“Viridian:” a short story (2021) inspired by language in Hoa Nguyen’s collection, Red Juice, & first published in Intangible Magazine’s 2nd Issue, “Kalopsia” (2021)
Content Warnings: rape, human/animal abuse/cruelty, violence, C-PTSD, self-harm
In the woods, it rained cat placenta. As the snow scorched to age[d] water wave[s], Viridian’s famous, feathered cilantro specimen drowned to extinction.
During this particular monsoon, the soil had become more enriched than ever, but with what, the experts were unsure. The botanists deemed the place flooded beyond repair, condemned it, and moved on, never to return. They did not know of The Mother who resided there, nor did she know of them. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference either way.
Deep in the woods, The Mother stood alone. She was the type who was always noting things, the kind who always had to know everything. Even before it became endangered, she had always doted over the cilantro plant more than any person before her. A phantom, remnant of the pet chicken she had loved as a child before it was slaughtered and ground to bits before her very eyes, was the one who informed her of its extinction. Tremendously devastated by the demise of her favorite herb, she realized the implications of mortality, gorged her brain from her skull, and cast it to the ground. She was done suffering. Still, The Mother couldn’t help but observe how reluctantly the useless thing slithered down, or how the ancient oaks trembled as they watched this abomination unfold before them.
The tentacles twitched, groaned, crawled, nearly withered in the moments preceding suction. Then, the Earth bonded to the flat side of the abandoned organ with an audible sucking sound. The movement was swift, sudden, wet—as if something had finally clicked into place. Her brain sighed with relief as it swelled from renourishment, returning to the former, fattened state it thought it had lost forever just moments before. The silly thing had a new master now and, as it settled in, the forest floor squished accordingly.
This was a poem of subtle joy—something The Mother could never understand. She stumbled back, petrified by the sound, noting how the mud squelched beneath her feet as she faltered. It seemed to mock her, but in reality, it was just soaked through—thick and rich with minerals in all the ways she wasn’t anymore.
In line with her captors’ desires, that stretch of forest and Earth had become impregnated with cat placenta. The Mother considered this an improved manner of conception, still bitter about how they had withheld her heart, mind, and memories from her as soon as they’d discovered her first pregnancy—occurring shortly after her earliest memories of them. She had never been allowed to return to the person she was before she became “The Mother,” never again permitted to indulge in the comforts of the fetal position to which she always gravitated. In her youth, after the first few children, she had made several attempts to disobey, but each time, they had only pried her back apart—organ from organ, bone from bone, flesh from flesh. They had not even allowed her thumb to remain in her mouth. Every time they discovered her that way, they yanked her thumb out and shoved their own fingers between her jaws instead, pressing down on her tongue until she gagged.
The Mother’s weary, nurturing hands, milk-burdened breasts, and slowly-perishing womb were too essential for her to be permitted a moment’s peace. They had to abuse these “items” while they still could, while she was still “fruitful” in the only ways they were willing to acknowledge. This was how she forgot her name, and came only to be known to herself and others as “The Mother.”
The men savored their sadism too much to ever return her name to her, or even just send her home to her parents. It had been all too easy to take her, the young girl, once they had needlessly slaughtered her pet chicken and drowned her beloved cilantro garden in front of her. After this, she became unhinged, as they had hoped she would, and her parents, busy tending the farm about a mile away, failed to hear her shrieks of utter despair. Her parents never found out what happened; they just assumed the worst, pleading that the reality of their daughter’s fate never exceeded their wildest nightmares.
But, it did. Everything had worked out in the captors’ favor. The Mother had once considered those plants they obliterated her pride and joy, but later came to forget about them in premature motherhood, coming to be filled instead with an inexplicable love for cilantro. This had frightened the men at first, but when it became clear she was not any closer to recalling her former life or realizing how she had once raised a small garden of cilantro plants from nothing, they felt confident she would not regain her identity. They wrote off the threat, continued to use her however they pleased, and never worried about it again.
Then, one day, when they felt her body had grown useless to them, they dumped her off into the heart of the forest, raped her thrice more for good measure, and implored the Devil to make it rain placenta there. This was assurance that The Mother and her beloved cilantro, which was inevitable in the natural world around there, burned and suffocated to death by the very substance they had always used to define her. The men were too close to potential implication for other violations to risk murdering her, and they were also far too clever to leave a corpse brimming with their DNA behind in the woods for just anyone to find. They preferred that The Mother be cleansed to death instead.
Fortuitously for them, the cilantro plants in that forest were not immune to red-hot, plasmid mortar plummeting down from the sky in unprecedented abundance. But, unbeknownst to them, The Mother was.
When the cilantro finally perished, she replaced the space in her skull where her brain had once resided with mournful, sweet-water tears and prayed that the swishing would prevent her from ever entertaining another thought.
Delusion and The Mother’s near-owl songs (woo woo, woo woo) had long since formed an umbrella above her, giving her soul a forest circle all its own. Here, she frequently plucked newborn cat eggs from the earth, broiled roots and animated cartoon pigs upon a wooden pole, and mulled over the physics of age and change. She even made marinade most days. Despite her best efforts, nothing she found or crafted in the woods was sharp enough for her to commit to, so she had no choice but to keep on in the best way she knew how.
This was nothing new to her. She had always possessed these doomed poetics: magnetized ethics which were impossible to articulate in any language not of her own making. Sometimes, The Mother wondered if that was how she had ended up there in those forsaken woods—unwittingly bound, lost, alone, and speaking to some otherworldly wraith chicken who she couldn’t quite seem to place. Still, something about the creature felt oddly familiar to her.
When she was born, the doctors had to pry her limbs apart—organ from organ, bone from bone, flesh from flesh. She had wailed, noting all the ways in which she was already alone, severed even from herself. Now, in middle age, she once again linked her elbows to her knees, her forehead to her chest. She would have glued her body to itself if the marinade had been stickier. Each time she tried, the Mother ended up with the opposite effect: lathered in marinade, slick, and further estranged from her own body.
In the meanwhile, the earth had become inconsistent in the way it loved her brain. Therefore, most days, the pathetic mass rotted beside her on the forest floor — decaying, but content.
Each morning, she rose, shrieked her routine woo woo, woo woo at her lovely, severed brain, fed her [new]born, freshly-hatched cat boys tender pig fresh off the spit, and smeared their little bodies with organic root marinade. This was so they would be protected from forest demons. She knew it was too late for her, but maybe they still stood a chance. Maybe they could still be slippery enough to evade the horrors of this world.
As they ate their meals, she would curl up into the fetal position and recede into a godless meditation. Here, she was allowed to fuck her gentle cartoon lovers and persevere in worlds built from the bonds of mutual willingness. She was unaware that these partners of hers were of her own imagination, that they only existed to her and so long as she was still of human[ish] existence, or that they were an impossibility under any other circumstances. Had she known, The Mother would have probably perished from the bleakness of it all. Regrettably, her brain was too busy fermenting on the ground for her to take much notice.