We received this astonishing submission yesterday (April 1). You probably shouldn’t read it. I’m serious.
Empress in Glass
by Lindie Kant
The train tracks slashed across the wetlands like a stitched wound, and to Meneja, the sun’s red light pooling on the marsh looked like congealing blood.
“We’ll be there soon,” said her attendant. Meneja couldn’t remember this one’s name–she thought of the woman as Hatchet, because of her sharp edges. Like one of the white herons that strode through the marsh, she had a sharp nose and a strangely curved neck. It looked as if it was meant to be strangled.
Meneja didn’t reply. It would always be soon–her life was structured that way, because waiting encouraged doubts. As the progenitor of a new confluence between fashion, music, and art, she couldn’t afford to second-guess any of her metaphorical skydives.
If she closed her eyes, she could hear the same rhythm in her veins that would soon be broadcast on her website. It thrummed with the train, a secret song only she could hear, until they drifted into the Martinez Cemetery.
The steel contraption slowed so gently that Meneja didn’t realize they’d stopped until she glanced out the window again.
Hatchet helped Meneja into her jacket, which smelled of hotel detergent. She wondered what it would smell like if she had an apartment, if she settled down for even a week and had to choose her own soaps. Could she turn the washing machine dials with glass hands, or would she need to flex her missing joints, like with a zipper on a jacket?
“This used to be a city, and the only graves were on the hill,” Hatchet said.
Meneja gazed out at the marsh, studded with thousands of weathered stone monuments, which sunk at angles as the saturated ground merged with the bay; then up the hill, where pale mausoleums protruded from the grass like ticks on a stray.
Her fingers clicked against the window as she compared the biggest mausoleum to the tip of her pinky. She had instructed them not to sculpt nails–the glass wasn’t meant to be a replacement for her skin, but instead, a window through which to look at the macabre miracle of how her body worked.
Her blood filled her veins so tightly that she could see them flex with each heartbeat. This was the drumline for her every performance.
A hand pinched her shoulder, too familiar, too imperative. She glanced over her shoulder to find Hatchet’s lip trembling. Meneja wondered what the tendons inside her face were doing to cause it, if they looked like a bow on a violin, if there was a sound to their fast-paced twitching.
“Don’t do this,” Hatchet said. “It will be… obscene. If my daughter–”
“If my mother tried to give me orders, I’d give her personal information to my fans, so just imagine what I’ll do to an hourly if she ever speaks to me like that again.”
Hatchet was silent, her mouth shut like a garage door. Her eyes glimmered with tears. Meneja imagined the sound of the ducts amplified, a tide of salt sorrow washing through enormous speakers to the adulation of millions. She didn’t want equipment on her face, though. She liked her fans to see her while she sang for them, while she bled for them, while she slowly died at the same pace as they did. They looked inside themselves when they looked at her.
Meneja stood up on her skinless legs. Months ago, just weeks after her hands, she’d paid a plastic surgeon to strip away her epidermis. Now the viscera and muscles of her legs pressed wetly against the glass boots, like raw meat roots growing in slim vases. She was a curved blossom growing up into opacity.
Even with little rubber pads on the toes and steep heels, even strolling at a delicate pace, Meneja was always afraid she would step too hard and shatter them.
And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, she thought.
When Meneja was eight years old, the firemen brought her a stuffed animal. The blanket they’d wrapped her in felt like tape, holding her in place, and she accepted the big floppy rabbit because she felt like she couldn’t do anything else. The flames on the roof of her house reflected on its plastic eyes. When she looked up, the flames danced on the eyes of everyone she saw: orange and yellow silk flapping and twisting in a reptilian dance, reminding her of the thing that had landed on their roof.
She was too shocked to ask anyone if it would really come back for her, if the dragon had meant it when it said she wasn’t ripe, but it would find her again.
She was too shocked to ask what the word “betrothed” meant.
Meneja strode down the stairs and out onto the platform, where there may have been paparazzi, a few minutes before the train’s arrival, but Meneja’s security squad had probably taken care of that in a not-entirely-legal way.
Her manager was chattering into a phone until he spotted her, and then he hung up without saying goodbye. Armand never used greetings or farewells.
“We have a hearse so you can stretch out, without the flashbulb assholes figuring out which car you’re in,” Armand said. “It’s a good thing Jacob is with me–you look tired. You can’t be tired tonight.”
“I don’t feel tired,” Meneja said, and in her mind, she said his next words before he spoke.
“No one feels the way they look except beggars and dogs,” Armand said. He held out his arm and steadied her as she clicked her way to the hearse. There was a rubber mat draped over the bumper, so she wouldn’t crack her glass climbing in.
She lay propped on a pillow as Jacob knelt beside her, wiping and powdering, wiping and powdering. He smelled like mint juleps and stale sex, but she loved his fluttering hands and the way he called her “poppet,” so she forgave him the odor.
“You’ll make history tonight. This is a show that will be watched long after we’re all dead,” he said.
No one spoke of the surgery this time–only of the fact she was allowing them to film it. She thought perhaps they didn’t want to bring it up because it meant they might have to discuss her motives, might have to confront her insanity head on. No one wanted to talk about it this time.
Just two weeks after her eighth birthday, Meneja was fostered and then adopted by a relative she’d never before met.
Susan was her cousin, a pudgy woman in her mid-thirties already overcome with ennui. Even as a child Meneja recognized that the pills didn’t do any good. She could have told Susan that sit-coms and reality TV were a poor way to alleviate boredom with life. Susan’s husband Phil was interested in model airplanes and his job at Boeing and nothing else.
One day, when Phil saw her playing with her Barbies, he went and got Susan and then ran to hide in his workroom, because the Barbies were naked.
“Do you know how babies are made?” Susan asked. The loose skin under her chin quivered, and she licked the lipstick off of her lips over and over, like a lizard smelling the desert for danger. Susan believed that Fate–maybe Jesus–had brought her this child, to give her purpose.
“A mommy and a daddy,” Meneja replied. She didn’t have a daddy Barbie, so she’d used a plastic tyrannosaurus rex. Her Barbie was lying on her belly, with the dinosaur mounting her from behind like she’d seen the neighbor’s cats do in the grass by the fence.
Meneja had already signed all the waivers for the surgery, so they rolled her right in after scanning the ID chip in her wrist for verification purposes. It was a formality; no other woman on the planet had a delta of veins throbbing visibly inside her glass gloves and boots. It was impossible to impersonate Meneja.
Tonight, she was not getting more of her skin peeled away.
No. Tonight, Meneja was getting an implant. She hazily said goodbye to her vagina before she slipped under. Later, she would watch the footage and recognize the thought as it passed through her eyes, as vivid and unmistakable as citrine silk billowing in her memories.
Then her lashes swept down, and the camera moved to the doctors and the implant.
It took only six weeks to heal. Even reputable newspapers who normally avoided celebrity gossip found ways to question the technology that Meneja had used to make herself ready for her husband.
Dragons could read–she knew that as well as she knew they were real–and her message was clear. Her new vagina could withstand heat of up to 1400 degrees and was collapsible, but could accordion out to accommodate draconian lengths. She would not be the tiny plastic Barbie. She was something different, something new.
When the dragon swooped down into the yard outside her villa, one of its wings shaded the entire pool from the sun. The wind uprooted plants, set off the alarms in two of her cars. It shrieked like a thousand hawks become one.
Meneja didn’t hurry. She put on her white dress, the one Jacob had ordered for her from an up-and-coming designer in Bombay.
She stepped out onto her balcony.
Before she could welcome her betrothed–she’d known the word for twenty years now, had looked it up in one of Susan and Phil’s dictionaries–an intruder ran through the garden.
He wore a strange costume, that of a medieval farmer, with a feather in his cap that might have come from a white heron. He ran like a rat, like someone who was meant to squeeze through spaces where he didn’t belong. Meneja’s fury escalated as he stood before her husband and claimed him.
“Mighty dragon, hear me, for I am Dareth of Dre’cal-pinor. I must have your seed, great and fiery one, so that I may do the magic to save my people.”
The dragon looked between Meneja and Dareth. For a moment, its brilliant citrine eyes landed on Meneja, wet with longing. She began to unfasten her dress, but Dareth was faster.
He slung off his shirt, exposing ripling muscles that rippled in the sun, and he was all sweaty and chiseled like in an action movie. His hat blew off and his mullet flapped in the breeze of the dargon’s breath. His pants next. At this time now, he was naked.
Dareth saluted the dragon with his massive boner, and it’s eyes fell away from Meneja and returned instead to Dareth where he stood ready with what was seemed to be a bottle of WD-40. “You can do good with me,” Dareth says in earnest need fo the dragon’s powerful thrumming semens. “Your magic is my desire. Look into my eyes and help me defeat the bastard wizard Nakri’nok of Bol-gar’thria!”
The dragon was like, “Rraaawwrreeeeeeeecchhh!!!”
Dareth nodded and presented himself like a mandrill ina Natural docutmentary, his glutes flexing invitingly to the sky.
Meneja screamend “Nooooooo, I got this vaginer for yyouuuuuu, you can’t leave me! Dont’ you know what betrothed is?!?!” but teh dragon’s eyes were all for Dareth now, and it mounted him as gently as a dragon can and began to pump its lizardly hips in a seductive pace that Dareth enjoyed once he had got used to the dragon’s emmense size entering him from behind.
When the dragon shuddered and shrieked it was done, at that time Dareth leapt away and apologized once to Meneja. “I am sorry fair maden, you should call him tomorrow though because i’m leaving to back to Skal’bor’nias, and it is with sorrows and lamenting that I came between you and your husband but it’s to save my kin.”
Meneja forgave him because of his righteous ideas even if she didn’t like that she was second and her dragon’s emmense scaley penis now smelled like Dareth’s butt. But he could bathe in the pool and then she could have him again.
“Farewell, Dareth!” she said. She went down to her dragon and they watched her vagina surgery on TV.