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[the zuihitsu remembers the shape of your forgetting]

Even now you can feel her, flickering. 

This piece is part of the Love Letters notebook, which features art by Ali El-Chaer.

  1. And when your myth splits open, you will hold your daughter in your hands, begging her to begin. Half fish and half god-flesh, she is small, bleeding, and extremely feverish. When she takes her last breath, the sun scatters. The wind gives chase.

  2. You must know how your myth will end. You must listen. 

  3. When your daughter dies, your mother will cut you open with a steak knife. You will watch the blood become blade in silence. Something rich and meaty will spill to the floor, and your sin will sit between the two of you, bowing in understanding. 

  4. In Islam, when an infant dies, there are three scenarios in terms of burial.
  5. – If the baby manages to have a little life, even if for a few minutes, the baby is given full funeral rites. It is named, its body is washed, it is wrapped in cloth, it is prayed over, and it is buried. 

    – If the baby is stillborn, it receives only three out of the five rites. It is named, it is washed, and it is buried. 

    – If the death is the result of miscarriage, the presence of limbs is what determines if the baby is given a name. If there are limbs, the baby receives the same treatment as any stillbirth. If not, the embryo is simply wrapped and buried. 

  6. You will say you buried your daughter, but you did not. Your father will be the one to unwrap her body and count her soft ribs. He will be the calmest you will ever see him. In your dreams, he comes to you as a man holding a little fish too small to eat. He kneels at the lip of some body of water. He lets go. 

  7. He will be the one to tell you your daughter had no hands. 

  8. You must know how your myth will end. You must be willing. 

  9. The handless maiden is a common trope in fairy tales. In one version of the story, the devil demands a poor miller’s daughter after he tricks her father in a trade. When the devil approaches the daughter for the first time, she is so clean and pure he cannot touch her. The devil demands all water to be taken from her so she cannot wash. When the devil approaches her the second time, she washes herself clean with her tears. The devil, infuriated, demands the father cut the daughter’s hands off. The father does so. When the devil approaches her for the last time, the daughter remains untouchable. The devil leaves, starving. 

  10. When you are still young and still in the cult, you will find out that the prophet plans for your mother to die. When you start to cry, his sister will stop you. Tears have power, she tells you. Do you really want to bear that consequence? 

  11. Odd numbers have a storied relationship with religion. In the ancient Greek religion, there are three fates and three furies. Cerberus has three heads. Hecate has three faces. In Islam, there is a hadith that proclaims that God loves odd numbers, because he/they are merely one being. You see this pattern holds true. Muslims circle the Kaaba seven times. Hagar runs back and forth seven times to get water for her baby. At a mosque you no longer belong to, a woman will ask for blessings after two stillbirths, and the sheikh will instead tell her to prepare for one more. 

  12. I’m sorry. I waste time. I dawdle. 

  13. You will learn the story of the handless maiden during a late shift at the clinic. The branch you volunteered at would eventually close, and was the size of a broom closet, but had an enormous dumpster. Your supervisor had a fake eye made of plastic and was never shocked by anything. Candle burns striped half of her face, and you learned never to ask. Once a week, the two of you would take turns mucking in the trash, pulling out whatever oddities you’d find. 

  14. When you tell your supervisor about your own loss, she will comfort you with the story. She will say that your daughter was born blessed. That God simply wanted her to stay that way. That they wanted her to stay. 

  15. According to legend, the handless maiden runs away. She will only become a mother after becoming savage. A kind man will take her and make her his wife. Jealous, her mother-in-law will throw her and the baby out of the house once her husband is away. Her baby is strapped to her back. When she kneels at a river to drink, the baby will slip and fall. She will only grow her hands back to save it. 

  16. After you leave the cult, your parents are always concerned that you are possessed. When your mother cuts you open, she means to air the body of demons. You will only bleed, your arm a river, clean and streaming. 

  17. Your mother had another daughter once. She was born years before you, to a man who is not your father. Your mother would let the doctors throw her body away. She was young and scared. She didn’t know anything. 

  18. You want to forgive her. 

  19. You would grow up dreaming of a little girl who’d wrap her hands around your neck. As you got older, her hands grew smaller. She’d call you sister.

  20. Even now you can feel her, flickering. 

  21. When I get angry, a friend tells me, I don’t just leave. I separate.

  22. You will spend the rest of your myth looking for the monster. 

  23. In every version of the story, the handless maiden survives. The baby is only needed for her transformation. 

  24. In Islam, women are highly encouraged not to attend funerals or enter cemeteries due to the fear that she will cry hysterically or for fear of possession. Women should not go out at night for these same reasons. 

  25. Your father will present you with mercy. He will bury your baby in the backyard, and you will be allowed to watch from the patio. In exchange, you promise to be quiet. You let your tears wash your face. 

  26. If at night you hear a dog barking, it is because there is a jinn nearby, lurking. Jinn are only allowed to live in cemeteries, empty houses, and bathrooms. They live off of waste and bone. A jinn is just another kind of demon. 

  27. Outside, a dog is barking. Night drips on tap. Behind you, a soft humming.

  28. You will learn to give your grief a name. 

  29. In your dreams, you always return to that night. You force your supervisor to wrap all the bodies. You dig the graves. You let them bury.