I used to dream my mother caged her lesser daughters beneath my bed.
I could hear them gnawing on the bars,
and some dreams, the lock would pop open.
I’d see versions of myself appear from the darkness, crawling on all fours.
My mother, broom in hand, would beat them back into submission.
After escaping, it took me six years to learn to write this letter:
“I will wear your skin & become you.”
When I was 26, my mother’s ghost occupied my bathtub.
She complained about the eternal burning of the afterlife,
could only be soothed when pressed against wet porcelain.
I would remind her she didn’t have a body, didn’t have feelings.
You are such a vicious girl.
(She didn’t say it — it had been said so often before).
I didn’t mind her company until she protested
my habit of plucking the hairs from my labia, scattering them on the tile floor.
I turned the bathtub’s faucet on and the rush of water broke her into pieces.
It took a long time, if not longer, for her to coalesce again.
Slowly, I got the truth out of her:
“…I could give birth to an army of sons…
…but I could never give birth to another daughter…
…I knew you were the kind of woman who would devour other women…
…And yet, I only gave birth to baby girls…
…Even after my husband died…
…They seemed to spill out of my body…”
She tried to warn me about my sister, but I turned on all the faucets,
vowed to keep them running even after my apartment flooded.
What I did not know how to write yet:
Yes, I burned the other daughters and our mother alive,
but only because I was determined to have you, the chosen daughter, all for myself.
When you used to pee the bed,
it would drip through the mattress and fall on our heads.
I can still smell your urine in my hair,
feel the sensation of it running over my eyes and lips.
Yes, I had gotten rid of my mother’s ghost, but still had to contend with a sister’s.
She was angry and very much not a ghost, yet seemed to have vanished entirely.
I never knew why my mother chose me over her other daughters,
but it doesn’t keep me from sleeping at night — it isn’t my sin.
The only remarkable thing about me is that I have lots of lovers.
When they first enter my home, their worms are glistening, smug.
They say things to me like:
“Your lovely rapids will be crammed with my corpses.”
“I will tread you down to dust.”
They cannot even hear their worms, though they lick their lips.
I imagine their tongues are saying the very same things.
I started sleeping with your lovers.
I wanted to lick you off their skin, taste your genetically superior fluids.
I thought that, if I swallowed enough of you,
I would become you, the beloved, but there was never any of you left.
I first saw my sister lurking outside my apartment building.
I thought she was a stranger, brazenly seducing my lovers.
What did I care if this woman wanted my leftovers?
I found sea slugs anonymously dropped off at my apartment door.
Some of them were dead by the time I discovered the container.
Others were very much alive, and I was sure,
so sure, they sighed the same sigh as my lovers.
I assumed the strange woman had cursed them, but didn’t understand why
(Had they been piss-poor lovers?)
or why she had entrusted them to me.
I kept writing letters, stuffed them in sea slugs I ordered online.
(I made sure to choose a variety of sea hares and nudibranchs.)
I didn’t trust the post office with my letters to you.
I thought for sure you would smash the slugs with your hands
(what I found beautiful, you would surely find ugly)
and find the letters inside.
Instead, you raised them as your children.
I turned my perpetually-flooded apartment into a giant
saltwater aquarium by dumping large discount
containers of Morton’s sea salt in my living room.
After years of watching you, I could predict the men you were going to bring home.
I began seducing them first — I wanted to take anything I could from you.
Eventually, the strange woman started getting to the men first.
I didn’t care about lipstick stains on my lovers’ cocks,
or that she burned her initials (the same as mine) on their boar-hair bellies
I used their penises as bottle openers or to scrub the dishes clean.
When my tired lovers asked me if they could have back what belongs to them,
I said, If you can find it, and they achingly searched the house
until they grabbed the wrong one
(if they grabbed one at all) and scuttled out the door.
But then I knew this had nothing to do with the men.
This woman was trying to communicate with me, but I don’t know why didn’t she come out and say it.
The stranger was me, and I was her, and we were blood, and I set out into the world to find her.
It was my sister who hunted me down.
She cornered me in an elevator, twisted my nipple until it bloomed into a girlish flower.
The petals were a soft lavender and I was disgusted by how feminine it was,
could not even name any flowers.
It stood out against the fabric of my white shirt.
Did it press against the fabric until the shirt broke away from the skin?
Nonono, that isn’t right: the petals pulled the fabric towards them, eating the cloth,
inserting it into a starfish mouth, my shirt disappearing,
the coffee stain from this morning already swallowed, my fish belly exposed,
the dipping scars like the outline of scales.
I brought my sister home, despite her being feral around the edges, and she only tried to kill me three times.
Sometimes, I found her curled under my bed, her face floating atop the murky water.
Her torso was covered in vibrant nudibranchs.
Our home was filled with a collection of sea slugs and phalluses.
You, sister, had one rule:
Never turn off the faucets.
Strangely, we both plucked the hair from our labia with our fingers.
I call it a compulsion; her, a ceremony of existence.
She likes to watch the blood pool beneath the skin,
and while I kept this habit to the bathroom, she liked to do it while
standing stark naked in our living room.
Her movements resembled a heron’s: meditative, precise.
Every Sunday, you brushed my hair.
It was just like our mother did yours, but I never state the coincidence.
It is not until our fifth decade that I realize, despite growing up near it,
my sister had never really seen the ocean.
Unless she had stopped to look as she burned down the house,
our mother and sisters with it.
Even then, it had been dark, maybe even moonless.
When I see the ocean for the first time, I strip my clothes off and pluck the hair from my labia.
You, with your superior lungs, try to shout over the waves, but your voice falls dead on the sand.
“I am summoning the sea,” I scream into the wind as I watch your wide mouth crumble,
teeth sink into an ocean liner, split your bottom lips.
The next morning, we buy you dentures.
I realize you are old before me.
You will die before me.
Long after my sister is dead, I swim at another beach across the ocean.
Here, I find them, burrowing into my thighs.
I think I have been stung by some rare, perhaps ancient, jellyfish.
I think this while sitting in the waiting room of a foreign ER.
A surgeon removes white orbs from my thighs.
I believe I have been inseminated by the rare, ancient jellyfish.
I trace the tentacle pattern on my thighs, a message from the father, I think.
He tells me how to raise his children that would have lived if I had left well enough alone.
I know nothing about children.
I am in my eighth decade.
“These are teeth,” the surgeon says.
He drops them in the palm of my hand.
I recognize them as yours, smaller and eroded by salt.
I imagine these are your teeth’s tender entrails/I move back through time/you are a child and asleep/
the teeth are in my fist/I shove them one at a time back into your gums/your blood, it creeps into me.
Cat Ingrid Leeches lives in Alabama, where she is the current Editor of the Black Warrior Review. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Collagist, Passages North, and Redivider. She shares a Twitter account @Lizard_Eyes with a cat named Dirtbike.