Deep in the bowels of the circus tent, the air is sage and sweetgrass. A bundle of snapdragon pods lie on the table, faces like skulls. The hermaphrodite gives me tea laced with rum in a teacup that has no handle. His index finger taps the cards, tell me what I already know. I am a girl who will live many lives.
A man with a gap in his teeth, a gold hoop glinting in his ear. A thin, dirty hand. Every day a lemon. A yellow rind sharp as the sun. My lips puckering at the bitterness. In exchange, my handkerchief. My hand. The underside of my arm, skin goose pimpled. The inside of my thigh. My lips. My body.
A gray lemon, the last he gives me. Shriveled flesh. A hard seed clicking against my teeth. He has already taken me, claimed me as his own. The whores discover me. They notice my eye first, its purple color one they know well. Then my ribs, bruised and broken. I am taken in to recover and then to work. Not for sex, but to clean and cook. I comb hair, breathe in the sweetness lying under the harsh scent of salt and slickness. I learn to ignore the men who drop their trousers, who shiver with anticipation, hard muscles brushing soft skin.
One of the whores. She had a name, once. A name I knew well. Her neck strangled by a rope of hair. Sideways in the gutter. The smell of piss and blood. Bodice torn. Her legs caked and raw.
The lemon man. His voice. If you run away, this is what you will become.
The circus tent. The hermaphrodite. Green coppers laid over his shut eyes. They are glad he is dead. I do not cry, do not tell them of his long-ago gift. He twisted my hair into a bun. I remember cool air on the nape of my neck. A pin for my hair. I didn’t know what it was then, but I know now. He gave me a knife.
A stranger. Who are you? You must find yourself a new name.
My name, I say sharply, is mine. The circus had a woman who with a flick of her wrist could drop a sword down the passage of her throat. There was no blood, no puncture wounds. A man who wants to rename me is not even worth one of her blades.
If you will not go with me, then you will burn.
I know what I am. A girl with multiple lives is a witch: this is my last. The circus tent flaps with tattered edges. The crowd presses thick. A knife is tucked between my breasts and pulled out like a rose. I bow.
They want bloodshed. They want something they have never seen before. They will get it. The knife is my lover; I am its vessel. A gentle caress. A sound softer than a feather falling. I will make them watch as I devour myself.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower