The phone rang. Our mother is dead, my sister said. I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming. Later I Googled her name to verify. Yes she was dead. Her and a caravan of friends and aunts, hit by a car. It was a hit-and-run. No, it was a hitman. A hitman? Who really had it out for a bunch of old ladies.

I lay down in bed with my husband. My mother is dead, I said. I know, he said. You should really apply for that job as a librarian, he said. I’ve had several girlfriends who have had that job and they all found it rather easy. But it’s so dark in there, I said. I’m afraid I’d always be in the dark.

No, it was his mother who was dead. I wanted to comfort him, so I went to where he worked. I got into his line and ordered a coffee. But he didn’t want to speak with me. The thing about people like you…he muttered over my latte putting no effort into the milky design, just a sloppy X on top.

Perhaps he could read my sexual advances and he found my desire insulting in the face of grief. It was true—surrounded by all this death, how could I still have the urge to lie down with him? To what extent was my lust a burden?

We were both marked, therefore tethered. Our bodies together made the sign of the cross. Our mothers have died. Our mothers will always be dying. They will never not be dead.


My husband and I moved to L.A. but I couldn’t tell if I was happy. My whole life I had been trying to get back to California. I thought about taking a job driving a tractor trailer. This way I could always be coming and going. I could always be going back.

I asked my husband if he would lie down with me and we could hug for a while. Why do so many athletes die in car crashes? I asked him. He had the eyes of a municipal trash can filled with discarded copies of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. He leaned over to pray I thought and instead launched into a series of push-ups. I couldn’t tell if I loved him.

In our house I painted the walls to look like the ocean at sunset. Walking along the beach, I came upon a woman selling brightly colored clothes, racks and racks of them. I tried on a very colorful outfit, a blousy jumpsuit with detachable legs. She showed me pictures of herself modeling the various looks on her phone. There you could see her face from every angle but you couldn’t really tell much about the clothes. Wind rinsed her mouth with sand as she smiled.

I walked from the beach to the nearest hotel which had several water features out front. A group of guests were smoking by the fountain. Someone in the crowd said roommates should be like ghosts. Someone else said let your husband do whatever he wants, it’s better not to live alone. But I should have never left California in the first place, I thought. I never should have left Amy.

I was trying to find a place to sit down so I could write my mother a letter. Descending the steps of the hotel into an underground cafe, I accidentally deleted everything I had just written, then spent the rest of my time trying to remember what I had lost. What a sight I must have been with my wide-brimmed hat, my head continuously falling onto the table, out of exhaustion or hopelessness.


By the hotel pool I meet a woman, a woman with a hard-set identity. She wears a bathing suit printed with the image of a skull. The pool is in the shape of an ampersand.

In my youth it was impossible to get me out of pools—always the last soggy carrot in the bunch. You lose track of time under water, my mother said. It had to have been true, why our stories refused to ever line up. You’ve been in there for hours, she would say. But I just got in, I would insist.

The woman tells me she owns an art gallery nearby. She holds a long chain attached to a fat poodle who is nearly busting out of its novelty pleather jacket. She tells me about the time her husband died suddenly, and how she spent months convinced she could raise him from the dead. Friends would ask how he was in passing and she would tell them fine, and this continued only until she was able to fill the gaping hole of her loss with the overweight tear-stained dog. It waddles up to me and pushes its nose right into my crotch. You have to let them sniff around so they can understand, she explains.

She tells me that her gallery has just installed a private collection into one of the higher priced rooms at the hotel. It costs over $1000 to spend a night with these artworks, but she allows me a look at them in her exclusive catalog, usually reserved for dealers. Someone has painted the anthropomorphic heads of animals above each window so that the curtains stand in for their bodies cloaked in curious robes, an occasional paw or tail peeking out along the wall. It’s hard to tell if people would actually believe this was art, but the rooms are booked out for at least a year, she tells me, with a long ribbon of a wait list.

We leave the pool and go to look at her Spanish pottery. She tells me about a time she chased a particular shade of red in vain for nearly a year, and anything that came close would only make it worse. Thus she was ushered unhappily into her ‘blue period’ as a collector, but luckily that phase was over now.

She tries to recruit me for a position at the gallery, which involves tipping clients in either shoes or yen. Only, she doesn’t understand my hair. I realize I am going to have to do a lot to impress this woman.

My husband will be expecting me, I say. Oh so you're expecting? she asks with her eyebrows, one arched in disdain, the other with extreme pity. I am not ‘with child,’ I am with geometry, I explain. What is the word for being full of babies, on a spirit level?

Unkempt, she calls it.


I wander into a nearby bar where people are speaking the language of wine. It is a language of expectation– the wine having to live up to the reputation of a particular grape, or at least act the part. How dreary, having to pretend you are a Pinot when you are something else entirely.

A young couple, newly practicing sobriety, order a round of almond sodas. This was the problem with their generation, having been raised to believe that anything they can dream they can achieve. Instead of living exceptionally, they are content to invent random products and then expect them to automatically materialize. Two tall drinks do appear before them.

The man sitting next to me asks for my name. I literally don’t exist, I’m all mood, I tell him. The bartender says in solidarity while holding a goblet above his head I will raise the vibrations of this room with the power of my ablutions and gives me a conspiratorial wink which causes his mouth to involuntarily open, revealing a row of silver teeth.

Is this the cost of a neglected body, I wonder, at the expense of being so cerebral?


Crossing the park I witness a large and angular bird take flight from the edge of the lake, the effort it takes to lift its body into the air. Not quite a silent gesture, but more like the sound in the throat right before you open your mouth to speak. Wherein as soon as you name something you lose it.

At the edge of the park is a blue and gold building, curved like a mother’s chest with wings for arms. The grounds remind me of the courtyard of my elementary school, all paths leading toward the perfect green center. When I was young you could not cross the circle, instilling in me the unnatural fear of walking on grass. Which when you think of it is a kind of public carpet.

Out front are three figures who seem as if to be waiting for me. They need to speak with me, they say as I approach, flashing grins like matching billboards. I feel at once that I am being duped and walking earnestly toward my destiny.

We’re married. She does our hair, the man explains, gesturing between the two women. The other woman, his wife, is a casting agent. Casting is meditative, she assures me. The hairdresser looks impatient. But what we really want to talk to you about is your mother, the man says, leading me by the elbow.

We proceed to walk the perimeter of the grass together, hands holding consecutive hands in a linear fashion so that we form a kind of daisy chain, like adults tend to do when escorting a very small child through traffic.

My mother was constantly busy, always moving around our house with a vacuum or broom, doing load after load of laundry. Who on earth needed to do so much laundry. She married the wrong person and so became repulsed. Repulsed by bodies and all their living, repulsed by her own body, by mine. The bedsheets and our clothes became hardened and rough with so much scrubbing, so much shocking cleanliness.

The casting agent and the man nod knowingly, stroking my arm. Unaware I have said these things out loud, they continue to coax more memories out of me while the hairdresser takes notes.

I can remember being passed back and forth from mother to father, still in my preverbal phase, having just soiled my diaper. Are you registering feelings of shame? the man asks. In my memory they are laughing but I don’t feel shame, just the feeling of being part of something, right in the middle of it, an accidental orchestrator. This particular combination of joy and disgust.

Mmhmm, that’s good. You’re doing great, they tell me, leading me inside the building.

The interior is vast yet modest, somewhere between monkish sanctuary and luxury spa. The attendants are all young, smiling waifs– identical with their long and flowing hair parted perfectly down the middle and matching uniforms. They wear bright red stockings with white plastic sandals.

One leads me down a long hall to a room where another girl is bent over a small dresser, pulling out socks from the drawer. When she turns I notice her face looks exactly like mine, but without the sagging mouth scar which has deepened with age, an accumulation of forgotten sorrows. She hands me a pair of red socks but they are not as bright as the others, having faded from repeated wear and too much washing.  

When I am ready she takes my hand leading me back down the hall and into a room the size of an auditorium, a streak of crimson legs spanning its circumference in slightly varied hues. They seem to be lined up and waiting patiently for something, or someone, to arrive. I am gingerly ushered toward the inner circle right as the crowd parts in half to allow a bulking presence to pass.

A very large woman is wheeled into the center of the room. She is lying on her back with her eyes closed, but she does not appear to be dead. Rather, she emanates a profound warmth, almost like electricity. She is wearing an aqua blue dress, practically neon, which spreads around her body like a shimmering pool, as if she is lit from within.

The large woman is lowered carefully and with much effort to the ground and onto a cloud-like nest of white bedding. Several attendants surround her with buckets of soapy water and car wash sized sponges. With great reverence, they proceed to scrub her arms and legs and feet, sudsing up her exposed and hairless limbs until they practically shine.

The woman is perfectly still; she neither moves nor moans. Then as if uncovering a sacred tomb or formerly buried treasure, the attendants slowly pull back the hem of her skirt, lifting it high into the air until it has come to rest just above her protruding stomach. I find myself staring at the most enormous cunt I have ever seen.

One by one the audience members–devotees?—gather inside the naked V of her legs. They take turns lying down right in front of the gaping entryway, a tunnel surrounded by a dense forest of dark hair. When they arise minutes later they appear changed, as if glowing with a mystical light.

I understand this intuitively to be a profound although unorthodox healing ritual, and so lie down obediently myself, basking in her powerful cuntwaves. I am startled by the fact of her scent—a mysterious concoction of smells washes over me, emanating from some eternal source deep inside of her.

It is difficult to unpack: opium, chewed tobacco, a string of freshwater pearls, the glands of an animal, something both oral and offal, the Amalfi coast…nostalgia as fashion, the spoils and victories of war, a memory that enters you accidentally tickling your scrotum, or what I imagined a tickled scrotum to feel like; grapes rotting on the vine. The scent of joy combined with disgust.

As we exit we each receive our own cleansing ritual involving smoke and incense, followed by directions toward the cafeteria for a free meal where an unctuous white stew is served from a 10-gallon pot. I accept my portion and choose a seat facing the wall, feeling different but unable to place my finger exactly on the change. The hairdresser, the casting agent, and her husband are nowhere to be found.

After dinner we file back into a singular line and out onto the manicured grounds, following a path that had been carved out for us in slow meditative circles. I keep expecting the trail, appearing silvery now in the waning light, to branch out in a new direction or lead somewhere else, but instead we just keep finding ourselves back where we had started.

No one else seems particularly bothered by this, stopping ever so often to sniff the same flower, or pluck a previously overlooked feather from the grass. It appears that nothing is keeping us here, that we could leave readily at our will.

I feel almost resigned to walk this same loop in tandem with the others forever, as if cosmically preordained, but when I spot an opening on the following lap I step out of line and drift back into the surrounding trees, back toward the same park where those strange people had been standing however many hours ago when I first approached–how much time had passed?–which manages to look like a totally different place now on account of the descending dusk.


I turn onto a winding street nearby that I don’t recognize, which leads me up a small hill with a stunning view of the city. At the top of the hill the street ends in a neat cul-de-sac surrounded by wildflowers. There is no way down from here to the other side, the path just ends. I look out over the expensive rooftops.

From this vantage point I think I can almost spot Amy, the top of her head with its flaxen hair, Amy of the cracked cherubic face who laughed when her father died. She laughed, then I laughed, then we laughed again rolling around on the carpet because someone had taken all the furniture, but all we really needed was a bed, and a mirror, and all our furs and our dresses and of course our dust.

I think back to when my husband and I were young, when I could still be sure that I loved him. When we would mope around smoking cigarettes, our black clothes strewn across the floor. When we wore our cynicism like badges of honor and were jilted and proud, before our hearts had become warped with optimism, before we knew to want more from life and then were proven wrong.

I think of my mother alone polishing her spoons, that no one would ever see let alone eat from. Breaking her back to mop her sparkling, otherwise untouched floors; my sister and I having to cover our feet with soft booties, skating across the marble. Our mother making her home and her body into gleaming mausoleums and then drawing the curtains closed around them, only to get caught up in some freaky circumstance and have it all be over and for what. I consider my own bony wrist; my altogether frailness.

I call my husband and ask him to come pick me up. It’s hard to give him directions since I don’t know exactly where it is that I am. It’s getting dark. There’s only one way up, I say, and you can’t go back the way you came. I can see fireworks exploding somewhere in the distance, erupting into the shape of doves.

It’s a dead end, but a really great one. It’s pretty great up here, I say. A shooting star hangs in the sky as if the two ends are connected by a fine golden chain, frozen in motion. Just stay there, my husband says, and I can hear him wrestling with his jacket. Don’t move, he says. Don’t do anything stupid.

Stella Corso is the author of Green Knife (Rescue Press, 2023) and TANTRUM (Rescue Press, 2017) as well as the chapbooks Taboo Vivant (blush, 2022) and Wind & the Augur (Sixth Finch, 2021). She is a founding member of the Connecticut River Valley Poets Theater (CRVPT) and currently the Associate Editor of Denver Quarterly.