This story is paired with Chapter 2 of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
I call him The Gingerbread Man. He follows me in disguise, in the shape of flies, hovering beneath an unfamiliar ceiling, a ceiling that isn’t mine. He’s attached to me at the soul looking for some sort of control, manifesting as shadow. Overflowing with physics with physical resistance to gravity, I see the shape of him on the periphery of my vision as I brace myself for the decision of our collision.
I feel him kick me in the lung, and I have a craving for milk and rabbit meat. When I burn my mouth on the stew, made from the roux I simmered and browned until it was time for the final showdown, my body rocks and starts to split open; down the center. In the din of airplanes and the memories of ravens, he turns over in my belly and knows what my heart sounds like from the inside. He’s as nimble as a spoon, the soft weight in my womb whispers of recipes unmade. Shreds of rabbit meat steep in my bowl, steaming and teaming no longer with life.
The stew will be thick as flies and thieves.
As a little girl, my mother floated into my room the way coffee smells brewing, asked me what I was doing, scavenging for something unseen but not unknown, under the covers, under my bed, inside of books, inside of my head. I told her she had brown eyes like my brother, The Gingerbread Man. She lit a cigarette and it curled her hair. I scared her then, with the mention of the little boy that we did not share.
The Gingerbread Man and his shadow, an eighty-years-long affliction, ended with my great-grandmother on the floor of a kitchen. My great-grandmother: a twelve-year-old married to a grown man. She gave birth twice by age sixteen. I feel naked when I learn this. It’s a fact that my five-year-old grandmother never questioned, a fact worn down by innocence and time. The only memory of her mother that survives, of which my grandmother is absolutely certain, is that she found her mother bleeding on the floor of the kitchen. And as the mother lay dying, she told her daughter to never be alone with her uncle and to stay away from coat hangers. My grandmother slept next her mother, there on the floor, until her mother’s brown eyes weren’t brown anymore.
Secrets keep slipping into my hands. “It was too much to bear,” my mother said. My mother, gold and slender like bananas, with her hair spilling down her back in curtains, smelled of cigarettes and coconut oil. Her Sicilian skin browned by living across the street from the ocean. She was lovely when she rode her bicycle in butter cream skirts and cherry-red beach walkers, her toenails white as mouse skulls against her tanned flesh, the glint of her knees and calves in the sunlight, a tapestry of semi-sweet chocolate hair flaring in the autumn air behind her. My mother confesses that before I was born she had an abortion, and ever since she’s seen the distortion that follows me around.
And there he is in the cookbook: a recipe without a name. “He’s counting on you to finish the recipe.” My eyes are wide, this cookbook harbors a hundred years inside; the binding loose at the spine like oranges and rinds.
I can trace my face back to Sicily through the lines of my grandmother. We are the same, she and I, the way we both do not smile for photographs. She tells me she sees her mother in me, our eyes not brown, but sad just the same. I kiss my baby’s flesh; this baby that I’ve waited my entire life to see, whose soul used to live on the periphery. His skin is soft, fuzzy with birth, but cool and delicate like a porcelain teacup, harboring a hundred years inside. Even though I know if I lay a hand upon this teacup, it will snap, but I clutch my baby anyway. I kiss his tiny baby lips, his skin so smooth and cool it’s scary.
The pages of the cookbook pentagram a process more science than fiction: wires, resistors, bread boxes, and, our good ole buddy, 220 Volt—direct from the main line.
He was a recipe without a name.
As I plug the contraption into the wall, a charge of alternating current to jumpstart his little heart, I tell him, since he’s no longer the shadowy Gingerbread Man with a disembodied stare, “I change your name to Mooncakes; yours has been a recipe I was born to prepare.”
The rabbit meat stew has long gone cold beside my spoon, and I remember this day as the day I gave birth to the moon.
Attached at the soul, he’s caught in my own gravitational pull.
Jilly Dreadful wrote the libretto for Light & Power: A Tesla/Edison Story, a chamber opera composed by Isaac Schankler, starring a gender-bent Nikola Tesla during the War of the Currents with Thomas Edison.