Issue #74

Spring 2020

Hollow Things

by Elizabeth Ochsner

She was birthed by a mother and blessed by a doctor. The doctor swaddled the baby in latex gloves and offered her body to the ceiling lamp, which stared at her for a long while. Finally, the child opened its newborn lips. The lamp's rays tickled her vocal chords as the baby recited perfectly, on first try, Newton's First Law of Motion. The doctor beamed with pride.

"A prodigy!" he declared, releasing the baby to her mother. Her mother, who had never been named, ecstatically accepted this. She thanked the doctor, and the lamp.

When Prodigy was seven years old, she was accepted into a prestigious prep school in a far-off land, immediately earning the title of Genius. Genius spoke when spoken to. Her lips were soaked with truth and her breath was laced with constants. The teacher, a deflating balloon, lived and died by her every word. At age ten, the teacher spoke through her. At age twelve, she swallowed him whole.

When Genius turned fifteen, her brother's future self materialized in the walls of her dormitory. He had changed a lot in his older age; for one thing, he had grown a second mouth. She tried to avoid him, but he latched onto her like a virus. She told him entropy would claim everything one day, including him.

"Only flesh is mortal," her brother said. "Through death, we pierce its veil."

When Genius was eighteen, she earned a job serving plates to delicate palates. A crumpled tuxedo — which, before learning the meaning of hunger, had carried a man — called for the waitress. Genius, now Waitress, rushed to the table.

"I shall not live by bread alone," the tux said. Two rows of teeth gleamed inside its gaping collar, revealing the entrance to an inner, bottomless void. "You're a beauty, you know."

Waitress, now Beauty, felt flush. The ceiling lamp bent itself toward her: a fluorescent spotlight on her soul.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," she said.

A socketless eye rose from the tux. "And I behold it."

"Beauty is skin-deep."

The void inside the collar wrinkled and stretched to reveal more teeth, and more, and more, and more, until all Beauty could see was black and bone. "And I am deeper than skin."

"Beauty is a light in the darkness," she said, her heart beating wildly. "Beauty gives meaning to life and words to the voiceless. Beauty is the hand that saves us from ourselves."

"And beauty fades. Who will save you when nothing remains?"

The teeth snapped, swallowing her whole. She pleaded to the fading glow of the ceiling lamp, but her words were not her own, and her light had never been hers.

Author Bio

origami bird

Elizabeth Ochsner graduated from George Mason University in 2019 with a BA in English. Currently, she lives and works in Richmond, VA. She is a reader for CRAFT Literary, and her poetry has previously appeared in Déraciné Magazine. You can find her on Instagram at @elizabethochsner or on her website,