Exquisite Eel

On Monday

Follow along as we publish a single story, day by day throughout the month of May, with contributions from a selection of our fiction writers. Like an exquisite corpse, but alive. And slimier.

May 1 — Lindsay Hunter

On Monday, Laura did the shopping. Forgot toilet paper. Tuesday she dropped the kids off, then bought TP on the way to her abortion. Wednesday she wept most of the day, told Trev she had the flu. Thursday the tears coated her face and turned her whole head hot. Friday she vomited in the morning but her eyes stayed dry. Saturday she was herself again, outwardly; as a mother she could seem normal as long as there was toast, a cool, soothing hand when her boys looked for one, and as long as she didn’t stare too long or breathe too deeply.

May 2 — Liska Jacobs

She watched her boys differently now. At the beach, the younger one’s torso was narrow and delicate. She thought he would make a beautiful bird. A house finch, maybe. Something to keep him close to her. The older one had become more cat-like. The way he smirked, his sinewy limbs with their downy hair. She worried over the two of them playing together and was glad when a wave pushed her older son into the sand so that he emerged spitting, tears in his eyes. She had been right to do it. A woman can only handle so much metamorphosis.

May 3 — Maryse Meijer

But the young one wasn't all innocence. When she was sleeping, at noon, as usual, he crept out of the attic the boys shared and let loose the centipedes he kept in a jar in the kitchen. He would blame the older one, and she would believe him, shaking a poisoned toe, screaming. The older one didn't deny it; he adored centipedes. 

Exquisiteeel illo may 3 Thomas Colligan
May 4 — A. G. Lombardo

The boys collected centipedes, fireflies, and other secret things. The summer their father died, they came home with another jar, but they wouldn't let her see inside it. The older one tucked it in the shadows of the top shelf, beyond her reach. Late one night, she dragged the wood icebox under the cabinet and stacked a chair on it. Wobbling up it, she probed her hand into the shelf. She felt the cool glass on her fingertips, then nothing, then the crash of breaking glass on the kitchen floor.

May 5 — Fernando Flores

She pretended as if nothing happened, left the shattered jar for the boys to find, and decided to go to the river. On the way there she saw an old woman in a yellow gown gazing upon the horizon, where a cane field had been set fire. Stringy, sugary ash fell around them. The woman, in a soft, almost muffled voice, said, "Where are you going? Come with me. I'm your mother now, I'm adopting you." The young woman looked at the old woman's face; a centipede crawled out of her left nostril. She felt the wind pick up and remembered the tornado warning that'd been issued for the whole county. The young woman said, "I like your dress," and the old woman replied, "Thanks. It's a hand-me-down."

May 6 — Shelly Oria

“What's a 'hand-me-down?'” the young woman asked, and the old woman said, “This dress!” The young woman's eyes narrowed. Grownups berated her when she made this face, but who could keep track of all the things grownups liked and didn't? “Oh, oh,” the old woman said. “You sweet thing, I see what you're asking. A hand-me-down is an item you own because your older sister treats you like a trash can.” The wind started beating like angry drums and the red fire in the distance raged on. The young woman just stared. “Why are all these centipedes crawling down your arms?” she asked.

Exquisiteeel illo may 6 Thomas Colligan
May 7 — Tim Maughan

The old woman convulsed, a breathless, involuntary scream leaving her. Frantically she batted at her own arms, slapping and flicking at the bugs, hopping from leg to leg, and for a second the young woman had to hold back a laugh, until she saw that the woman seemed to be disappearing, as if she was being consumed by a writhing black mass. Centipedes, roaches, beetles—thousands upon thousands of them, apparently fleeing the smoke and fire, so many that it looked as though the earth was moving. She let out her own silent scream as she watched her own feet disappearing into the swarm.

May 8 — Joshua Wheeler

At first she stomped and flailed along with the old woman. But the buzz of the swarm rose, pierced through to the folds of the young woman’s mind and hatched there a fuzzy vision, a new knowledge of creepy power: she could command the onslaught of roaches to turn and suffocate the raging fire, but only if she allowed them to devour the old woman.

May 9 — Jac Jemc

The young woman asked herself if she was willing to give up her companion in favor of her own safety, and then watched as the bugs coated the old woman, burrowing past each other’s exoskeletons to reach her flesh. The speed with which they wolfed her down was magnificent. She had read a news story that said that the bark beetles attacking America’s evergreen forests knew global warming was coming, and they were eating the trees to save them from the imminent fires. In this way, she felt no remorse in having fed the old woman to the bugs, and felt a certain vindication when the roaches turned to consume, too, the fire itself.

Exquisiteeel illo may 9 Thomas Colligan
May 10 — Lydia Kiesling

She went on her way. The thing was that conflagrations and seeing things devoured can make a person suddenly and overwhelmingly aware of her own vitality. The young woman was hungry! She wanted to consume something like the bugs and the flames had done. What to eat? It was always a problem.  

May 11 — Mary South

She could dine simply—bone broth or a cheese sandwich. Or she could prepare an ostentatious feast, a bouillabaisse or at least something French. But what the woman really wanted was to become a force of nature, and they were notoriously unpicky eaters. Thus, she began her meal with spoiled leftovers then ran into the debacle of the second course. Should she partake of the chenille drapes like a person with a condition? Forces of nature were never sated.

May 12 — Kathryn Scanlan

Through the crack of the kitchen door, the woman eyed her guests, who sat calmly picking their teeth at the dining table. Were they still hungry? Was she hungry? What was hunger and how did one distinguish it from envy, excitement, fatigue, self-loathing, lust, thirst? She opened the freezer, where her niece’s white rabbit was wrapped in a plastic bag, awaiting the family’s return from their tropical vacation. How would she present it when the time came—thawed or frozen? How would she explain herself?

Exquisiteeel illo may 12 Thomas Colligan
May 13 — Chia-Chia Lin

She had once skinned a rabbit with a folding knife. The hide had come off more easily than she'd expected. All that was required was making a small cut, slipping her fingers under, getting a good grip, and then peeling. Did anything yield to her now as that rabbit had once done? She stood before the open freezer. She couldn't find it in her to return to her guests. She welcomed the coolness on her face, the hum, the nearly subdued smell of meat. Through the kitchen window, she saw rain. The loquat trees were glowing strangely—and had they shrunk?

May 14 — Eugene Lim

She imagined the guests out there, shrinking in the rain, indistinguishable from the loquat trees. Some were more or less intelligent, more attractive or less, less or more poor. Could she hold like that, in front of the freezer, and never return to the party—or whatever it now was? When she'd skinned the rabbit, there had been a moment when she wasn't the hide or the meat but just that gelatinous ongoing moment of separation. Fuck the guests, she thought.

May 15 — Jeff Jackson

She stepped into the backyard without a second thought. As the voices faded behind her, it felt less like she was leaving the party and more like she was changing channels on her television. The grainy texture of the darkness and the soft sting of the rain belonged to a different program, one from her younger days. She headed toward the loquat trees, whose fruit emitted an otherworldly glow. She picked one of the iridescent orbs and dug her fingers into its flesh, surprised by the hard object she discovered inside. 

Exquisiteeel illo may 15 Thomas Colligan
May 16 – Laura Adamczyk

It was a tooth. She pinched it out of the loquat and held it to the light from the porch. Inside, laughter burst and collapsed like a firework. She had responsibilities, people who depended on her. But she felt their presence the same way when, years ago, one of her own teeth decayed—anesthetized but awake for the procedure, she felt no pain, only the tools’ dull vibrations. The faces of the people inside were blank, scrubbed free of all detail like mannequins. She pocketed the tooth and left the dark yard. She did not like parties.

May 17 — Lindsay Hunter

Neither, she knew, did her neighbor Raymond. “Get old, darlin’. Hurry up and get old like me.” Flirting. He had green eyes; who did, anymore? She began walking toward his house, the rain coating her like a second night. She stepped from darkness to darkness, an old trick from her childhood. Hold your breath in the light. Don’t forget to let it go. She used to stomp on her shadow, her jealousy making her murderous. Raymond would laugh at that. 

May 18 — Liska Jacobs

Not home. The fool. She'd have welcomed him like a proper lady. Changed shape just for him. Square hole, square peg. Round hole, round peg. You learn from a young age how to bend. He would have fit perfectly. "Do you feel that?" He’d ask, excited. "Mmmhmm," She’d sigh. She’d have made him believe it too. She was a very good actress. 

May 19—Maryse Meijer

Though there is nothing about her that is actually proper. The boys are beginning to suspect this; she keeps the bathroom door shut tight. She wonders if the space inside her changes, too, or if it stays the same, if it is the only thing about her that's constant, clear, honest. She sits on the toilet, crosses her legs, and waits.

May 20—Fernando Flores

She washes her hands in the sink, and next to the towel she spots a hot pink sharpie. On the bathroom mirror she draws over her own reflection the last face she can remember, the last trembling gaze from deep in the well. Outside the bathroom something like a locomotive could be heard, then she remembered everyone was waiting for her. 

May 21 — Shelly Oria

One foot out the door, something rises in her like dread. She picked up the Sharpie like it held some kind of answer. She stared at the pink and the pink stared back. Her mistake seemed obvious: anything drawn on a mirror is subject to steam. Her fingers started correcting the problem, drawing the memory on her own face. She took time to perfect the creases of age at the edges, worry lines, errant hairs under the chin. She remembered that face from the well like it was her mother’s face. Outside, everyone had quieted down; maybe they gave up on her and left? But then: an angry fist banged the door. 

Exquisiteeel illo may 21 Thomas Colligan
May 22 — Tim Maughan

She made sure the door was bolted, shouted, “Hang on, one minute!” to the people waiting on the other side. Silence. She looked again into the mirror, at the pink lines tracing the years and the memories. Vague images from her childhood infected her: face painting at a state fair where she’d asked to be a raccoon, but the artist could only do a tiger; some late night drunk-and-high dorm room bullshit where they’d drawn on Steve’s face when he was passed out on the couch. She remembered laughing so much her stomach muscles ached. She leaned closer to the mirror, met her own gaze. She wished she could laugh like that again. 

May 23 — Joshua Wheeler

What are mirrors but slaughterhouses for vanity? She smirked but didn't feel it in her guts. Maybe the mirror was broken. Maybe her guts were broken. She kept the door bolted for three hours and when she came out, everybody agreed she looked rearranged. 

May 24 — Jac Jemc

But she felt the same about everyone else. When she looked around at the faces she had known all her life, she could see only the ways they had changed. She tried to attach this observation to fear or confusion, but instead felt only a comforting acceptance. She followed the impulse to take her clothes off article by article, and watched as the rest of them wordlessly followed suit. She could not tell if she was controlling them or if their collective gaze was transmitting silent instructions. 

Exquisiteeel illo may 24 Thomas Colligan
May 25 — Lydia Kiesling

When she got down to her underwear she balked. The underwear was one of a set that had not been replaced in seven years and something, maybe moths, had eaten ragged holes into the fabric. It was somehow more embarrassing for them to see these holes than it was for them to see her naked body. But she held the gaze of one of the people in front of her and this helped her to do the necessary. She removed the offending underwear and finally stood there before the group, as god made her.

May 26 - Mary South

As they watched her and waited, the woman was gifted with a kind of crone-o-vision in her nudity. She knew everyone’s secrets: the husband who was predictably cheating on his wife, the mother who shook her baby so hard that it got a brain bleed. The woman could make them feel just as vulnerable as she was. 

Instead, she retreated and broke into a place down the road; it wasn’t solitude she wanted so much as no one to want anything from her. But even in a hot bath, she felt as she did when she was a little girl and a neighbor kid took all the knives out of their butcher block and hid them around the house. Those eyes were still out there, able to harm.

May 27 — Kathryn Scanlan

She slid into the tub up to her eyeballs and waited. Soon her skin was leaking. Little rivulets ran from her heavy hair and dripped onto the water. Then she went all the way under. Meanwhile, her brain, like a good computer, presented its dossier of what happens to women in tubs: they cut themselves, they hug their knees and tremble, they cry, they die. When something more lighthearted was called for, a woman might sit in a cloud of foam—the volume of which would indicate the severity of her frivolity. 

But this woman—our woman—stood up unfoamed, unbloodied, her hair hanging on her face like a sodden rag. She stepped out of the tub like one might step out of a coffin. 

Exquisiteeel illo may 27 Thomas Colligan
May 28 — Chia-Chia Lin

Or the way one might climb out of a well. She gazed down at the murky water she’d left behind in the tub, the day’s dirt and funk and misery. Droplets flew from her; that’s how she knew she was shaking. She stepped across the cracked tiles to open the door. She was naked. She was charged.

May 29 — Eugene Lim

Charged and changed. The shaking didn't stop and the latent morpho finally twitched on. Her teeth bubbled and then sprouted compound eyes that forced open her lips and a puddle of touchscreens pooled and hardened in her holes. During the seizure she had a weird warm moment of confidence that all her gambles were worthwhile, and then it climaxed into a blur of tech and unction, glitches and fascia. Well, that's enough of that, she thought, subconsciously blaming the internet for everything. Snapping back, she grabbed a towel and left. 

May 30 — Jeff Jackson

She arrived at the lounge and spotted the pink neon exit sign flashing in the corner. She was halfway across the room when the swirling conversations and burbling muzak began to race backward through her ears. Then the entire bar jittered and melted like a busted GIF. It’s just a chemical aftershock, she reassured herself. Nobody has removed key frames from my reality. She tried not to consider whether this sort of glitch could be triggered by nerves. After all there was nothing to fear, even if she was late for the drop-off.

May 31 — Laura Adamczyk

Yet something was wrong. She couldn’t remember the morning. In its place was only a blank compulsion to move forward. The music cut out. The bodies kept dancing. The woman had once had a name but was now reduced to a simple she, a fact that reinforced itself with each step she took through the crowd. What was she late for? When would she know she had arrived? At last, she made her way to the corner. The exit sign blinked and went dark.