By Natalie DeVaull-Robichaud
My mother decided the only way was to cut my belly open. When there was no little girl inside, alive and wet and frightened, she put the stones in anyway, one by one as the blood pooled, placing stones around my glistening gray and pink organs and the yellowish bag of my stomach, before she sewed up the incision with red thread. As the cut healed, the stones weighed at the heart of me, like secret shame, known only to us.
Every now and then, my mother would say, “Your sister was so scared when you ate her.”
“But I never ate her,” I cried, and she glanced at me with pursed lips, as though I lied, because there was the scar, white and shiny where the cut had been, and there were the secret rocks pressing out ever so slightly, as though that was proof enough.
Sometimes I imagined she had never cut me open. Forgetting was easy enough. We preferred not to speak of it. But that made it more jarring when someone mentioned it. “It was a really horrible thing you did to her,” my mother said with a sigh.
I spread my bare hands in front of her and said, “I never ate anyone.” She and my father and sister gazed back as though I were far away, an old memory.
“I remember even if you don’t,” my sister said. “I walked in the bedroom and you were in bed—”
My father said, “Dressed in old woman’s clothing, and—”
My mother said, “You ate your sister up, so I had to—”
My sister said, “Cut you open and save me.”
“But I was there,” I said. “There was no one inside me—I didn’t eat anyone, remember?” Together they gazed back, regarding the lie and the weight of the stones in me, such a weight, as if they could feel it in me, having put it there, as if that was enough of an answer.