Julia M. Brown talks to Mary Shelley.

Mary Shelley would really like me to chop off my hands. She says it will be “so fucking satisfying; you have no idea.” Mary Shelley’s vision of this self-dismemberment is surgically clean — more like breaking down a carcass than a Tarantino daydream. There’s no blood.

“Intrusive thoughts” are what my therapist calls the time I spend wondering about chopping off my own hands. The weight of a cleaver as it falls, the sound of bone and gristle severing, the satisfying thunk as blade hits table. The feeling of an itch, scratched.

It started long before therapy was a thing I would ever consider, and it started with a vision of impaling myself on a knitting needle. One of those thick ones, like a size nine. I liked to think about the organs it would pass on the way in, the way it would scrape against my bottom rib. I never thought about the pain or the mess or the consequence, just the action. Satisfying, like popping bubble wrap or slamming a door after a fight. Maybe like hanging up on somebody.

My therapist tells me to give it a name. “Think of the voice,” she says, “like a bad backseat driver. Somebody whom you wouldn’t take advice from, somebody you don’t want to listen to. Then, when it tells you to do something, you say, ‘No, thanks, I’m not going to do that.’”

It seemed obvious, after that. All body parts, no blood. It weirds me out that I never imagine blood.

“But, see, it wouldn’t bleed if you were already dead,” Mary Shelley says, once I’ve named her. “Corpses don’t bleed. You can just chop ’em up. Pure butchery.”

“What kind of butchery did you get up to, Mary Shelley?” I ask her. She shrugs, inside my head. Because she’s a version of me, we shrug the same way.

“I can cook. I really like to disarticulate chicken wings. Imagine pulling apart the bones in your elbow, slicing through the tendons and the tissue around the joint. It’d make a snapping kind of sound, like a little pop, wouldn’t it?”

“Maybe,” I say. “I’m not going to do that.”

Mary Shelley sighs. “Chopping up a body is the only way to truly know it. Don’t you want to know your body?”

I don’t know what to say to that, so I build her a little room inside my brain with a lock on the door.

JULIA M. BROWN lives in Minneapolis and writes plays, songs, short fictions, and emails.

Originally published on 8/30/15.

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