Episode #60: “Unstrap Your Feet” by Emma Osborne

November 9, 2018

Unstrap Your Feet

by Emma Osborne

 

 

The mud on your legs covers you from knees to toes so I can’t quite tell where the soft leather of your boots meets your flesh until blood blooms from your ankles.

I offer you wine. You take a long sip and hand me back the glass as you unstrap your feet. Your hooves shine as you toss your humanity into a pile by the door.

You sniff the air. You take in the saffron, the lemon, the scorch of sage.

“Darling,” you say. “I thought I told you I was sick of fish?”

You did, but that was a year ago and I thought we’d come around to it again. My eyes linger on your slim patterns. They’re thin like a doe’s legs; one good crack with a cricket bat would bring you down.

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 60! This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to share this story with you. Today we have a GlitterShip original, "Unstrap Your Feet" by Emma Osborne and a poem, "The Librarian" by Rae White.

Both pieces are part of the new GlitterShip issue that is now available. The Spring 2018 issue of GlitterShip is available for purchase at glittership.com/buy and on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. If you're a Patreon supporter, you should have access to the new issue waiting for you when you log in. The new issue is only $2.99 and all of our back issues are now $1.49.

GlitterShip is also a part of the Audible Trial Program. This means that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible for a free 30 day membership on Audible, and a free audiobook to keep.

If you're looking for an excellent book with queer characters, Rivers Solomon's An Unkindness of Ghosts is an amazing listen. The story features a colony ship having power problems and some internal unrest. Our protagonist, Aster, is a brilliant scientist and doctor trapped in an extremely socially and racially segregated society. The book also deals with non-neurotypicality, intersex, and fluid/questioning gender identity. An Unkindness of Ghosts is part mystery, part colony ship drama, and part coming of age story (though it is not YA). Rivers has amazing prose, and the narration in this audio book sets it off wonderfully.

To download An Unkindness of Ghosts for free today, go to www.audibletrial.com/glittership — or choose another book if you're in the mood for something else.

There are content warnings on this episode for a very, very sexy poem and descriptions of domestic emotional abuse in "Unstrap Your Feet."

 


 

Rae White is a non-binary poet, writer, and zinester living in Brisbane. Their poetry collection Milk Teeth won the 2017 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and is published by the University of Queensland Press. Rae’s poem ‘what even r u?’ placed second in the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize. Rae’s poetry has been published in Meanjin Quarterly, Cordite Poetry Review, Overland, Rabbit, and others.

 


 

The Librarian

by Rae White

 

 

locked in ∞ nostalgia after dark ∞ thumb through
favourites: nin-like erotica ∞ with storms simulating
hunger, flirting & fireworks, cruise ship
kisses ∞ here, every heel

click is echo-church, like the ruckus I make at
funerals ∞ every movement casts my shadow: spells
spilling over bookshelves ∞ I’m not trapped, I have
a key ∞ but I stay curled in the wicker
chair ∞ waiting

for echo-click of ribs and what remains ∞ the flossed
fragments of my midnight ghost with her yawn-wide
kiss & skinless skull ∞ her cartilage grip & gasp & pelvic
bone clasped tight to my thigh ∞ her shiver-glitches, each
more grating & copper-tasting than the last ∞ her brittle
pushes as she groans ∞ against my knuckled hand ∞ I taste
soot & swordfish

later ∞ I press her
between folds of wildflower books & sing
timidly of the moon as she sleeps

 

 


 

Emma Osborne is a queer fiction writer and poet from Melbourne, Australia. Emma’s writing has appeared in Shock Totem, Apex Magazine, Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Pseudopod, the Review of Australian Fiction and the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror, and has fiction forthcoming at Nightmare Magazine.

A proud member of Team Arsenic, Emma is a graduate of the 2016 Clarion West Writers Workshop. Emma is a former first reader at Clarkesworld Magazine, and current first reader at Arsenika.

Emma currently lives in Melbourne, drinking all of the coffee and eating all of the food, but has a giant crush on Seattle and turns up under the shadow of the mountain at every opportunity. You can find Emma on Twitter at @redscribe.

 


 

Unstrap Your Feet

by Emma Osborne

 

 

The mud on your legs covers you from knees to toes so I can’t quite tell where the soft leather of your boots meets your flesh until blood blooms from your ankles.

I offer you wine. You take a long sip and hand me back the glass as you unstrap your feet. Your hooves shine as you toss your humanity into a pile by the door.

You sniff the air. You take in the saffron, the lemon, the scorch of sage.

“Darling,” you say. “I thought I told you I was sick of fish?”

You did, but that was a year ago and I thought we’d come around to it again. My eyes linger on your slim patterns. They’re thin like a doe’s legs; one good crack with a cricket bat would bring you down.

“I want to eat something warm-blooded,” you say, as you divest yourself of your coat, your scarf. “Ribs. A steak. Liver.”

You smell of honey and rosemary; honey for sweetness and rosemary for fidelity, remembrance and luck. I wonder how long it’ll take to re-make dinner.

Too long.

My fingers tangle in my pocket, deep down where you shouldn’t be able to see. Maybe I can talk you around. Your eyes sketch over my shoulder, my elbow. You can see the tension in my muscles, can map my posture and my heart rate and you know that my nails are digging into my palms nearly before I feel the skin split.

“We’ll order something,” I say, but it’s risky to have something delivered to the door when you’ve taken off your feet. Once, somebody saw, and then they didn’t ever see anything again. There’s still a stain in the laundry that I can’t scrub away. 

You pause for a moment, just for the pulse of a few seconds, but it’s enough for my stomach to plunge and my mind to spin out infinite possibilities. The end of each thread is a broken finger or a pair of shattered wine glasses or just a cool, detached look that I’ll turn over and over in my head at night, knowing that despite our vows, sealed with blood and smoke and iron, you’ve decided that you’re going to have to kill me after all.

“Fine,” you say, “anything but pizza.”

These are the kinds of conversations that normal people have, every night, every month, with wrinkled brows and hunched shoulders and with a creased blazer hung up for another weary tomorrow.

You take your time in the shower while I call for dinner. With any luck you’ll stay there, or in the bedroom, until the delivery comes.

I’ve decided on BBQ from the place three streets away. They don’t ask questions if we order mostly meat, although I add a couple of sides—mac and cheese and some fries—for show. When the food arrives, I take care to open the door only a few inches, to take the bags and construct a “Thanks!” and to give a reassuring smile. I can hear you clattering around in the kitchen. I can nearly hear you scowling at the unwanted fish, scraped into a bowl for me to eat tomorrow.

I plate up dinner and you join me at the table with your canines glinting. I would have thought you’d have dull herbivore teeth, what with the hooves, but you have your father’s jawline, his bite. Sometimes I run my tongue over my own teeth, fearful that they’re sharpening and wondering what it would mean if they did. The food smells glorious, though I’m the only one who eats the sides. The mac and cheese is chewy and rich and creamy and I savor every bite after a diet so heavy in meat.

“Tell me about your day,” I say, nibbling on a forkful of pulled pork. I don’t care, not really, but it’s one of the only ways I can get news of the outside world on an ordinary, everyday level. The news is good for broad strokes, but I don’t get to hear about the lavender blooming in Mrs. Dancy’s yard or the color of the sky in midwinter dusk.

You’re in a good mood from the food so you appease me with small stories whilst you tear rich, fatty meat from a rib-bone. You’ve got a smear of sauce on your chin. The scent of hickory smoke has soaked into your skin. When I remember the days I had dared to drag my fingers through your hair, I tamp down a shudder and wonder if your budding horns rasp more like bones or fingernails.

Our wedding feast was nothing like this, but I suppose I’d always known you had secrets. Still, the feast was glorious and fine, a celebration for the ages. Oh, that night. We’d hoisted my mother’s crystal and downed the finest champagne after the ceremony under the oak tree.

My father was in charge of speeches and keeping cups full. Your mother roasted us a pair of swans. We ate them with silver forks and our fingers. There were charred potatoes and glass jars full of honey and red apples baked into pies. Bowls of cherries as bright as blood dotted the groaning tables and the air was heavy with the scent of roasted figs.

I hadn’t known then that your feet came off. I’d only known that your smile made my heart bloom like a blushing rose and that your kisses tasted of jasmine.

Your father was in charge of the music, and soon enough everyone was spinning, dancing, stamping to his wild fiddle, all red-faced and heaving, their legs shaking as they gasped for breath.

I was happy that night. Sometimes I think I can still smell it, as if happiness is a hint of perfume saved in a handkerchief that I’ve tucked into the pocket of an old coat.

You’re finished with your food so I load the dishwasher. I used to like washing the dishes by hand and carefully wiping them clean with my favorite faded red dishtowel, but we both agreed that the dishwasher is better for the environment.

It’s curious, the things you care about.

I try not to make any unnecessary noise as we wind down the hours before bed. Sometimes I can get away with reading on the couch for a few hours. If I’m almost entirely still, your eyes skip over me when you’re restlessly roaming the house, your hooves clacking on the floorboards.

I tried to get out once.

I still have the scars on my ribs from your teeth.

I try not to care what you are doing, but tonight in the basement it involves knives and the squeal of metal on metal. I can’t help but look up when you walk past the lounge room, your muscled arms popping with excited veins, your face flushed, your hair a mess.

Our eyes meet. I’m usually more careful than that, and look away, but this time I smile in my panic.

You smile back, delighted.

All I can see is your teeth.

I used to be so much bigger, so much more. I had dreams and loves and fancies; my heart was spun sugar and grace. That me is dead now, my delicate heart crushed. You have eroded me like a hard rain erodes a mountain: bit by bit; thousands of tiny strikes.

You’re cooking something in the kitchen that smells like apples and roasted flesh. It’s rare enough for you to do so, and anxiety tightens my chest as I wonder what it means. I try to tune it out, to hold my breath, but the house is full of the smell.

When you finally call me to bed, I slide a marker into my book. The pages are sharp on my fingertips.

“Goodnight, darling,” you breathe into my ear after you’ve kissed me.

“Goodnight,” I say, my eyes squeezed shut in the dark.

You know the catch of my breath when it hitches; you know the sound of my tears as they track down my cheeks. I’ve learned to lie flat and still under the smoke-gray blankets, to move only when necessary, to not roll. When I was young, I’d sleep carelessly, roaming about the bed like a slumbering explorer, one leg out at an angle and with an open palm up to the sky. These days it’s all straight lines and aching bones from a lack of shift.

Most nights, I don’t sleep. Not until you’ve gotten up and strapped your feet back on and gone into the world. When the sun peeps through the curtains and I’m sure you’ve gotten clear of the house I collapse onto the couch, tuck a blanket around me. The bed reminds me of nothing but cold misery.

Soon you’ll be home again, and we’ll feast again, smile carefully at each other over bone-white plates and French cutlery with scarlet handles.

I spend the rest of the day cleaning with vinegar and lemons. I square your sharpened tools away, grant symmetry to the house. I listen to news radio as I tidy, desperate for the sound of another human voice.

Sometimes I write on scraps of paper, on anything that will take my mark. I write about me and you, and I am sure that it reads like a fairy tale, or a biblical nightmare, or perhaps something stitched together from their forgotten parts. I can’t risk you finding my words. When I have covered every scrap of surface with truths I place the paper on my tongue, pulp it with my dull human teeth, and devour us.

I check my body over in the shower when I make it under the hot water in the sun-bright afternoon. My scars are days old, weeks old, a hundred years old. There’s nothing poking through my scalp yet, and my feet are just feet. You are the one who changed.

This evening when you come home you’re carrying something in a leather satchel that smells of blood and beeswax. You hold my eye with a wild smile as you snap it open.

Inside is a new pair of feet.

I know them because they’re my feet, right down to the cracked heels and the crooked little toes.

“These are for you,” you say, measuring my calves with your eyes and squinting at my shoes. “Now that you’re ready.”

Your eyes are sharp, loving, sparking like struck flint.

What did I do to make you think that this is what I wanted? My face twists into a grimace that you mistake for a smile.

I take the feet.

You grin like the sun coming up and slip past me into the kitchen. I merely stand, horrified but absently holding the feet that I could use to walk outside.

When you return, you’re holding a small plate heavy with warmed-up dark meat and pale apple flesh.

“Baked apples, lungs, and liver, with plenty of butter,” you say. The fruit of temptation. Organs of the breath and soul. Milk and meat.

So that’s what you were cooking.

I know my legends well enough to know that eating from this plate will change me forever. I gently place my new feet near the door next to yours and take up the silver fork.

“Let me,” you say. The last time I saw your face this bright was under the light of a thousand fireflies on our wedding day.

Refusing you has always been an impossibility.

You ease a slice of liver into my mouth. As I chew I feel my calves split like an inseam. I thought it would hurt when my old feet slid off, but you kneel before me and tug my ankles and look, they’re free and loose and bloody. It smells like a slaughterhouse in here. Blood and sharpness.

You must hold me upright as I kick out of my old feet. My new hooves haven’t hardened yet; they’re still feathery and glistening from their birth. There’s bile in my throat and I can only hope you put my wild pulse down to excitement.

You ease me onto the couch with your strong arms and kiss my forehead. I’m panicking, but I hold myself as still as I can. What have I become? What will I become?

I am nauseous but suddenly terribly hungry, for meat and flowers and fresh air. I scuff my hooves on the floor. You trace the rubbery feathers with a loving fingertip. In an hour, maybe two, my hooves will be firm and ready to encase in their disguise of flesh, and the two of us will leave the house, together.

“Darling,” you say, “What do you feel like eating?” You clasp my fingers, too tight.

“Whatever you want,” I whisper, trying desperately to keep my voice steady. You look so happy.

I’ve gotten everything wrong, everything. Yes, I will walk outside, and yes I will lift a neighbor’s rose to my eager inhale, but you will be there beside me every single second.

I laugh, unable to contain my tears.

Now it’s the whole world.

The whole world is my cage.

We go.

 

END


 

“The Librarian” is copyright Rae White 2018.

“Unstrap Your Feet” is copyright Emma Osborne 2018.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes. You can also pick up a free audio book by going to www.audibletrial.com/glittership or buying your own copy of the Spring 2018 issue at www.glittership.com/buy

Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of "To Touch the Sun Before it Fades" by Aimee Ogden.

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