Daughter of Swords: On Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other by Mila Jaroniec
This is Mila, said the boss. Show her around.
Lauren didn’t smile back. I had shown up to work in American Eagle jeans and a flowery black and white top that tied in the back with a ribbon, real cute. My hair was dyed blonde. She had on a black t-shirt and dirty jeans that hung off her ass. Her skin was white. Not pale white, white white. Like the absence of blood. She twisted her leather wristband around. Come on.
We started at the front. Lauren walked me down the aisle, pointing everything out. The restraint wall behind the counter. Porn section in the back. The CBT case, electro case, latex, speculums, sounds. Floggers made from every type of animal. I touched the falls of a blue suede one, gentle like it could still be alive. Lauren rolled her eyes. Are you even into any of this stuff?
I pulled down my top to show her my breasts, bruised violet black from the previous night’s encounter with a ballchain cat o’ nine tails. Lauren’s face fell off its hinges. Some of it.
The boss just laughed.
An agent I’d emailed once about Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover counted the number of times I appears in the manuscript, and told me the number, and told me it was too many times. Even for first person it was too many times. I thought about this while trying to underline every variation of body in Animals Eat Each Other. My, her, his, our, their. Too many bodies to count. I gave up on the tenth page.
I versus my body.
Our titles: four words that begin with consonants versus four that are all vowels.
FUTUO ERGO SUM
You’re an alpha submissive, says the boss. I don’t ask what he means because I know he will tell me. He does. It means I can walk myself on one of those self-unspooling leashes. Drop my mind down the well and pull it back up the rope. Elastic like gumstretch, a thread so diaphanous you can’t see if it’s snapped.
It’s rare, he says.
She’s just like Lilith.
He gives me a nickname for the POS login: painslut.
Frankie says, Now, walk.
Lilith, leashed and collared, gets down on all fours. Frankie is making her prove her devotion in the WalMart. She can do this. But Lilith is not an alpha submissive. Her head fills with black smoke. One-year-old Jett sits in the cart. Frankie says, Don’t you like me? Lilith crawls. The WalMart is horrified. This is the unbelievable part: you’d think they’d seen worse.
He told me, as he often had before, that it was hard enough for a woman. That women didn’t do it right, the art thing, we wanted too much of the human world besides.2
Child rearing child.
All I want for in a loved one is humility and obedience.
I want to take ownership of something small,
and make it fight for me. 3
A whip made of rolled suede is called a dragon tail. I learn this, and the right way to hold it, across the shoulders like a carrying pole. It is the wrist move, not the arm, that sends it snapping. I learn the right way to lace a corset, meet the laces in the middle, that like everything else, the popular way to do it is the wrong one. I learn what difference the type of wood makes in a paddle, what leather and shape of the falls produce the effect of sting or thud. Which electrode placements are safe and which are lethal, what restraints can cause tendon damage, where not to tie the rope. I learn that a single tail leaves a purple scorpion welt, and that a well-made one is worth the thousand dollars. The boss takes it off the wall. I feel the fork-tongue, the handle, the braid.
To say there is not one line that stands out in Animals Eat Each Other sounds like an insult but it insults nothing other than the way we’ve been taught to read. To root, to pluck out. Sacrifice everything for the clean line.4 The way we’ve been taught to write. There is only so much time and space to read in and remember and in the cycles of time and spaces we recycle words like talismans, gifts from one end to the other, and I will love these lines and forget these lines the way I fade the origins of the things I love most, but as stories are lenses some make contact and some are sclera, and this space will rewrite itself from my memory, pinkwashed, a Lilith in every girl with bruiseripe skin and a starving look.
THERE IS A COST TO BEING SPECIAL
Lilith falls in love. The love is everything. It is sunyata and godhead and then it is disease, tightshoulder blackness, a morning after pill Jett’s father does not pay for.
Matt did not want to see what my blood looked like if it also contained him.
How does one become the lady of detonations?
When he tells everyone you slept with him,
tell them the truth.
You were awake the whole time. 5
HAEC DOMINA TOTO PENDET
The first night I closed by myself, it was 2:50 a.m. and I had just dragged the prehistoric vacuum over the carpet when a man wearing cargo shorts and a safari hat walked in the door. I watched him head straight for the back where I imagined he would stay until I told him – nicely, because you always had to be nice – that we close at 3 a.m. and would reopen at eleven tomorrow. But he didn’t make it that far. He stopped midway up the aisle at the free magazine rack and bent down to get a paper and when he did half a pound of baby powder came falling out the legs of his shorts, right onto my freshly vacuumed carpet. And I keep thinking about this now because I just stood there. And he just stood there. And I kept standing there after he picked up his paper and left.