Two Wives

At night she would try to dig her way out, and I would pull my stitches tighter, snipping off the tips of her fingers. 

March 13, 2024
A portrait of the author

Jowita Bydlowska is the author of Possessed, the best-selling memoir Drunk Mom, and the best-selling novel GUY. She's also a prolific short-story...

A red-headed woman and a black-haired woman embracing

Macenzie Bond.

  1. (Raven)

After the wedding we drove to his parents’ country house in a horse-drawn carriage. It was right before dawn. The house was built out of white stone and covered in ivy. It was lit up by antique lanterns, reminiscent of lilies of the valley, that gave off a humid, warm glow. The house was surrounded by a lush garden that this late—or this early—was filled with the rustling noises of insects. I had heard there were stained-glass windows in the staircase on the other side of the house, overlooking the pond. In the distance you could hear frogs croaking.

A butler came out to meet us, his feet crunching on the pebbles. He was tall with a long philtrum, an upturned nose and a fluff of hair framing his partial half-moon baldness. He acted all professional but it was obvious he was happy to see Allan—his white-gloved hand trembled when he picked up my new husband’s small suitcase.

Babe? Allan said right behind me as I stood taking it all in, and then he swooped me up, lifted me like a child. I giggled and buried my head in his shoulder and he inhaled loudly with his nose pressed against my hair. You smell fucking delicious, he said and tried to move his hand so that it would land between my legs but there were too many layers of skirts. Had he managed to feel me there, he would’ve said, You’re so wet, whether I was wet or not. He had an obsession with wetness, especially with gussets which he liked to lick and suck before peeling off my panties so that it looked as if I had soaked them through, as if he had such an effect on me.

The butler held the front door and Allan carried me over the threshold. This wasn’t going to be the house where we would live so it didn’t make sense but it was more about the ritual and Allan was romantic and a little corny. I loved the corny side of him, I loved his performances, how he’d lick and blow steam on my gussets instead of doing what he should be doing so that I could wet them on my own.

I’m not sure why I had such vulgar thoughts on a night like this. I suppose I was tired, the wedding party had gone on for hours and I was irritated by my dress that held my redesigned ribcage in a vise of a corset. I had surgery to remove two ribs on each side specifically to be able to fit into the wedding dress. The incisions didn’t quite heal so the dress rubbed against them and threatened to open me up in ways I wasn’t prepared for. Twice during the party, I had to hide in the pantry and tighten the stitches.

Allan’s mother prepared a room for us; it was a large medieval bedroom with a bed the size of a small boat, complete with a heavy red velvet curtain and a roof decorated with panels depicting Allan’s ancestors doing weird Hieronymus Bosch activities: standing on their heads, inserting flowers into their assholes, hammering nails into each others’ noses. 

The ensuite bathroom was enormous with a soaking tub, a double sink and a large, brown leather chair where I laid my wedding dress.

I had prepared two different outfits for the night. Two different sets of lace and silk, ribbons that were flat enough to cover up the bandages covering the stitches in my sides.

As I bent down to pick up the garter belt, I saw a strand of hair. It was singular, long and orange. I lifted it up and it danced in the light like the tiniest flame.



Later, as we made love, my new husband’s hand cradling my head as he came, I stared at the ceiling and tried to ignore the soft dents my body didn’t quite sink into, the stamp of another woman, her ass like a massive peach, her heels digging into the sides as her ghost opened much wider than I could. I heard her whisper his name, I heard her tiny but distinct moans as he drove into me unaware of her splayed out underneath me. I moved his head to kiss him on the mouth and his eyes were shut, hard like two walnut shells.

Look at me, I whispered, look at me, but he wouldn’t. There was an unmistakable echo of her giggle. I felt her all around us looking and judging, noticing my sharp elbows and knees so different from her vastness.

I was too tired to care. Except that just as I was falling asleep, curled into his elbow, I felt something tug and snap at my other side. Then there was a sharp pull and I felt my stitch unravel, something wet and small falling out of me straight into the black hole of her mouth.

  1. (Fox)

The way I died was dramatic but since there was no one to witness it—was it really dramatic? I went for a walk one morning and got caught in a cloud of madness. I was aware it was always a risk. But it hadn’t happened in so long I no longer even thought about it. The madness showed up as a swarm of tiny black butterflies, just suddenly there as I walked through nearby a meadow. We had only lived in the house by the river for a week by then.

The butterflies whispered, at first just random words. Then, specific instructions. The instructions were to eat flowers, eat their flower heads; they urged me to find sweetness in their bottoms, suck it out like I was a bee. It made no sense at first and then it did. I looked and all around me there they were: white lilies of the valley, Queen Anne’s lace, and yellow daffodils, and red poppies, and the little blue and purple ones whose names I didn’t know.

The butterflies whispered to try them all, I wouldn’t know until I did.

But know what? I started pulling the flower heads off, holding them by their petals, sucking their sweetness out. I imagined something would feel different when I found whatever this was for; the butterflies talked louder, urging.

I became frantic. My mouth filled with flowers, their bitter petals killing whatever little sweetness I had been able to find. My hands shook as I shoved them in. There was a new charge in my body, as if an animal was trapped inside me trying to lurch forward. And then I threw up, ugly trickle of petals all smushed together, a mostly gray mass now with occasional white or purple. As I threw up I felt worse, not better. I became dizzy. My body shook, not just my hands, the electricity finishing me off from the inside.

I don’t know when it occurred to me that I was probably dying. I was too far from my new house. I thought of my husband. He said our life together was going to be like a fairytale. I thought of my him burying his head in my hair and inhaling my smell. My stomach twisted inside out and now I threw up things other than the petals, horrible things.

We were so in love. He always joked that he couldn’t live without me. I hoped that it was a joke. I didn’t want him to die too, although as I lost consciousness I thought how lonely it was going to be, to be dead, how I would have to wait for him. At the time I didn’t know I wouldn’t have to wait long at all but for now, if this was it, I wanted him to be my last thought.


  1. (Raven)

Allan and I met on a reality television show where you dated for days without seeing your future fiancé, trying to establish a connection through a milky glass wall as you told them all your traumas and triumphs. The producers gave us notebooks where we wrote notes in charts about the people we clicked with. There were cameras on us at all times, in the lounge too where we would go to gossip and gush with fellow contestants.

If you liked someone you put a star beside their name and the producers would see if the feeling was mutual and more dates would be set up.

Some days you were in pods for hours. Hours of traumas and triumphs, affectionately going on about how your family was just so crayyyy, how they have big to-dos, or how you grew up with a single mother or how you put yourself through law school or how you were obsessed with pickles.

My stamina could take it as I was there on a mission, like a love soldier, but if you watched the show, you’ve probably noticed how many contestants end up sitting on the floor or lying on the couch wrapped in blankets, how many of them yawn. You’ve probably seen the famous clip of one of the girls falling asleep and missing her match asking her to marry her.

Some of the women were given clothes to replace whatever they brought from home. Everyone wore a uniform of tiny dresses or tight leggings. We had people who came and piled on powder and sparkle and glue on our heads to keep us from falling apart. Flat shoes were forbidden but you could go barefoot provided you had your toes painted.

Outside of the pods, hoodies and onesies were A-OK, getting cozy was encouraged, big furry slippers and the atmosphere of a never-ending slumber party was the vibe. In the past, the show has gotten in trouble for plying the contestants with too much alcohol and not enough food in order to create tension and fighting, but now we were all given agendas where everything was detailed—blocks of time divided for dating, recording interviews, lounging—and contracts and menus where we could indicate whether we were vegan or kosher.

We were not obligated to socialize. But there was a rumour going around that they would pay us extra if we managed to always have a camera on us and the one sure way to do that was to be in the lounge.

The women all had silky hair, some of it real, most of it glued in, and painted faces and caterpillar eyelashes. The lounge smelled of sugar and vaginas. I spent long hours having my hair brushed or braided, or doing the same to someone, while saying ohmygodIknooooow or same, girl, same or you’re amazing, don’t forget thaaaad, my voice lowering and sliding all over my throat like the hinges of an old unoiled door. Generally, the blondes were better at this kind of voice. Almost no one would leave to rest and so by the end of a two-week run, we were like a well-oiled monster Barbie composed out of fourteen other Barbies and we all sounded and moved the same and most of us were in love.

Only two other women picked Allan in their top three. He was not as popular as the Operations Manager, Joe, who DJed and gave off fuckboi vibes, or Doctor Osulande who drove a Tesla and told women that he liked to be called “Daddy,” and that he wanted to be a “real daddy” soon, which many women thought was funny and hawthawt, that’s so hawt, haawwwt…the blondes said.

Allan was the oldest in the pods, which many women said was a Red Flag, a man who was almost forty. One of the women who liked him, a yoga teacher named after a fruit, went home early because someone spread peanut butter on her pillow. She wasn’t allergic to peanuts but it was a vile thing to do, everyone agreed, except for me.

The other woman who liked Allan was a classic pick-me according to the blondes. She got asked to get married by a firefighter patriot named PJ. During the reveal PJ froze once he saw her. She held him to her breast, called him her short king, and smoothed his hair as he suffocated in near silence squeaking once weakly that he felt the connection. Shortly after their meeting, a family emergency came up and PJ had to leave the show. All the women in the lounge said it served her right, she was a fake, she wasn’t in it for the right reasons.

No one specified what the right reasons were.



What I like about Allan is that he knows what he wants, you know? He seems like he’s more serious than the other contestants, I like that he has a list of qualities he’s looking for. I like a man who’s decisive, I said to the producers when they asked me why he was my top choice.

Do you think you are what he’s looking for?

I looked in my notebook to remind myself. On the left, I had my personality traits and on the right what Allan was looking for and there were checkmarks up and down. I turned the notebook around so that it would face the camera.

Great and what are you looking for? A producer asked.

I’m looking to be the best wife to Allan, I said because this is what it was like, how it felt. As if I was designed to be on this earth to meet Allan and everything that I did lead to this point. Ever since coming on the show it was like I couldn’t remember who I was before. It was as if I came to life, right on entering Serene Studios, as if whatever happened before wasn’t important.


When the producers pre-interviewed me, I had come up with a few things to tell them that I knew would increase my chances of being paired—like that I was hoping for someone in the restaurant industry and that I wanted to travel before settling down and that I loved antiques and the opera.

That’s what I mean when I say that it was as if I was designed to meet Allan because those were the things he loved. I couldn’t actually recall if I loved antiques and the opera on my own but when we went home after the pods, and I opened the door to my own condo, there was a poster of Tosca and a shelf with porcelain figurines of white dogs, which Allan laughed at and said, Really? While lifting a small poodle in a dress. But he approved of the old hand-woven rugs I had no recollection purchasing, that were splayed out in the living room.

In comparison to the other contestants our relationship was almost drama-free, save for the visit to Allan’s restaurant where I was recorded picking up a framed photograph of a black-and-white nude that was displayed on a shelf in his tiny office.

So I had a past before you, can you believe that? Allan said sarcastically and took the picture out of my hands. The cameras waited silently. And I cried.

During the break one of the producers asked if I felt like throwing something. She said personally, she wouldn’t be able to help herself.

I said, Well he’s right. We all had our pasts.

The producer said, Who is the redhead?

That’s because there was another picture of a woman, her long curly hair like a fire sneaking down her nude back. A small painting that hung above the fireplace inside the restaurant itself. I imagined how the hair would reach out of the frame to meet the fire when it was lit.




At the altar, in front of the cameras Allan said he couldn’t marry me because he valued our love too much, he didn’t need a document proving this, but he would marry me every day—choosing to be together every day was more romantic.

We got married in real life nonetheless “away from all that circus,” which is what his parents called the dating show. His mother was especially reluctant about being taped except for one time when she came with me to pick out a dress. She picked a plain, satin dress that she said was the only one that wasn’t ghastly. I don’t know where my own mother was, I couldn’t seem to remember anything about her, or how to reach her. This was frustrating to the producers who insisted I tell a story on camera about how I was estranged from my parents. Or are they dead? One of the producers asked.

I like how mysterious you are, Allan said in the pods whenever I would clam up. But that didn’t make for good TV. They mostly cut us from the show following the pods, and I was grateful for that.

When the show aired, I watched an early interview with him in which he talked about being a widower and how as a locally famous restaurateur he worried women just wanted him for his things, but that he was ready to find love again. It was something he had also shared in a clip from the pods but which I had no memory of. How could I forget something like that especially since in the recording I am shown crying and pressing my hand against the milky glass of the wall dividing us, telling him how I love him with all his imperfections, how we have to look towards the future, and he tells me our life will be better than a fairytale?

  1. (Fox)

When I awoke disoriented and trapped, at first I didn’t remember names for things. I knew, for example, that a “window” was a “window” but I was unable to find the word in my own personal vocabulary. The first conscious sentence I thought to say was that I couldn’t talk and when I went to open my mouth, it shut immediately. I felt panic. Her panic. Our panic.

In a mirror, I saw her. I peered through her eyes as she held her hands to her cheeks, pinched as if to test whether they were real. She was beautiful but so different from me. I suppose it would’ve been stranger had he married another one like me. He had always told me what he liked about my kind was how rare we were. He said that only four percent of people had the recessive genes of a redhead and out of that percent he estimated only a very small number were beautiful. He said we had some of the most unattractive people.

But when we were beautiful, whoa—and here he would always pause and look at me, try to squeeze a body part (he claimed to love them all)—and I would swat him or roll my eyes at him.

And if he were to try to squeeze her, her body parts? Impossible. You cannot squeeze bones. Also, she was so dark. Everything about her: her pupils that blended in with the irises. Her hair that was so black it was like negative space.



It was so tight in there, inside her, like being vacuum-sealed.

Right now I wanted to say at least one word. Two words.

Fucking hell, her mouth said and she held her hand over her mouth and then looked at her hand as if expecting it to be stained.

But this wasn’t entirely me either, I felt angry and jealous but I hated swearing.

Neither of us seemed happy with what was happening. She extended a middle finger and held it in the reflection of her angular face. I wished I could break it off but I was still so weak, which is why I focused on the tongue, put all my attention into it, and moved it out of the mouth. She slapped herself across the face.

Were Allan to see that he would act like he hated it, her acting deranged, but it would probably have turned him on; my madness made his dick hard.

For now, this was only between me and her.

  1. (Raven)

I tried diets. And exercise. I signed up for another surgery to remove two more ribs. I wanted to look nothing like Fox, I wanted to sharpen my edges, contour any softness. I stapled over my stitches until they healed. I collected tips of her finger bones. At night she would try to dig her way out, and I would pull my stitches tighter, snipping off the tips of her fingers. I kept them in a secret container that I slid underneath the bed, not far from where Allan kept nude photographs of her. We had a fight about that and he called me a philistine for not understanding art, for being predictable and disappointing. After that fight, I said nothing about the box and tried not to think of its radioactive presence that kept waking me up throughout the night.

When Allan would leave for the restaurant, I mostly kept to our medieval bedroom and the gym downstairs but when I started to spend time in the library his mother asked us to move out. She and Allan had a fight on the staircase with the stained glass, the rainbow windows shaking as they screamed in shrill voices, not like the sort of well-mannered people they were. The fight was about Allan opening a new restaurant when he had a new wife at home, and about the house by the river that I knew stood abandoned after Fox died after eating poisonous flowers. I silently agreed with Allan’s mother; I was itching to move to the house and take it apart and rebuild it. The couple of times I walked by, I peeked inside and could make out a blurry shape of a woman in a painting hanging above the fireplace.



The day after the fight, we moved. The butler loaded the horse-drawn carriage and before we left, Allan’s mother came up to me and said, It’ll all change once you have babies, and she pinched my side or tried to pinch it, and I threw my arms around her briefly, thinking about squeezing her neck until it snapped. I blamed her for raising her son to be the way he was, which was unfair since I had fallen in love with him so this was on me not on her.

I had an urge to tell her about the nudes under the bed, but I was sure she was aware. Her own husband was in love with all the waitresses in town, and he mock-ranted about the female students at the university where he worked; he would say how he couldn’t believe they were allowed to wear lingerie to school instead of dresses, and how they didn’t cover their midriffs. When he’d say “midriffs,” there would always be spittle collected in the corner of his mouth. He made jokes about how it was okay to fuck your female students once you turned in their final grades. I had once caught him in the garden admiring his own strange dog penis, a long, red lipstick-like extension that came out of a small hairy pouch between his legs. When he noticed me, he said jovially as if nothing happened, Are you here to see Allan? and his eyes were foggy from cataracts.


  1. (Fox)

The live reunion seemed barbaric to me but I stayed silent as my host was prepped in front of a large mirror, her beauty redrawn and corrected with huge makeup brushes and hairspray.

When our eyes met, neither of us reacted and we were both confused by this truce. All around her, there were women in similar chairs, being molded, and they were all drinking champagne and gossiping. I could feel her distress, it shot through her like a current. Her hands gripped the armrest and I wondered how much money they paid for the taping exactly; I hoped enough. 

My host didn't have a regular job, although she was not a dancer either, which was how I made money, in the glow of blacklights in the strip club, before my madness descended on me. It was my husband who fought off the zombie men crawling up on to the stage, and who carried me out of the club and took me home to his bed where he fed me éclairs and sucked on my dry panties till he made them sopping wet, something that didn’t turn me on. But it didn’t matter since you couldn’t tell that the wetness wasn’t mine. I was grateful enough.

Do you really like what you do? Allan kept asking until I broke down one night and told him that no, I didn’t. I thought I did, but he kept asking and saying, Look what happened, meaning the night when he rescued me. He made jokes about having to keep me in bed all the time to keep me safe, buying me small dogs for company, heeled mules with feathered pompoms, or coming home and having me lash out at him for being late, pouting and crying with mascara running down my cheeks.

I wasn’t entirely sure I could play that role but I joked back and said, Sure, I would love to be a spoiled little wife with small dogs and feathered mules.

Anyway, we never got to that part of our story because I went for a walk that one mad morning and poisoned myself to death.



Five minutes, guys! Five! A small unkempt thing with a clipboard shouted at the seated women and their chairs scrapped, their chatter increased, more bottles of champagne were opened, someone burped really loudly, someone else squealed with laughter. When it was finally time, a smaller group was directed to the stage and the rest were shooed off into the audience chairs.

My husband looked strangely young and artificial underneath the bright lights, like a mannequin of himself. I caught a whiff of his cologne. It was a new one, a scent that didn't seem to suit him in its cucumber freshness. My host’s nostrils flared comically when he turned to face her.

There was a woman on the other end of the stage that she kept glancing over at. When nobody was looking this woman would wave at my husband with just a flick of her fingers, her hand held close to her generous hip. He caught the wave, his eyes hungry and appreciative, snapping at it like it was a treat and like his eyes were teeth. I instantly felt sick, the same kind of sickness I used to feel when I was still alive and first moved in with him and discovered a box of photographs underneath his bed. Not for the first time, I wondered if my husband’s new wife would feel relief if she knew that a version of that box had been around long before her and long before me.

The show was hosted by two married Hollywood morons who were the sort of people you pictured having intense whispered fights on the way to a dinner party, right before ringing the bell and slapping their smiles on.

I tuned out for most of it, until they got to the woman my husband had been glancing at, whose name was Plum, and who said she wished she stayed on the show because she had made a special connection with my husband.

Well, you can have him, said my husband’s new wife, and everyone laughed except for Allan who wrapped his hand around the back of her neck and squeezed.

  1. (Raven)

I’ve listened to the stories carefully as if they were instructions instead of complaints or recollections of traumas he hadn’t gotten over. This is because when he would talk about Fox, even about the terrible times they had, he couldn’t manage not to sound fascinated. Here’s what I learned:

When Fox got angry, she would say anything and later she would have no memory of it. It was as if she blacked out.

She was extremely jealous. She imagined there were women who wanted to be with my husband. All women, even his old friends from the restaurant, even his cat sitter back when there was a cat. He believed she suffered from paranoid delusions.

She had no ambition but he was helping her apply to school because he believed she was “surprisingly quite intelligent.”

She would disappear when she would get angry with him and then she would show up in the middle of the night like nothing happened.

She owed money to drug dealers, there was a stripper who threatened to beat her up.

She had untreated bipolar disorder. 

Her voice was wispy—this wasn’t good or bad but it was something he disclosed after I yelled at him once and he covered his ears.

Didn’t your first wife yell at you? I said then.

All the fucking time, he said. But it was… strangely charming, I could barely hear her, he added and he sounded wistful. 

The photographs and the videos I found in their wedding box told a story of a pouty stoner whose swinging hips my husband took a five-minute-long video of, following her like a dog with his tongue hanging out—you could see the tip of the tongue, in the footage, and it immediately reminded me of his father with his dick out in the garden.

His worship of her was evident in every frame he had kept of her.

There are only two women you cannot win against: a goddess and a dead one.



Since I couldn’t fight Fox who was both a goddess and dead, I had to become like her to win.

I stopped dieting. I still went to the gym but now I worked on my glutes instead of my stomach. Unfortunately the muscles were wrong—I needed softness, cream, and pliancy—even though the exercises gave me a round shape. Then I stopped exercising completely and watched my ass grow like cake batter in the oven, slowly spilling out of my size-S panties.

I practiced walking on a tightrope until I got the hang of daintily placing my feet one in front of the other while swinging my hips at the same time.

I bleached my hair, gradually till it started turning—first black copper, then old rust and then one day I woke up and it was rich magenta.

I drank egg yolks to soothe the inside of my throat. Now, when I didn’t yell, I whispered.

Yet Allan said nothing about the changes. I would place his hands on my slowly growing rump and he would squeeze it absentmindedly instead of throwing himself at it like I hoped. He never once filmed me walking away.

But I wasn’t done.

I started leaving in the evenings. I walked and walked, meadows, forests, riverbanks, forests again, until I would find soft moss and an old tree where I could lie down, and curl up like a creature, the wet, fresh smell of earth the only comfort as I would try to sleep to pass the time.

He didn’t notice the first time. The second time we arrived home simultaneously, him from the new restaurant. The third time when I came back at dawn, he was wild with worry, his fists filled with clumps of his own hair. He shook me by the shoulders: where was I and what was I thinking? And then he was too overwhelmed with relief and he pulled me to his chest, held me so close he crushed my vertebrae until it met his sternum.



When we fought, now I shouted until my vision would go black and he’d rush out of the house, his cape abandoned in the door.

I’ve no memory of doing that, I told him once during a fight postmortem and he shook his head in mock horror.

I finally had proof of being successful when he called me “delusional” after I accused him of having an affair with Plum.

(I debated telling him about bullying her on the show but in the end decided he might get too alarmed. I wanted him to be only pleasantly disturbed, be like all the men who freely and confidently called their women “crazy” to their male friends because they knew “crazy” was synonymous with “beautiful” and not with “scary.”) He said I suffered from paranoia when I called his new restaurant multiple times and when, on coming home, I accused him of having affairs with his waitresses. He called me “unsophisticated” and “a peasant” when I insisted men and women couldn’t be just friends.

When I said I would like to take pictures of my body spread and naked, to sell to men online, he appeared aroused and horrified. Is this what I intended to do? Waste my youth like that? But if I had to, let him at least take the pictures.

With time he would no longer rush out when we had our fights, but would instead look for a place to sit so he could watch me and my performance, and the more he watched, the louder and madder I would become.

I didn’t know what all that would lead to but one night—when I was particularly nasty, calling him an old satyr—he lunged at me with an open hand and I cowered, waiting for him to strike. But instead he cradled me to him kissing me more passionately than he’d ever done before, and then I felt my tongue dislodge and tear, the wind of his passion sucking it in.

After that I was silent. If I wanted to speak, I would slap whatever surface I was next to and I would hold my hand to my lips and he would look at me and listen, rapt with attention and I would form words out of my silent mouth.

Sometimes he was too impatient to wait and he would tear at me, strip all the layers of clothing, a layer of my skin too eventually, and he would lick the red, pulsing flesh—finally my flesh instead of fabric—and I would writhe underneath his tongue basking in all that attention, letting it eat me alive. Was that what it was like for her? I had no idea but a couple of times I had a passing thought that maybe she ate the poisonous lilies of the valley on purpose.

Well, I would be different, I would withstand and learn to corral his passion.

I said over and over in my mind: I am strong. I grow stronger from it. Yet even repeating that mantra took all of my energy. I wrapped bandages around my head like a mummy, trying to contain whatever spirit I had left but it was no use.

It seemed he didn’t like me meek and unwell. When I stopped leaving in the middle of the night and when I could no longer yell at him for coming home late, he lost interest. And then one day when he stopped visiting me altogether I wondered if I’d had it all right or wrong; I couldn’t actually remember what which.

Eventually I was too weak to stand or walk so I lay on the settee in the library whose dusty sash windows overlooked the river, my eyes following the current until one day my eyes were carried away. After that, I lay there blind, evening after evening, growing ever weaker. The butler would come in and bring me soup, announcing it quietly as he placed it down next to me, but he didn’t try to feed me and I could tell he was only doing it out of obligation. I was too tired to hold the spoon. The wind howled quietly underneath the tapestried walls, in my mind’s eye I pictured their William Morris flowers moving eerily as it did. I longed for my husband to join me and hold my withering hand. I was too fragile to move. Save for the wind, it was as quiet and dark as I was voiceless, sightless. I didn’t feel loved.

  1. (Fox)

I heard her calling and when I turned around, she was walking towards me, her skinless body red and raw, and empty eye sockets, a grotesque beauty with lucious magenta-black hair sneaking down her nakedness. Her violated lower torso struggled to hold all that extra weight. She was an exaggeration of a female shape with a miniscule waist and wide hips that she swung as she moved. She walked defiantly, daring me to see all of her. I didn’t look away.

She stopped an arm-length’s away and I thought it would be only fair to show her what she had tried to piece together while alive, in her confinement. I stood up and turned around slowly. I shook my head so that it looked as if someone lit me on fire.

Thank you, she sighed after a short while.

Wait, I said and parted a small fold in my scalp right above my forehead and exposed my mutilation. She gasped and came closer. I knew what she was looking at – a deep, dark ridge where a chunk of my brain had been removed.

I had no idea, she whispered. I thought you were perfect.

I laughed at this and she laughed with me.

Oh, I said pointing to her mouth.

Oh, that, she said, and she opened her mouth wider showing me that her tongue, too, was gone.

I waved my tipless fingers at her and she said, Oh shit, sorry, but I just shook my head, here our mutilations didn’t matter; here we could see and talk and think just fine.

She opened her arms at the same time as I opened mine and since I was physically the stronger one, I pulled her towards me and held her to my chest and she lay her head on my breast and I stroked her soft, dark hair until we both fell asleep, our white and brown bodies fusing together.


The corpse of his second wife stirred again and emitted a low, pained moan. For three nights, Allan sat vigil beside her, shell-shocked and inconsolable. He had not showered or changed out of the wrinkled suit he wore on the night she died. His phone showed forty-seven missed calls, some of them from the restaurant, some from his mother and some from Plum who, on that night, sat alone, increasingly angry in the bar downtown, her hair highlighted to show some reds. He had not thought of Plum once—not since the moment Raven started clutching at her throat, her pretty mouth twisting, her film-covered eyes bugging out of her skull.

On the coffee table, there was now a tableau of plates and glasses with untouched food that had lost colour and was cold and moldy, stirring with fly eggs and larvae. There were candles everywhere, some lit, some just thick stains of wax and a stub of a wick. A husk of a moth that mocked him with its poignancy. 

In the beginning, Allan went mad with grief—he kissed the raw flesh of her cheeks, he pushed his tongue into her mouth that although tongueless and cold, didn’t gross him out because it was familiar. He even took a picture, zoomed in on the grid of his wife’s nude husk, telling himself he just wanted to see if there was something he was perhaps missing but that was not why he took the picture. And because that wasn’t why, he suddenly felt too self-conscious to take another one. Yet at night, he lifted her skirts and kissed her between her legs wetting the fabric of her panties. But her stiffness discouraged him, as did her lack of protests and hands in his hair trying to push him away playfully. Still, the first night, he lay his head right there, and tried to sleep until a terrible smell woke him up. He had never had a woman fart in his presence; it upset him to tears, something about it felt like a betrayal, a mockery even. He covered her up hastily and drank the rest of his wine until he felt sleep crush him again.

He had sent the butler away to stay with his mother but unbeknownst to him, the faithful servant remained in the house distressed over his master’s distress. Once in a while, he’d tiptoe into the library to light new candles and fill Allan’s wine carafe with a Rohypnol-spiked mixture; it was the only way he knew how to make his master’s pain more bearable.

When the corpse stirred for the second time, Allan was just coming out of a fog of his last slumber. He shook his head and pinched his own cheeks as a moan broke the 4 a.m. silence. He pulled himself up, stared at his second wife unsure if he was hallucinating, watching her stiff, lifeless body. She was mostly covered up but when he looked at her hand, he noticed the skin was no longer red and raw but brown again albeit lighter than how it was before he licked it off. Gently, he lifted her hand and held it up to the light and as he did, the hand trembled slightly, which he knew was probably one of those posthumous reflexes. His head hurt badly. He lay the hand gently down and rubbed his eyes.

And then he heard the moan again.

It was impossible. And yet, the moan was clear, and not quite hers, more like a memory of a moan he recognized instantly. It was that recognition that suddenly ignited him, made him throw himself at his wife’s corpse and start lifting her shirt to check—but this body bore no incisions, the ribs had never been removed, there were no scars. He blinked and pinched his face again, he called out to the butler but then remembered he sent him off.

Raven? He asked her name quietly, Raven, is that you? Raven? he kept going and she stirred again, her whole body shuddered, her chest moved up and down, and then she gasped with her mouth fully opened, and took a large breath, so large that it put out all the candles but one; the wind stopped howling.

He fell backward and knocked over a plate that spilled onto the rug, dozens of tiny maggots crawling out of rotten meat and fruit, the corpse’s new, laser eyes zeroing in on the grub, her hand shooting out, grabbing a handful of it, shoving it into her mouth, lightning-fast.

He watched as she swallowed it all—his stomach turning in disgust—and then she looked at him, steady and silent.

Raven? He said, unsure. She tilted her head and waited. He didn’t know what she wanted until he suddenly got it. He reached out shakily and slowly towards the woman’s head and he started to peel off the bandage.

She sat stiffly, the faint whisper of her disheveled mass of flickering curls cascading down her shoulders as he unraveled the turban.

It was so dark in the room that even if he were to look at her face now, Allan would miss her cold and predatory smile. She blew out the last candle.

A portrait of the author

Jowita Bydlowska is the author of Possessed, the best-selling memoir Drunk Mom, and the best-selling novel GUY. She's also a prolific short-story writer, journalist and a professor at the Creative School at Toronto Metropolitan University. She was born in Warsaw, Poland and came to Canada as a teenager. She lives in Toronto with her son and their chihuahua.