SHort Prose Contest 2017 winner:
The Money Shot
BY Raven Leilani
The most American pornography is the black body fighting to live. Everyone is watching. No one is watching. It is a private cache of eyes, a browser bloodied and bleached. I turn off the auto-play on my Facebook, but end up watching anyway. I read the comments. I collect last breaths like a routine traffic stop. I spend a breath on my way through airport security, where they put on gloves and pull their hands through my hair. I spend ten more on a six hour drive to my parents’ house. I know that soon, I will be out.
I didn’t always know. I graduated from the school of mimicry, threw my head back with the fraud of satiation. We knew what we had to do the very instant a swallowtail drifted through a shaft of antebellum sun. 1) Take one part sodium hydroxide and two parts petroleum jelly, and apply to hair. Let it hurt until it’s straight as a bone. 2) Take a paper bag to the mirror, and if you fail, place it over your head. 3) Wait in the field for an invite into the House, and upon invitation, cross the threshold without letting on that you’re undead.
I emerge from dreams missing my tongue, and in the morning I hook two thirds of a dollar to the back of my throat. I raise my hand in class, and my professor smiles, says in front of everyone---how unusual. I date a white man who wonders how I shucked the stoop from my voice. And thank you is rising in my throat, like bile. This is my picadilly preen and stem cell loot, two chimes uglying themselves in dissenting alloy. I want to tell him that I’m dying, but I’m worried I might seem angry.
Because 4) Do not make them uncomfortable. This is the basis for an entire unreality that allows us to prevent the ritual unbirthday so many of us celebrate on the news. This means, be uncomplicated---sugar, not grain. Deny your reality in favor of a shining row of teeth, and later, sweeten the resulting madness. Ignore the neighbors hanging from the trees and still begging to be kissed, mouths colored red with the blood that isn't in the soil.
Raven Leilani has been published in the New Haven Review, Granta, Columbia Literary Journal, Psychopomp Magazine, and Silk Road. Work is forthcoming in New Delta Review, Ruminate Magazine, and Blueshift Journal. During the day, she works for a scientific journal. At night, she is working on her first novel.