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Lessons in Negative Space


It’s always night when they wheel us girls in, gowned on gurneys. Underground. They pull their masks up and peer at our faces. Line us in rows along the dark gray walls. We must be sick. They must be healers. Lightbulbs swing from the ceiling. Somewhere down the row is Sissy. It’s her turn, and she’s crying.


I refuse to count backwards because I know I’ll die. The blue-scrubbed surgeon reveals the silver-sharp instruments on the tray, filed in order of shine. He swivels smiling on the stool and asks why I’m afraid, sweeping wide with his large hands. Dark hairs prickle his arms like an animal. Each finger wears a tuft of wool.


Bruises lily-pad down my spine. If I were a little frog, I could jump-jump across them, to my arm, my ass, my thighs, where the bruise is—the bruises—are clustery, both dark and bright, big as a man’s hands. Turn, they say, snapping the camera, trapping each one on film. Readying them for the exhibition. Turn, they say. Don’t look away. Drop the sheet a little lower.


The woman assigned to my case has the face of a young Stockard Channing. I expect her to sing, joke, light a cigarette. We sit in her office and read the judgments, the confessions, the lies. Shapes and voices float in and out. A faceful of wet grass, a kneeful of dirty carpet. I roll into a ball. Squeeze myself as small as the head of a pin. The papers wobble in the woman’s hands and grow wet.


With one gloved hand in my cunt, the midwife tells me to push. She tells me my body isn’t working, the baby isn’t breathing, the car is warming up. I float above the bed, above the dark paneled wainscot, above myself. I am the ceiling. I am the yellowed flowers on the walls. Not the blood and the twisted cord and the oxygen tank, the baby girl suctioned and swaddled. Not the panic passing in the doorway. The car is warm, and they know we are coming.

Sara Hills is the author of The Evolution of Birds, winner of the 2022 Saboteur Award for best story collection. Her work has been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 and The Best Small Fictions, as well as widely published in anthologies and magazines, including SmokeLong QuarterlyCheap PopCease Cows, Flash Frog, Splonk, and New Flash Fiction Review. Originally from the Sonoran Desert, Sara lives in Warwickshire, UK and tweets from @sarahillswrites.

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