Hungover and Fever Dreaming

by Brittany Hailer

In my white negligee—grease-stained, straps falling to my elbows—I suck marrow through the bones of a chicken carcass. I lean on the rickety table, my knees on the hardwood floor. I’ve woken up starving again. Insatiable and needy, I toss the fragments of skeleton over my shoulder. I can hear them scraping across the floorboards behind me. What is left drips from my chin. Hunched over, I see that the bones were bleach-white, picked clean. My kitchen is a desert. I crawl to the fridge for more.

On the bent wooden table is Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. The book is open to “The Tiger’s Bride.” I read the words and drool across the pages. I bite my cuticles until they are soft and wet. My skin peels back leaving red ditches along my nail beds. I read the fairy tale, humming, mouthing Carter’s words.

I decide I want this mask the Tiger wears: a man’s face, too perfect, rich eyebrows and yellow eyes. His body, striped and muscular, paces the castle. Although his jaws drip blood, he is still hungry. He growls from beneath the mask, but no one pays him any mind. The ceramic gentlemen face goes on smiling as the animal adjusts his silken black gloves.

I wipe my mouth with bare wrists, hair past my waist in knots. I hate the tattered negligee clinging to my hips. It pulls at my belly, and sticks to my skin. I can’t move like I want to.

“Or maybe I should be the Tiger’s Bride?” I say to the flickering light bulb in the empty fridge, “I’d get up off my knees and stop eating scraps then!”

I walk back to my bedroom and pull the nightdress over my head. I imagine the Tiger licking my skin to reveal a shiny new coat underneath, black and orange stripes snaking up my torso.

If I were the Tiger’s Bride I’d place my hand firmly in his offered paw, I think to myself. I’d crawl into the earth then, and come out clean then. I wouldn’t be hungry then.

I lie on my back, the ceiling fan rotates, a soft breeze lilts over my body. I lift my hands to catch the cool air. I stare at the dirty cracked fingernails I want so badly to become claws.

Brittany Hailer is a creative writing teacher in a women’s rehabilitation center. She has taught creative writing workshops at the Allegheny County Jail. She is the managing editor for IDK Magazine. Her work has appeared in In the Doorframe Waiting, HEArt Online and Atlantis Magazine.  She earned her MFA from Chatham University. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.