A Certain Coming of Age

by Vivienne Mah

My cellmate has no legs.

In place of arms, he has stumps, pink and twisting. In place of a mouth, just a dark, toothy shape.

Formless, in other words.

Holy, almost, if he had the guts to make something of his sorrows.

As one might expect, our conversation is rather limited.

“It’s muggy today, isn’t it?” I say, as the landscape around us rolls red and bloody, hills slip-sliding under one another. “Quite usual.”

Or, “ooh”, as something new escapes from the spherical cone of his torso, “tantalising!”

He tries to respond. He really does. He lifts the frond that’s sprouted at the edge of his not-stump-not-arm and waggles it.

Then it catches in the quick stick of the wall which divides us, and neither of us has the heart to free it.

“Oh dear,” I say, apologetic. “How horribly inconvenient.”


The thing is.

The thing is, as I realise on the fifth week.

A lad gets hungry around these parts.


I start on the frond first.

It still sways from the bars of our cell, where he’s left it. Time-tattered and sog-rotted, now.

Better that way. Soft.


Sometimes he mumbles stuff in his sleep. More so, now, than he did before I swallowed a part of him.

(For which, I feel something like guilt. Although he hasn’t asked after it yet.)

Mumbles in his not-sleep – not-sleep? –  as well. His not-not-sleep and his not-sleep.

Things like, Mortgages, and Poor Job Economy, and Responsibilities and Tax Rates. Housing Crisis, and Cuba and Cant Afford This Upgrade. Bad things, unreal things, which linger.

And pollute the dark between us.


It’s funny.

Neither of us should have these words.

So I fix that for us, too.

His mouth is the thing that I eat next.


My cellmate doesn’t have enough of a face left to look scared. But I imagine he would if he could.

Eventually, all that’s left of him is his torso. I leave it for several days, after I take his eyes —

         hard small balls of white and water, viscous,

wholly unsatisfying;

taken  only after a bout of severe weeping, which shook what little was left of him.

The tear train-tracks were enough to prove he’d had them, once, I thought.

— but a torso doesn’t make for attractive company, and can’t do much in any case.

Good bye, I like to think he might say, as the thin of him slips deep into my hungry maw, my swarming, cellular body.

Good bye. Good luck. Good luck, good bye, good luck.

Or he mightn’t after all.

Vivienne Mah lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. Her work has previously appeared in The April ReaderThe Literary Review, and on stage for RMIT Snatches. She spends her free time dreaming about butter. You can follow her on Twitter –  @vivjmah.

Photo by: Ana Prundaru