Grafted Soul

The day didn’t dawn. I sat in the kitchen wrapped in my father’s old blanket, hands wrapped around a long-empty mug of coffee. I wanted to be patient for the sunrise, but found myself sorely lacking in that virtue. The dregs of French press colored the bottom and sides of my mug, and I wandered into thoughts about my old neighbors in Cooper City; las doñas that didn’t mind a white girl growing up amongst all of their hijos y hijas. They would religiously read the tea dregs for us when we were small. Only when we started bleeding did they stop, afraid to tell us of all the men we could possibly take as lovers and so make us boy-crazy.

My house was dark. It felt like the darkness in my house was seeping outwards, tainting the world, limiting the light allowed to exist, halting the rotation of the earth so that the sun could not rise. I wanted to believe that it was just a function of my imagination, a function that would change if I changed a part of myself, of my perception of the world. I knew better than that.

As I waited, still impatiently, for the sun’s appearance, I climbed more securely into my blanket, locked my fingers more tightly about the empty mug, and stumbled through mixed up memories and present thoughts.

Las doñas hadn’t predicted anything particularly unsavory when I was young, which makes me wonder at the superstition of their practices. They certainly seemed to believe in them, so I guess there was some truth to them, but maybe my lack of genetic santeria made their predictions superficial; unable to stick. I hadn’t really left las doñas so long ago. I hadn’t really put my childhood away from me when I left them. I still don’t know that I have.

The cold ceramic of the coffee mug reminded me of my first taste of the bitter dark symbol of adulthood. I was allowed tea, in my house, sweet and iced, but coffee was the purview of my mother and her friends. The cold ceramic in my hands forced me to my feet and over to the stove, where the grease-coated kettle didn’t exactly invite, but definitely beckoned. I filled it, and set it to boil on the stove that should have been olive green but was too cheap, chipped, and stained to claim a color. I wanted to carry on with my mother’s traditions; coffee before sunrise was one of them.

But the day still did not dawn. My attempts to herald the end of my nighttime madness, to lure the light back into my life were merely attempts; I did not hold the power of las doñas, could not beckon nature to my bidding. They had known, of course. Just by looking at him when I brought him around that first day. A seventeen-year-old girl should never be permitted to choose her own loves; they’re deaf and blind to the rudiments of human nature.

The kettle’s shrill explosion startled me as usual. I poured the boiled water over the aromatic coffee and set it aside to wait. Just as I had awaited their verdicts, convinced that they would all love Oliver Feldman from Atlanta.


My own mother had adored him. “Honey, he’s fantastic. I always told you to go for the older men. Now, I know he’s not so much older than you, but five years is space enough. And he’s so cute! That cleft chin is just too much to bear.” But she was interested in any man that wasn’t my father, so I wasn’t so surprised.

My father, as usual, was too abstracted with his history to really care that his only daughter had fallen in love. He only had time for me when he was working out his theses; he would take me out to the hammock and swing me back and forth while he tested out different avenues of argument. That he hadn’t quite made it as a professional academic didn’t bar him from losing this mind in medieval Norse folklore.
“So pleased to meet you, Oliver. Glad you could make it for dinner. You’ll have to excuse me – I’m in the middle of a very important paper right now, so won’t be joining you. But I’ll hear all about it from our Abigail here. She speaks highly of you.” Daddy’s handshake had been brief, and with his about-turn Oliver had glanced at me with eyebrows raised.

“No mind – he’s thrilled to meet you, just a little busy right now,” I mouthed in response.

My baby sisters nearly swooned when they saw him. Giggles and shrieks followed them out of the house after they had been formally introduced, and Oliver had smiled smugly, if indulgently. I hadn’t minded. The babies were all my half-siblings, products of my mother’s persistent infidelity, a fact my father never seemed to notice. As such, they lived in a half-world, where I was their only constant.

It was only las doñas that couldn’t countenance him. After dinner at my parent’s house I had taken him for a stroll around the neighborhood; the porches had been occupied at every other house, the evening watch over the children shared equally by all of the women. It would do nothing less than to stop and pay respects to each one present. Each one had been kind to Oliver, offered lemonade, tea, and coffee, spoken a few keen words, and promptly distracted themselves with some glitch or another amongst the tussles of children. And so we had progressed through the streets.

It wasn’t until after I had seen him to his car, after I had thoughtlessly displayed my untutored and inappropriate passions for this man Oliver that they began to speak. As I made my way home each one stopped me again.

“M’ija,” Doña Elena slitted her eyes at me, “I think you should wait. This boy isn’t like us. You are one of us, you know. You should stick to our kind.” What kind? I had wondered, and walked on.

“Abby, love, Mama told me to tell you that that boy is plain no good. Mala gente, me dijo. You ought to be more careful about who you meet.” Esperanza spoke on behalf of Doña Gracie, an Irish woman raised by Cuban immigrants from infancy. She was the most like me, I suppose.

I couldn’t believe that these women who had raised me while my own mother was off with her lovers wouldn’t be happy for my happiness.

“That boy doesn’t know what kind of goodness he’s getting with you, chica,” Doña Claudia rasped. “He shouldn’t come searching where he has no business. He has no business with our sort.” Why not? I silently questioned, and tried to hurry past the rest.

Four minutes had come and gone, and I realized that the coffee would be too bitter to stomach. I poured it into my still-dirty mug anyways. Picking it up, still ensconced in my father’s old blanket, I moved into my ill-frequented bedroom, sat upon my rarely visited bed, and prayed for sunlight or sleep to relieve the wanting. The first sip of coffee bit at my slick-coated tongue, and I gagged. After the first sip, though, I knew I wouldn’t remember the taste, so I swallowed it and realized my prayers would not be answered.

The darkness in my house originated with me. With the dark black liquids that I ingested. It was carried out on my breath, black breath that stained the air and darkened the rooms, blocking out the sun that would give me relief from this endless state of night without sleep. The darkness that originated with me emanated into the world, gestating in the space between the trees’ inhalations and exhalations, feeding upon the byproducts of carbon digestion and oxygen production. Through this, it has entered into every cell of every human being.

I should have burned that bed. It was the place where I became ensorcelled by Oliver. He began with the physical aspects of our relationship, exposing me to the elements of my own sensual nature that had never been explored before.

His hands would shape me and my skin would reach out to cling to him. His lips would follow, closely tracing his finger’s marks. Every third breath, give or take, he would raise his head and force me to open my eyes, watch his as he pushed pleasures on my senses. Tied me to him with the knowledge that he was the one to give me these experiences.

As he taught me about myself, he wove us together. A dependency blossomed, and he caught my needs in his hands, re-shaped them, and gifted them back to me as fulfillment. I sipped at his strength, lips wrapped around him to reciprocate pleasures that I couldn’t show myself.


“Abby,” he breathed into my neck, “can we try something new this time?” Since he hadn’t looked at me when he asked, I knew it was something I might be afraid of. He had taught me well that I should face my fears, that he still loved me in spite of my imperfections, so as I thought on what he might want from me, he stilled, patient, willing to let me through my process.

I grasped his hair and pulled him up to look at me. “Will you stop if I ask?” I queried, plain.

He looked at me that time. “Of course.”

I nodded.

He left the bed, then, and returned with my bathrobe belt. He straddled my chest and reached my hands high above me, tying my wrists together and to the metal bed frame. He tied it tight, and the terrycloth started to feel raw against my skin almost immediately.

“Shhhh, love. I won’t hurt you. I only want you to be able to know how much I love you. Let me do this, you’ll see what I mean.” He responded to the un-stated, un-emoted feelings roiling beneath my skin, caught in my lungs and behind my closed eyelids.

That night was more intense than any previous one. I could barely breathe, heightened senses teaching me that fear and desire were but two aspects of the same self, normalizing the sting of my tightly wrapped wrists against the agony of pleasures he draped me in. At the end, I drank in the tears I shed, grateful for their release, a release that cleansed both my physical fears and the emotional ones – the ones that heralded servitude and slavery.

“I’m glad you enjoyed that,” he murmured as he untied me. I was too tired to think of denying him, so I learned to enjoy it in that moment, and he taught me once again that only his actions, his choices, could complete my being.


I felt as though the bed were swallowing me, attempting to drown me in the tears I had shed into the mattress and comforters, so I stood. The light switches were still pushed down and taped there to remind me that darkness was my rightful state, but I peeled the tape back and flipped it upwards. A brief flickering filled the room, followed by a faint pop and an even fainter light going out. Nature conspired against me once again.

It hadn’t felt so when I was eighteen and able to move to Atlanta with him. The prospect of doing so carried me through my last months of high school. All thoughts of college were stripped from my mind; I only had ideas of keeping his house. I couldn’t bring myself to move out of it, afterwards. His presence still lingered in the corners and under the low-laying furniture, able to guide me in my moments of absolute dementia, able to tantalize my senses in his absence.

Las doñas had taught me well what it meant to be a good woman, and what they lacked my mother filled in, providing me with ample opportunity to take care of our household, my sisters, my father. Only she never needed me for her own self. All she needed was another young stud in her pastures every seven weeks or so and enough birth control to not raise my father’s suspicions.

They were happy enough, in their own way. The spaces between them served to cement their relationship, and the comfort of marriage outweighed the inconvenience of divorce. Daddy would have died of shame and anger if he’d ever realized that the little girls weren’t his, but since they had sex often enough for him to never know the difference, he was content, ensconced in his not-quite-brilliant academic world.

Between me and Oliver, you couldn’t have fit a slip of paper, much less the militias of lovers my mother had taken.


“Come here, Bee. I don’t like the way that man is looking at you.” He wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me in front of him. I dropped my head against his shoulder and he pressed his lips to my head.

He cloaked me in security. I never worried with him. And when we didn’t agree on something, instead of destroying me like he so easily could have, he challenged me to expand beyond the fragile limitations I had been raised with.

“Oliver, he wasn’t hurting anyone. I don’t think he was even looking at me.” I stated calmly. He snorted, tightened his grip around my middle, and spun me around.

“Of course he was. Look at you. Every guy looks at you. But you’re mine, and I won’t have them stripping you naked in their imaginations.”

“Oliver, you have the most sexist ideas sometimes. Not all men are as completely preoccupied with the topic of sex as you are.”

“And just tell me how would you know that? Are you male? Do you have a cock?” His eyebrows were askew in a purely Oliver face that made me want to pull on the reigns of our relationship, just to show him that I wasn’t chattel.

“Look at Daddy – he barely thinks about women. He’s completely absorbed in his studies. He most definitely does not strip women in his imagination.” I crossed my arms, pushed his hands away from my waist.

His gaze sharpened to points, and a subtle rigidity infused his skin, tightness overlaying deceptively relaxed muscles and tendons. I always knew that denying him my physicality angered him, but that particular day I had been in the mood to push, to test, to see if any of this was true, real. If he and I could get through his possessiveness, if we could relax through it into our own selves in the roles that were designed for us in one another’s destinies, then I wouldn’t doubt.

So instead of pushing the matter, just to prove my doubts unjust, he conceded the point. “Your father is very definitely not dwelling on women all the time, this is true. But most men are. Let it be, let me take care of you the way I know how. Don’t challenge what is right for me, and I will always be there for you.”

Looking at him, I recognized that he could have forced the issue. Torn down my perceptions of a gentle father, destroyed a daughter’s confidence in the parent she respected. I turned around again, and he reached for my waist, grasped me to him, and relaxed.


The day still had yet to dawn. The darkness of the bedroom was cloying, filled with the memories of Oliver’s sexual domination, my submission, the creation between the two that defined, defied, and drove our relationship. He tied me up more and more often. He was never violent toward me, but he was a harsh taskmaster. He set out to make me surrender on every level each time he bound my body. And each time he succeeded in binding my secret self to his a little more.

My coffee had gone cold again, but was only half finished. I slipped open the door to the adjoining bathroom and set it on the sink. The shower stall was the only clean place in the house; I reached in and turned on the hot water full force.

Shrugging out of the blanket, slipping off Oliver’s old pajama bottoms and t-shirt, I slid into the hot water, shocked out of the cold that had become my habitual temperature.

Along with the darkness that emanated from me came that cold frigidity that caused my soul to atrophy with numbness. A piece of my being had been removed with him. Gangrene had set in and my blood had turned septic. I was riddled with all manner of emotional disease, all of which germinated, originated, in the betrayal. His betrayal translated into my own betrayal: a betrayal of myself, because we were no different by that time. What existed between the two of us was the totality of us. And worse, betrayal of my family.


“Abby, why are we going down there for Thanksgiving? You said you wanted to cook at home. Just the two of us.” His voice was patient, but I could tell by the fact that both his hands were on the wheel that he was angry.

“My sisters aren’t babies anymore. It’s been five years since I have been home. My parents are getting older. My family is important to me, O. Please, just accept how grateful I am that you’re coming with me. I promise I will make it worth your while.” I tried to keep my voice light and sweet. It wouldn’t have done to make him any angrier.

“The last time we went back to your parents’ house, all of the freaky ladies in the neighborhood wanted to kill me. I could tell it by the way they looked at me, like I was robbing you of your life.”

“The doñas are just wary of outsiders,” I sighed. “They raised me, they taught me what I know, they are responsible, in part, for who I am today, for who you love. That gives them some right, doesn’t it? I’d reckon they’ll feel the same way for any of their daughters.” I waited for him to respond. When he didn’t, I realized he was waiting for an affirmation of his place in my life.

“Besides, you are my life. How could you steal yourself from me? Unless you’re planning on going somewhere…”

His jaw unclenched, and a small smile highlighted the depth of his cleft chin. “Of course not, Bee. You’re mine. Forever.”

I sat back and watched the telephone wires loop and trip over the poles.


The water was scalding. I welcomed it, praying for the heat to melt the icicles that grew in my pores, that were encouraged by my dark breath, that distributed chill in the wake of every movement, that couldn’t be countered by clothes or blankets, by fire. The only respite was in the heat of the water. And as the water’s heat waned, I turned the knob and stood in the remaining steam, willing it into my body, willing my body to retain it, to return to some semblance of before. Before I had experienced the epitome of my human significance and been enslaved by the greatness of what I had created.


Thanksgiving dinner had been uneventful. We were congregated, sleepy and overfull, on the back porch of the house. I had brought out sweet tea and butter biscuits, but no one had touched them. Oliver had me on his lap on the rocker and was gently stroking the skin of my lower back between my jeans and my sweater. The babies were sprawled in the grass, groaning, while my mother was painting her toenails a deep magenta color. My father was mumbling to himself, gently pushing the empty hammock, glancing my way occasionally and looking bereft.

“He can’t have you back, you know. You’re not his girl anymore. You’re mine,” he whispered through my hair. I turned and kissed him gently.

“I am always his, always yours. You can never be my father, though, just as he can never be my lover.”

His grip tightened at my waist, pinching my skin. “You’re mine, first.” He insisted. “They can’t give you what I give you. They can’t create for you what we’ve created.”

I drew back a little, looked at him.

Doña Gracie peered over the hedge at us just then, and Oliver noticed. “There is that Irish one, the scariest of them all,” he hissed at me. I shifted, lifted myself off of him, and went over to greet her.

“You’ve still got that one in tow, I see,” she sniffed. “Me tienes que creer, m’ija, he’s no good. Mala gente, te digo. Mala gente. But how is everything else these days? I try to keep an eye on the family over here now that you’re gone, but they don’t seem to be having many troubles. The babies are, of course, getting older. Jennifer started bleeding a few months back, you know.” She continued to fill me in, all the while keeping Oliver in her sights. Eventually she said “M’ija, take care to keep a part of you away from him. I don’t know if you’d survive the loss of something so mezclado con tu alma. Cuidate.” She turned and walked off, and I didn’t heed her warning.

A few days later I was playing with the babies in the backyard. Jennifer, the oldest, was sitting to the side watching while I made a fool of myself with the three younger ones. Oliver was watching from the rocker.

“…hamburger, sauce potato chip chip chip, sauce potato chip chip chip, egg roll, mutton roll, chicken roll yum. Elbows, Avery! Ham cheese hamburger sauce potato chip chip chip, sauce potato chip chip chip, spring roll, mutton roll, chicken roll yum. Fists, Gemma! You guys have to pull out before the yum, otherwise you loose ground,” I explained.

The babies were looking above me, so I leaned back into Oliver’s legs and peered up at him. “Want to join? We’ll teach you. Its easy.” I smiled.

Oliver’s eyes were clouded. “Bee, can you come talk to me for a minute…we need to discuss something.” He grabbed my elbows and hauled me up, spinning me in front of him. We walked into the house as I called over my shoulder “I’ll be back soon, chicklets. Jennifer can take my place.”

In my room Oliver kissed me, hard.

“I don’t want you playing with any children other than ours,” he breathed over my lips.

“They’re my sisters – what else am I meant to do with them?” I leaned back against his hands at my shoulder blades. He slipped them down to my waist and back up beneath my shirt.

“I just mean that you should spend a little more time with me, trying to make our children,” he unclasped my bra as he said these words, and immediately my body began to submit.

“Hmmm…you might have a valid point, there, O.” Oliver hadn’t touched me since we’d arrived, and I was primed for his caress. I began to unwind internally, could feel the commingling of our beings push outwards into our physicalities.

He continued to undress me, and I him.

“Bee, can we try something new this time?”

I didn’t hesitate. “Of course. What will you?”

He reached over for the bathrobe belt and tied my hands together and to the bed. Then he pulled out one of my father’s large kerchiefs, and wound it around itself. He gagged me tightly, almost choked me.

“Shhhh, love. Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.” He whispered this in my ear, and set to re-molding my body to his preferences: pliant, demanding, weak, and eager.

At the point of penetration, he stopped, stood, and left the room. He was gone long enough to frustrate me, peak my need for climax. When he returned, he was winded.

“Come, Abby, I have a present for us,” he untied me from the bed, picked me up, and carried me to the living room. I was so preoccupied with him, with my desire for his infliction of himself upon me, that I didn’t notice the congregation in the living room. He set me down on my knees, standing before me, and tied my arms above my head, hooked onto the entertainment system, bathrobe belt looped through the wire holes that let the speakers connect through the shelving. I was stretched taut, nerves tense, body absorbed in itself, in him, in what we were together.

As he stepped away, I saw my family, tied, blindfolded, and gagged in front of me. My eyes flashed, my legs stiffened, but I could not move an inch. Oliver grasped my chin and forced me to his gaze.

“When this is over, you will be my everything, and I will be able to claim you completely,” he rasped. He released my face and crossed to my father.

“Him first, because he is the one you belong to. He is the one who created you. When he is gone, we will be even closer,” with that, he brought a long knife to my father’s throat and sliced, blood gurgling and spewing. I could feel the warmth of it splatter my breasts, and as it cooled, I found myself more aroused.

My father’s death had caused my mother to faint, and Oliver moved towards her, grasped her hair and jerked her head to the side.

“She should be ashamed to be a mother. She must die because she taught you about independence. You will never be free of me, Bee. You are mine. Should you ever think to behave as your mother, should you ever follow in her footsteps, ever be unfaithful, this will be your fate.” He plunged the knife, angry, into the sensitive skin below the ear, where a lover’s touch is most effective in arousing his partner. My own skin prickled and my nipples hardened at the thought of Oliver’s hands in that spot.

The babies were wailing through their gags at this point, struggling at their bonds. Their fear reminded me of my own erotic protestations, just as Oliver had meant it to.

Somewhere, dimly, I recognized the horror of the situation. Understood that I had miscalculated, misjudged, been terribly wrong, made a horrible mistake. Oliver, the being that had ceased to be other from me, was a monstrous creation, forged in violence and jealousy, a possessiveness that I had fostered in my own need for intimacy.

“Jennifer, Avery, Gemma, and Leah…these girls are innocent of all but claiming your attention. They do not deserve you, Abigail. Your kindness is too complete, and it should be reserved solely for our children.” The thought of bearing his children distracted me from the swift executions of my baby sisters. In spite of the fact that I had enmeshed my self, mi alma, with a perversion of humanity, I had done so all the same. His children would be the children of the man I loved, and my biological and emotional responses were barely affected by the fact that he had revealed himself as a sociopath. I was wet and aching.

I turned my head and looked at the four girls fathered by unknown men, the four girls I had helped raise, the four dead girls, dead at the hands of the man I loved, and felt bile rise in my throat. He rushed to my side, hands slick with the blood of my kin, and stroked my belly.

“Shhh, love. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you. I love you, I just needed to know that you’re mine and mine alone.” His hands, warmed with blood and still his hands, hands that traced my outline in the form he wishes, marked my skin with the deep hue of my family. He had taken the essence of my history, stolen my physical roots to paint his future with me on my skin.

I still responded to his touch.

He clasped my hair at the roots, pulled it back, exposing my throat, pushed my legs apart, and entered me, claiming the core of me, enslaving me to the horror of who he was. And I welcomed it. With tears tracing the new lines down my face, collecting in my gag, I climaxed, overcome with horror, hatred, and revulsion. Filled with love, longing, and completion. Entwined with him as I was, I had betrayed myself by rejecting him, I rejected myself.

And my family was dead.


It had been Doña Claudia who found us. Me still gagged and bound, blood smeared and still quaking from the intensity of my climax.

“M’ija, where is he? What has he done to you?” She looked at me, and then saw the bodies of my family.

My gag trapped my words, but my heart couldn’t let them free either, so when she removed it, all I could do was gasp, gulp air and shudder. I hadn’t seen where Oliver had gone, but I knew that he wouldn’t return.


The steam had contracted, spiraled into my pores to re-freeze, to numb out the physical realities of these horrors. As I thought of Oliver, I felt the urge to vomit. Then I felt the absence, the lack, and the removal of the parts of my soul that had been grafted to his.

I stepped out of the shower, re-dressed in Oliver’s old pajama pants and t-shirt, wrapped my father’s blanket securely around my shoulders, and picked up the coffee cup with the icy coffee filling it, hiding the dregs.

I gulped the rest of it down, ingesting the darkness again, breathing it out, continuing the cycle of denying the light. I looked into the mug, at the dregs of untold numbers of cups of coffee, and wished Doña Gracie had told my fortune after I started to bleed.


About the author

Literature is the expression of a feeling of deprivation, a recourse against a sense of something missing. But the contrary is also true: language is what makes us human. It is a recourse against the meaningless noise and silence of nature and history.

~ Octavio Paz


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