In Molly Jean Bennett’s “A Particular Woman,” the parts of a woman’s body become vibrant, unforgettable characters in themselves. The bladder is a wallflower at parties. The right knee is an outdoorsman who loves classic rock. We are proud to feature this short and stunning story as part of our New Voices series. Dive in.
A particular woman sat in the swing on her front porch and cataloged her body in bits and parts. She had been feeling out of sorts lately, and something less than solid. She ought to get herself down on paper, she thought. The moon, rising over the crumbling house across the street, appeared like a wound beneath a gauze bandage. It scattered flecks of dirty light over the particular woman and made shadowed valleys in the folds of her dress. Her body reclined but did not rest, as working bodies never do. The bits and parts expanded, contracted, clasped and unclasped.
The particular woman’s bladder had always known herself to be shy. At parties, she stood by the wall and watched other bladders whirl in tight foxtrots and quicksteps, throwing their heads back when their partners said something funny, or funny enough. But the bladder was a good bladder, a big bladder. She had served the particular woman well in long restroom queues and on bus rides to the sea. The right knee was a solid fellow, capable of blazing up rocky mountainsides in springtime. He liked hockey and classic rock, and was known to give his friends a hearty slap on the back whenever he met them by chance in the street. The left knee was a good sport, if not quite so robust as his brother. He was prone to bouts of weakness, and sometimes fainted altogether. Whenever the fainting came, he wished for a warm, dry place to be alone and think about imagist poetry.
The lower intestine was steady and well groomed. She vacuumed her bedroom twice a week and always paid the rent early. The eyes were hardly windows. They loved disco. They betrayed nothing. The sternum owned a successful machine shop. He apprenticed most of the ribs. The kidneys scolded other people’s children. The right eyelid longed to see Zanzibar. The spine lied. She once invented two ex-husbands and an abalone fortune in order to secure a free ice cream sundae. The tongue was a brilliant expressionist painter living in the wrong time. The clitoris made poor decisions with her money. On a whim, she bought expensive cuts of meat that she did not know how to cook and vacations to the Amalfi Coast. The urethra was deeply empathetic. The elbows couldn’t break dance, but often tried to at wedding receptions. The left bicep drank to excess. The pelvis loved Jesus. The gallbladder was an alcoholic too, but she hid it well. The shins had never been medicated for their depression. The liver painted pastoral scenes on sliced almonds.
The particular woman cataloged the pores and follicles. It was important to consider the peculiarities of each one. How could it not be important? There were many things to say about the surface of the skin. It was friendly and generous over the thighs. It gave baskets of homemade cookies shaped like men and horses to the neighbors at Christmas. Over the neck it was pinched and nervous. It double-locked doors and installed carbon monoxide detectors in every room.
The particular woman was almost done with her list. Pausing to rest for a moment, she leaned back in the swing. Just then, a man with a gun walked past the house. To the man with the gun, the particular woman looked just like another woman, a woman who had stolen two thousand dollars and a prize rabbit with soft, soft fur from him. That woman had fucked him so sweetly on the old couch in the attic that he imagined the blue-eyed babies they would have. She left in the middle of the night. The man with the gun was wrapped in a rage so thick he believed that not one person had felt like this before. He had fathered and mothered a new emotion. He raised his gun and shot the particular woman. The bullet lodged itself in the meaty chambers of her heart.
The heart had always been a dreamer. She was often caught staring out of windows, her gaze fixed on a solitary petal blowing across the yard. Since she was small, she’d taken on craft projects that she was never able to finish. Once, she set about crocheting a yellow, floor-length ball gown. The heart had been able to see it so clearly in her mind. It would have spread out like a circus tent when she spun in the moonlight. It would have gleamed and gleamed.