The girl left footsteps in the forest. She had just lost her head.
The loss of brain matter and skin was no issue, however, for it had all been replaced by a big, puffy flower. She listened to the chirps of small birds she would never see. She did not bleed; she did not weep. It seemed right, well deserved, just.
She paused, feeling her new self, the vibrant violet petals dancing in the wind above her head.
Out of the black, a voice spoke out. It was deep, one of an old man almost ready to die. “What are you doing here, girl?” it said.
The girl turned around. A lemur stared back at her from atop a branch of a leafless tree. “What are you doing here, girl?” it asked again, the eyelids that covered his neon-yellow eyes blinking thrice.
Hands attached to her hips, leaning forward, she shouted: “My name is not ‘girl’! My name is Poire!”
The lemur cackled. “What a funny name that is, girl. But perhaps you should not be yelling at me for having no knowledge of what you had yet to tell me, hm? This forest can be a scary place. You should not have making enemies marked as a priority on your list.”
Poire expected a large man to step out from behind the bark at any given moment, yet nobody came. “What list?” she asked after a minute, playing with her braid that should have been there but wasn’t.
“If you ceased to twirl your imaginary fur and looked down, you would see it, girl.”
“I will hit you if you continue to call me girl, Mister Lemur,” she told him, but nevertheless obeyed the order and peeked at the dirt beneath her shoes.
There was, in fact, a list.
Poire crouched over. She picked up the crumpled piece of paper and squinted at the faint squiggles with boxes at their ends. “Does this belong to you?”
She held up the note.
The lemur shook his head. “Why, it belongs to you, of course,” he said.
Poire frowned, delicately dusting off the bits of leaves that clung to the ivy dress she received yesterday, before reading the list aloud.
“One, make enemies— Hey! I never wrote this!” Poire stomped her feet. Her shoes sank a little deeper into the soil. The noise of nearby crickets grew louder until they sounded like unbearable screeches. Poire covered the empty space where her ears should’ve been. “Make them stop!” she cried, shutting her eyes tight.
The crickets ceased. With the exception of the swinging leaves that caressed one another in gentle sways, the whole forest went silent.
Poire’s arms dropped back to her sides.
She faced the lemur. “Now then,” he purred, “why don’t you read the list, girl?”
Poire took a deep breath. She felt conflicted. Yet, left with no choice but to glue her eyes to the paper and mouth words she believed were not hers, she asked, “If I do it, will you tell me more about this place?”
“Of course,” the lemur said. “In fact, you might actually learn more by reading your list.”
Poire did not like the way he referred to the list as hers, nor did she appreciate the sharp edges in the corners of his voice. She huffed, puffed, and looked up and down before finally bringing the writings to her face. “One,” she started again, “make enemies. Make sure they hate you. Two, reveal the liars. Three, don’t kiss the toad. Four, eat a finger, but not two… Christ, this is disgusting, must I really—”
“Read the list, girl. Read it all.”
“Very well.” Poire sighed and listened to the paper crinkling between her little fingers. “Five, look to the moon. And six, remember.” She paused. “Remember? Remember what?”
The lemur shrugged. “Who knows?” he said. “You’re the one who wrote it.”
“For the last time, I didn’t! I don’t remember writing—” She paused. “Oh.”
“It still makes no sense,” she said. “How in the world would I know in advance that I would forget?”
Again, the lemur told her: “Who knows. You’re the one who wrote it.” However, this time, he did not just stop there. “In either case, it is quite the list, girl,” he said. “What will you choose to make of it?”
“I suppose that no matter what I do, you won’t ever call me by my name, will you?”
“Aha! A question for question.”
“And a pear-flavored pie for a pear-flavored pie.”
“You do not take eyes?”
“I’d rather have a pie.”
“Enjoy closing your eyes, do you?”
“I just like sweet things.”
“Fair enough. I will take that answer.”
The wind sped up, ruffling Poire’s petals and her companion’s fur. Poire thought she could smell the scent of grass not too far away, but then she had another thought: that this was all ridiculous! I do not have a nose, after all.
“It’s very black and white.”
“What is?” said the lemur.
Poire looked down to her feet. “The list,” she murmured over the lemur’s sudden outburst of laughter.
“That it is. That we are.” The animal smirked; or at least, it looked like a smirk to Poire. “Why don’t you go home, girl?”
“I don’t want to go back,” Poire said. “I live with a pig, a snake, and a monkey, and they don’t understand me.”
“Then,” the lemur chuckled, climbing further up his branch, “why don’t you tell me about it?”
“Do you really have time for that?” she blurted, though it was her having time for it that was her true worry. It was getting dark, and Poire didn’t understand how the passing of seasons, how the colors shifting and seeming either eternal or short-lived, worked here. But even so, returning to her special place was something Poire could not do—not now, and perhaps not ever.
“Of course,” the lemur told her. “We always have time here.” The sides of his mouth ignored gravity. He showed Poire his fangs.
Poire’s legs grew stiff. She nodded, agreeing to tell the animal her story; however, she also quite yearned for a seat. As if answering her call, a large tree fell to its doom, landing right next to Poire’s flimsy figure. The girl almost screamed—but the keyword here is almost, lest we forget she was missing a mouth. And so, the only sounds that came out of her throat were strange gurgles and groans and syllables she wished she could have pronounced right but couldn’t, for the forest could hear the girl’s thoughts alone, and nothing more.
The lemur watched in silence, waiting until Poire had calmed herself.
She took a seat at atop the tree’s body. “I woke up again. To the same old ceiling with a crack in the middle the snake never wanted to fix.” As if given a cue, the birds began to chirp again. “She didn’t want to fix it, because she thought it was a sign.”
“Yes.” Poire nodded. “A sign from God.”
Poire thought back to her earliest memories, where she still had a face, a home, goals and ambitions to dream about. “I remember getting up,” she told the lemur. “I remember staring into a mirror and hating what I looked like.”
“Because,” she said, “everything was either too big, too small, too round, or simply not good enough.”
The lemur cackled. “What a classic human worry,” he said. “What else do you remember, girl?”
Poire closed her eyes.
She felt it, as if it were really happening right now, the slap across her face, a delightful gift from the posh girl that sat next to her in class. She saw herself walking down the corridor as she tried to convince her teacher the act was unprovoked. “I swear I did nothing!” Poire shouted, until they arrived at the principal’s office, and the principal gave her the usual reply—We can do nothing about it—followed by a shrug and two extra pieces of homework where Poire was to write lists concerning things she should and should not do.
Poire sighed. Papers in hand, eyeing the gray streets filled with cars and smoke that stood before her, she walked home alone. People often stared. This left Poire to guess whether it was her braces, her long, curly red head of hair, or her way of walking like she’d just been beaten with huge sticks, that attracted their attention. Sometimes, she remembered what her previous teacher had told her in grade school before she graduated: It’s all in your mind. And it worked for a while. But when the kids took her out near the back of the school at recess and threw rocks at Poire, It’s all in your mind stopped working, and Poire went from mildly hopeful to downright miserable.
Clearing her throat, she paused at her door, which was guarded by a lion’s head that clearly outdated the building itself. She knocked once, gentle and soft, as if a newborn were sleeping inside. Poire listened to the sound of a key turning very slowly inside its lock. Her gaze met with an eye that stared at her from behind the slightly opened slit of the door. “Is that you, honey?” a trembling voice asked.
“It’s me, Mom,” Poire groaned, shivering from the cold winds that tickled her ankles. “Could you let me in?”
Poire’s mother hummed, her gaze darting left, then right. “Are you sure they didn’t follow you home?” Her words were hushed, like someone else other than the crippled leaves beneath Poire’s feet could’ve been listening.
“Mom, they’re not here, nobody’s here, just let me in,” the girl snapped as she tried to pry the door open with brute force alone. She paused upon hearing sniffles. “Mom, are you crying?”
Her mother opened the door. The old wood creaked. “I’m sorry, honey. You know I only want what’s best for you,” she said.
Poire nodded. “I know. You say that every day. My memory isn’t that bad.”
“Good. Now then, come in, but take your shoes off near the door. And please, take some of this,” Poire mother said, and waited until Poire held out her hands. She sprinkled holy water across her skin and let out a sigh of relief. “Good. That’s great, honey. Now they won’t get us.”
The imaginary demons from outside? Poire wanted to say. How long will it take you to realize none of this is real, Mom? But images of her mother crying for four days straight, her mother believing Poire was possessed due to the refusal of her absurd requests, flashed through Poire’s mind.
In the end, she simply thanked her, running past her younger brother, who dashed around the living room like the hyperactive child he was, before walking up the steps to her bedroom.
Discarding her backpack, Poire let her body drop against her old mattress. She looked to the ceiling. It was still cracked. She closed her eyes, and wondered, Is there any pie left for me in the kitchen fridge?