It began with her teeth. It always does, really. Every transformation begins with the teeth.
When she was eight, she started dreaming about her teeth falling out. The phantom version of her held them in its chubby hands, holding them out like a desperate offering. A plea. Sometimes they were frightening: little, white structures with edges sharp enough to draw blood. Sometimes they were friendly: big and rotund with yellow undertones. Sometimes they were paper-light, like a cluster of rice hulls. Sometimes they were heavy as stones. But most of the time they were ordinary. Imperfect. Plain. Neither sinister nor smooth. Sad replicas of her own.
She would wake up drenched in sweat, her pajamas clinging onto her pale skin like film paper. Her fingers would reach for her mouth, tracing the lines of her pink gum to ensure that no mishap had occurred — that everything was in its rightful place and was its expected shape.
One Saturday, at dinnertime, she decided to tell her parents about the dreams. Her father told her it was nothing. She chose not to believe him; he hated all things that were unusual. He hated the improper and the weird. He killed stray cats that defecated on their porch, hunted birds and stepped on small things. Her mother smiled and told her not to worry. ‘People dream about that all the time. It just means that you are growing up. You’ll be a young woman before you know it!’ She wanted to trust her, but couldn’t. There was a foolish innocence, a juvenility in her mother’s smile that made her inexplicably hopeless.
That night, before going to sleep, she stood in front of the mirror in her parents’ bathroom with her purple toothbrush. Her arm moved with a machine-like precision, attacking every gap and dent. When she spat, a pink streak curled down the drain, tainting the snow-like foam. That was the day she realized she was capable of destruction.
When she was ten, her parents took her to the zoo for an exhibition on snakes. Glass boxes, the size of a crib, were displayed underneath the soft, dim lighting inside the dingy, fake caves. There were hundreds of snakes in every colour from places that she hadn’t heard of. The placards were peppered with odd names that resonated within her like fairytale characters. She hadn’t come across binomial nomenclature in class. As far as she was concerned, they were codes for bigger kids.
Amidst the sheer humidity of the place, the pythons looked at her with wide, beckoning eyes, as if urging her to curl them around her neck like jewels. Her fingers traced their outlines on the dirty glass, tempting her to claw at it and free them. For a second, she swore she could see her fingernails turning sharper. She shivered at the queer temptation and the stupid notion, shoving them down into her pockets like dirty dimes.
That night, her mother tucked her into bed, making sure she had bathed herself clean after the long day. Later, her father scolded her mother for coddling her. She fell asleep in an almost psychedelic haze, thoughts swirling into a rendition of her parents’ voices and colours and furs and scales. She dreamt of being enveloped inside a bear and waking up as a new beast.
The next morning, the news reported that there had been a major breakout at the local zoo. That was the day she realized that she too was entitled to freedom.
When she was sixteen, she stood in front of her bedroom mirror, naked. She was a landscape, rolling hills and dark forests framed with snow, soil tracks, and bright constellations. She knew that, but it did not matter to her now. She saved the thought for later, storing it in a zip-lock bag and putting it inside her wardrobe. There was a matter more pressing to be dealt with.
On the small of her back, an itch was materializing. She reached for it, her arm now elongated and more muscular than it was years before. In her fingers, she felt a dangling metal tag.
She unzipped herself and out cascaded a set of wings, stretching for miles, crushing the houses into colourful chunks and crisp pieces. Her mother screamed a string of words from the bedroom upstairs, but she no longer understood them.
She reached for the little chains on her tiny feet, jerking them upwards. They turned into two powerful hind legs, coated with coarse furs, no longer looking like the weak, thin poles that transported her from one place to the next.
Finally, she made four incisions on her cheeks, then cracked her ribs open and tore her lungs out. They were no longer needed, no longer imperative for her existence. Her backbone curved like a roller coaster track and her young skin stretched, sprouting scales that reflected luminous rays of light on her bedroom walls.
She was a new creature and she was glorious. The human inside her, trapped with smooth angles and blossomed cheeks, whispered for her to stay. But she knew that they would shun her like they shunned every other wild thing that came to them. They would break her. They would disjoint her and put her in a plastic bag, drowning and deprived of willing pulses.
So she turned, let out a cry and flew into freedom.
'Metamorphosis' was published in our 10th issue, The Wild Issue, which has now sold out. To ensure that you never miss a future issue of the print magazine, subscribe from just £10 a year.