The ant rubbed between the fingers smells of vinegar. The butterfly has powder. The mole, a tuxedo. Grey curds of dirt can be rolled up and down the skin. Old people stink of borscht. Behind the fingernails is butter entered smoothly by splinters. People may be hunch- backed or mad, but not so dogs and birds. Sucking on her salty knee, the child knows: the only thing that separates man from the world is skin. Thanks to it we don’t sink into the boundlessness of things.
Last week she took her eyes off her only for a moment: great-grandmother cut up the curtains, stuffed a bag of sugar into the stove. She thought it was coal – both are hard. She gutted the wardrobe in search of her school uniform. She’s ninety, can’t remember her own name, but the uniform, the apron with the straps that crossed at her back, she could. If she’s not locked up, she’ll turn everything upside down.
'You’re strangely quiet, mum,’ grandmother calls out to the hole between the door frames.
‘I shat on myself,’ the head pops up above the rigid line of the cut door.
‘You have to wait.’
Grandmother won’t drop what she’s doing. She won’t burn the meat. When you have madness under your roof, the rest must remain normal. Good dinner belongs in that rest.
A jumper flies into the kitchen. Followed by skirt, underskirt, bra.
‘Excuse me, could you call my daughter? I’m standing naked here.’
‘I’m coming. I am your daughter.’
‘No, you’re not. My daughter has black hair and she’s slim like a stem. This thin,’ two fingers clench a centimetre of air above the door. ‘Your hair is grey and you’re fat.’
Grandmother changes the nappy on her mother. The velcro crackles on the hips.
‘I can die, if you pay me well,’ says the old baby.
Grandmother brings a bag full of linen buttons. She spills them on the floor.
‘I’m not sure, I need to count.’
I’m sitting with great-grandmother on the floor. We’re counting the buttons on our fingers.
‘Have you ever seen so much money?’ asks great-grandmother.
When she’s not looking, I stuff the buttons into my shoes, drop them behind my blouse, swallow them. To make them fewer. Too few for death.
‘Move on, on on on.’
They take: legs, lungs, heart.
‘Whose heart?’ asks a boy bored with counting the flies.
The nylon nets of their shopping bags stretch. The bellies and breasts prod the backs.
‘Move on on on.’
Those first in the queue can see the prices – they pass the how much much much back
to the blind rest. One hen wants to jump the queue. She has a huge egg under her dress.
‘Let her through, otherwise she’ll lay her egg here.’
I decide never to become a woman. Even if I cut my first breasts, they’ll fall out, like milk teeth.