Cell Prison

by Sean van der Heijden

You told me bodies are not meant to be pressed together. That we are made of cells, and cells are like prisons, and in prison we are alone.

In the morning, our daughter looks like you. At night, she looks like me. We go hungry often and I feel immature never having used a gas stove. You told me how to cook rice: two cups water to one cup dry. Bring it to a boil, add salt, simmer for twenty minutes. We have survived thus far on nuggets, takeout, pasta. I could have looked up a recipe, but I wanted to hear the words fall from your lips.

Early on, I decided never to bring her. You agreed. I came to see you while she was in school. You cried when I showed you photos, your tearstained hands sliding across the glass.

She told me all about her first kiss and I felt like I was sitting in on a conversation you should have had with her. She knows how to make pancakes now. She likes Earth Science and Biology. I gave her an old dress of yours and ran my fingers through the fabric before shoving it in a bag. It was her birthday. When she opened presents, the sun lit up her face. She looks more like you every day.

The food has gotten better, you say. You are the new cook. This makes me laugh. I will get you out of here, is what I told you the first time I visited. You called yourself a cell prison. I thought you said person, through the glass.

I am worried she will get hurt in high school. That some part of her will be broken. You say, remember how we met? Our cars crashed into each other—we crashed into each other. Not everything broken is bad. Not everything bad is broken. I write this down to tell her later because she likes words now, instead of science. You think that’s romantic. I think it’s common sense. I think she would love talking with you. She would love twisting her fingers around your hair. She would love.

Sean van der Heijden is a writer/editor from New York. He is a graduate of George Mason University’s MFA program, where he also taught literature. You can find his work in SAND Journal, Maudlin House, and Ligeia Magazine. He currently lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife and their very anxious greyhound.


Photography by: Maarten van den Heuvel