's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Narrative of a young woman as dictated by a melting candle

Submitted by Del Scott (email)

My art is not my creation. I do not build up. I carve in. I hear the hidden shapes, and I draw them out by their design.

They spoke to me first in clay. Community center art studio, red rich dust on the tables and the air, housewives and hyperactive kids, me in between in a white smock, listening. The shapes spoke to me in voices like butter and honey, told me where they were hidden in the clay, and I took carefully-blunted tools and I drew them out. I carved away what was not-them and left them behind—rabbits and birds, insects, teapots. The kiln filled and fired. My parents put awards and shapes both on shelves, tables.

Wax came next. Wax and soap. Wrappers off of endless Irish Spring bars, voices clean and crisp and not unpleasantly acrid. Beeswax more fatty and tallow, low and succulent. Christmas, and white and blue flowers drawn out from chaff and shavings decorated the mantle, fell into stockings and packages from home. I told them I wasn't a talent. They didn't hear.

Away in college, and I was given over to stone. Marble is demanding, not as kind or as soft, and has a voice of sinew and bitter oranges. I could hear every moment that I was not carving tallied by the second in bitter oranges, pencils and expectations breaking over the edge of the counting. My hand, laid thick with shea butter over the spiderwebs of skin laid out maplike by chafing, accepted scholarships, extensions, excuses made by others--thinkingly on behalf of myself, but truly on behalf of smooth busts with white eyes. My hands are a lover to the hidden things, tangled in bed with them, willing to deny my own sleep.

There is no rest in my aunt's house, the small inheritance that should have been a comfort to her departure, a home. The house is made of wood, and wood has anxious and ancient things buzzing in tones like menthol, numbing and cold. When I did not sleep and would not carve, they wept and cursed and counted, spoke of their failure and the failure of those cruel enough to cut their possibilities short, reduced from great monuments of deer and elk to thin slices of antler and hoof. The cross-sections of crows and jackdaws barely appease, a constant disappointment, silhouettes of lives lamenting to me even as the rain pours in through the empty spaces in the walls and the ceiling.

I started hearing the new shapes when there was not enough left of the wood carcass to compete with the sound. It is oily and spoiled, like a child and like chicken bones, greasy, cloying. It has counted five days, fourteen hours, seventeen minutes, thirty-four seconds, thirty-five seconds, thirty-six seconds, thirty-seven seconds.

My art is not my creation. I do not build up. I carve in. I hear the hidden shapes, and I draw them out by their design.

The hard knot beneath the flesh of my arm is counting the wasted time away to me in a voice of boiled marrow, and I am holding the knife, and I am weeping.