Kara Dorris – Basement Hydra

Basement Hydra (or, she had always been halved in two)

She had always been halved in two, a room in pieces, or a room nestling more rooms. But they say a room is a room is a room no matter how small the size. A cage, a prison, a life. If you weren’t born in one, you got put in one. When the PTA queen learned she was carrying twins, the witch placed hands on the queen’s stomach, chanted, pushed & pulled, scraped long nails down & down, across the rolling hill of her belly. Felt two heads, lots of limbs. Felt Cerberus. Felt a baby hydra.

A baby hydra that was really only half. Half-alive. Two halves almost equaling a whole.

But this hydra carried her sister with her. An extra arm on the left side, a few extra toes & fingers on each foot & hand. & inside the left palm a pale blue eye, reflective, like a pool of water.

So, she was locked in. It’s always a basement or a tower. The wood panels were reminiscent of the 1970s. The walls were honey-colored. Honeycombed-styled with dark, knotty knots speckled throughout. A sprinkle of eyes waiting, light winking. She forgot her mother’s voice.

She had so many blind dates through her door. A door with a small slit for plates of food delivered then taken away. Apples always peeled & sliced, drinks lidded & turned on their sides. A garden hose for water.

Her voice weaved stories she heard from door-muffled tutors sitting on the other side. She spun more stories into tapestries & hung them from the ceiling. Even braided her own ladder, hosted with a pully system. She weaved outdoor string lights—pineapples, hot air balloons, butterflies—rainbow balls of yarn. Glitter sprinkled everywhere. Covered those knotty eyes. But no reflective surfaces, no mirrors.

They taught her about space, the constellations: Andromeda, Ara, Chamaeleon, Monoceros, Phoenix, Vela. How we felt the need to name everything.

They taught her about anatomy. Well, everyone else’s but hers: over 200 bones, four heart valves. Late at night she’d look deep inside herself, count the bones she could feel, knew she had over 300 for sure, & since her heart beat twice as fast, figured she had least eight heart valves. But on her blind dates, she didn’t mention these differences.

They taught her sex education: well, the birds & the bees & for years she worried about getting stung or pecked & creating more hybrid creatures such as herself.

They taught her mythology as history; after all, was she not a hydra? Could she be a phoenix?

She spun so much so fast she spun back time. Spun a web around the whole neighborhood: manicured lawns, in sync sprinklers, gold golf clubs, polo shirts.

Then no one taught her anything at all.

No, she didn’t talk about differences through that door. Didn’t even hold hands through the slit. Funny, an interior door with a peephole. But she tried not to use it, felt like an unfair advantage.

Sometimes she heard another voice in her head. Sometimes she looked through the peephole to see if the voice was real. A time or two she found unhappy suitors playing a trick or two. Or her other, normal brothers & sisters. When she looked through the peephole with her third eye, she saw poppy fields & fire, pumpkin coach hollowed & rotten.

But she had enough ghosts of her own.

Is it any wonder that while walking the neighborhood on stilts, the ringmaster from a passing carnival found her & was intrigued. Offered her a new name & wide-open space. By that time, she had weaved the present so tightly she had stopped time completely. Medusa statues everywhere. The ring master encountered no resistance. A face, multiple futures. He promised she wouldn’t sleep in another cage. She could make all the costumes, design her own act. Sequins & glitter, A-lines & V-necks, ballgowns or clown eggs or spacesuits. She could be a cannibal who ate her own sister in the womb, or a woman haunted by ghosts of past sins. She got to choose. Sharp teeth or ectoplasmic residue.

When the fortune teller said, this place blows, let’s runaway, she thought, time to make another choice. Her twin’s voice inside had grown stronger. A fresh breeze. A bit of soul strengthening deep in her mind, a falling star, a meteor ready to crash into life like a nightlight.

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About the Author

Kara Dorris is the author of Have Ruin, Will Travel (Finishing Line Press, 2019) and When the Body is a Guardrail (forthcoming, 2020). She has also published five chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAMPuerto del SolCrazyhorse, and Nine Mile as well as the anthology Beauty is a Verb. Her prose has appeared in Breath and ShadowWaxwing, and the anthology The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked. Currently, she is a visiting assistant professor of English at Illinois College. For more information, please visit karadorris.com.

“Basement Hydra” and “Tightrope Bird” (in this Wordgathering issue) will appear in Dorris’s forthcoming chapbook, Carnival Bound [or, please unwrap me], co-written with Gwen Paradice, and will be published by The Cupboard Pamphlet, later this year.