in school and visited me in the hospital, but they could only ever see the outside me, the shrinking me.
Here, things are different. The girls see who I really am. They understand that, despite appearances, I’m almost ready to bloom.
The doctor pushes his thumb into my leg. “Oedema,” he says, rolling back his stool. He balls his surgical gloves and talks about me to my mum, but she doesn’t respond. She just stares out of the window, tracing her fingertips along the bifurcated raindrop trails tumbling down the pane.
If she would only look at me, she’d see that I’m growing. She’d see the brittle branches of my rib cage; the knuckled roots of my spine; the fine fur covering my arms and legs; the green shoots pricking my bloody fingernails and coiling between my teeth. But she only looks at my reflection, a formless ghost clouding the glass and shrivelling like a sighed breath.
I share my room with a girl who calls herself Ceres. She runs everywhere, even jogs on the spot while waiting for the bathroom. When she collapsed on the stairs, the nurses carried her away and I haven’t seen her since.
If she were here now, I’d show her the new sapling. We’d hold hands and watch it puncture the thumbprint bruise in my leg. She’d rest her head on my shoulder while we waited for the curved stem to ring my thigh like a finger and thumb. Then we’d laugh, overjoyed as the tongue-pink petals unfold one by one and stretch languidly toward the light.
4. Petal Fall
Today’s breakfast was 1,063. Rhea said it was 880, but she missed the finely chopped ounce of walnuts mixed in with the granola, whole milk, and banana. I’m able to pack most of the food into napkins and flush it down the toilet, but sometimes, if the carers are watching, I wait until I’m back in my room and cram the napkins in my pillowcase. I hope they change the sheets soon because the bed reeks of mould. Either that, or it’s the smell from the fungal spores scabbing my dry skin.
I pretend to sleep until the nurse passes my open doorway and switches off the light. When he’s gone, I start my routine. First, bicycle crunches. Elbow to knee, knee to elbow. Then scissor kicks, legs stiff and straight. Then sit ups until I can no longer move. If he catches me, he’ll make me stop, maybe even give me a sedative, but this is a crucial phase in the life cycle of a peach tree. Without careful treatment, brown rot will kill me, inside out.
I slide the curtains open and allow the sunlight to soak into my swollen fruit. As my image changes from yellow to green to red in the window, I pace the room and kick a pile of scattered husks under the wardrobe. I’m nearly ready for picking, to be stripped down and plucked and eaten. I’m more productive than I’ve ever been, but I know this won’t last because the average lifespan of a peach tree is only twelve years. Next season, my fruit will become dry, my limbs bare, my branches barren. I can already feel myself withering away.
Maybe the doctor was right. Soon, there’ll be nothing left. Nothing but a half-empty cardboard box at the foot of an empty bed.
Just like Ceres.
6. Scratch Test
I don’t think I will die this year, but there is one sure way to find out. I dig a finger into my wrist; the nail bends and snaps before it pierces the skin. Slipping a hand beneath my pillow, I wrap my fist around the hilt of a steak knife and run the edge of the blade along my forearm. There’s no need to cut all the way through, just deep enough to peel back the bark and reveal the cambium layer beneath. See? There it is, trickling down my arm and splashing into the glass of water between my feet. I run my finger along the incision and push deeper into the wound, right through to the heartwood.
The doctor was wrong. I am still fertile.
I am still alive.
Christopher M Drew is a writer of flash fiction from the UK. His published work appears in the Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, Volume One, ‘To Carry Her Home’, and The National Flash Fiction Day Anthology (2017), ‘Sleep is a Beautiful Colour’. He won Second Prize in the Bath Flash Fiction Award (October 2016), for his piece ‘The Perfect Fall’, which was also nominated for The Best Small Fictions 2017. You can find him procrastinating on Twitter @cmdrew81.
Art by featured artist Osmyn Oree
Osmyn Oree: Ever since I started photographing nudes I noticed a troubling pattern within the community of photographers in my hometown. Nudes and especially the nude female is often portrayed in a sexual or objective way. Fetishistic beauty and making women look ‘good-enough’ was something I believe detracted from photographing nude bodies. My photography aims to reclaim the nude body from such fetishizations and show that bodies, especially female bodies are far more important than just objects of beauty or intrigue. Each shoot I set out to make my photographs less about the nude and more about the meaningful portrayal of a person. I want to tell a story about the person through the photographs or give the viewer an insight into who the person is and make the nudity less about the eroticism or shock value and more about the universal sense of rawness and honesty.