BY KATHRYN BUCOLO HILL
He said he’d only lick her if she trimmed down there and in a rage she said it would take less time to clean a squid. Neither of them was sure if she meant it seriously, but ten minutes later they were watching videos of people cleaning Atlantic longfin squids on his phone.
“These videos are only, like, three minutes long,” he said as another man with a knife slid out the central cartilage, sliced the lobes of dark flesh from a squid body. “You wouldn’t do this for me—you wouldn’t shave or wax or something for three minutes down there?”
“It would take longer than three minutes,” she said as the limp wet squid on the screen, in easy slices, continued to be severed.
“Prove it,” he said as the chef peel-folded the squid inside out, exposing a large, lustrous black beak.
Standing at the seafood counter, squids slick under the lights, she thought about what could have made her suddenly blurt out “squid” the night before, and decided it was the sounds his face made between her thighs that first time, sloppy and oceanic, eyes predatory, tongue tentacular, his nose a sort of beak.
The man at the counter asked which one she wanted and she pointed arbitrarily as he reached between the hedges of short plastic foliage and lemon wedges, his gloved hands placing on the scale a single reddish-white squid. The squid, she thought, somehow already looked severed. It was smaller and lighter than she had imagined, limp and liquid, a congealed smooth mass she couldn’t quite recognize as a body since it looked so different from the unfurled wings and turgid tentacles she’d seen in pictures of living ones on her phone. She put the wrapped squid in the basket of her cart and wondered about all the circumstances that had brought them both there. This squid, caught somewhere off the coast at the edge of the continental shelf, a net raised above the water, squids pouring against the deck, squids poured into iced crates, dying in transit to the grocery store, or maybe a processing plant, the squid wrapped in paper and plastic, being rung up for $11.88 at checkout, bought by a grown woman fighting with her boyfriend, just so she could prove it was faster to clean a squid than the underneath of her body.
It was not until the timer started and the tip of her paring knife touched its skin, slid the external membranes apart, that she saw the squid as truly having a body. In a daze she slid the head and tentacles off in one piece, pulled the central pen of cartilage out like a bone, cut the tentacles off below the eyes, kneaded the central disc of flesh until her knuckles found the knot of the beak. It was almost like she wasn’t there, like the squid wasn’t there. She had reduced its body to parts so quickly that it was no longer a squid, but squid—the food, the concept, for this recipe you will need squid. All she had to do was remove the beak, pry it out with a knife or fingers, discard it in the sink, the trash, as the timer passed four minutes, five minutes on her phone. But she could not will her fingers or knife to do it, could not remove this single concrete aperture, the only part of its body that wouldn’t decay—this beak, the one thing about it that could not be severed.
She wondered, twisting the beak back and forth like a knob, if there was anything inside her that had not yet been severed. How dissociated, detached, her body. How quickly that first man had done it when she was a girl, the man she’d met online, who she’d thought was her age, whose face was obscured in the video call when he told her to stand up so he could see her, turn around so he could see, jump so he could see, bend over, sweetie, for the camera on her phone. She bent and he said, “Good girl,” and she stood scared and still, a bird outweighed by its beak.
Or maybe she blurted out “squid” the night before because when she was ten a boy reached down her pants on a dare, felt around where she peed and said she felt gross like a squid. His buddies laughed and he kept it going—she was gross like a snail, gross like an octopus, gross like a slug—but he kept his hand there.
Three years later it happened again, different boys at a different school, and the one who touched her pulled his hand away fast like he’d been burned, said, “Feels like a Brillo pad down there.” For the two seconds he’d had his hand past her zipper, it looked like his fingertips had been severed. She imagined the zipper teeth sliding together on their own, biting like a miniature kraken, giant squid.
“Are you okay,” said her boyfriend as he moved behind her, circled her with his body. The squid lay in neat pieces on the wet cutting board: one head, two tentacular clubs, eight tentacles, one beak. At some point, she guessed, she had removed the beak and he’d stopped the timer, the screen holding at six minutes, thirty-eight seconds on her phone.
She knew the things that had happened to her had been small things, but in the bathroom now they felt large again as her boyfriend handed her the phone. She was becoming agitated, saying get me that, no, get me that, no, put it there. She sat on the ledge of the bathtub, a small towel under her, a razor for shearing, a pair of scissors for the initial major cuts, arched and open like a beak. She had trimmed with scissors before, but never shaved herself clean because a woman shaved clean is a woman dissociated, severed. A woman shaved clean is a girl in her body. A girl’s body—slick and disgusting, hairless and soft, so breakable, no shell or spikes, a lobed squid.
She started the timer and pulled her skin taut, hairs unlinking, inner folds gasping open, releasing the giant mouth, giant pore, loud and squelching like a shoe in wet sand, a soft pink squid beak.
There—that is her body.
Legs spread, her phone clocking seconds, ass cold on the edge of the tub, her boyfriend said, “This is sexy,” which she understood to mean, She is doing what I want, and tiptoes high, scissors scented thick, she said, “Another way to say cleaned is severed.”
Kathryn Bucolo Hill’s fiction has appeared in AGNI Online, Juked, Juxtaprose, Monkeybicycle, Passages North, and elsewhere. Her work has won several prizes and has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She holds an MFA from Arizona State University.
Image from p. 169 of The Bird: Its Form and Function, C. William Beebe, 1906
Published November 13th, 2018