KRISTINE ONG MUSLIM
How Conrad Came Back
Two knocks on the door. My father let him in.
Conrad wanted to talk about his trip,
but his tongue kept on sliding out of his mouth.
I told him to push it back. Hard. He did.
And the tongue was hinged back in.
He said there was too much to eat out there.
Thanks to Mrs. Kelly’s surgical skills, he looked too human
and how the girls swooned and sometimes followed him home.
My mother insisted he get some rest.
His skin flaps were starting to slough off.
I quickly wiped away the blood, and I discovered that his flesh
was like sugared sun. I remembered what Grampa said: We were
all yellow inside. That wrong shade of yellow—the color of the gods.
I smiled at the memory. “We’ll fix that later,” I said to Conrad.
He nodded. His chest gaped open at the motion of his head.
I saw something ticking inside. It was not his heart.
How Conrad Got His Revenge
Before he went out the door on his way to school,
I asked one more time: “Do you have the camera?”
My little brother nodded, grinned. I patted his tuft of hair
slowly so as not to disturb the glued flaps of skin underneath.
Yesterday, he arrived home with his right hand dangling from
its socket. I found him crying on top of the stairs.
He did not imagine that it could be that painful
when his makeshift human part was injured.
His classmates had bullied him. I knew. He insisted that
it was an accident. Pain had its prerogative; it gathered strength
in waves—one after the other—until he could not take it anymore
and finally confessed. I sewed the arm back into place.
Then I gave him the family’s camera, ordered him
to take a snapshot of whoever did this to him. “Just one shot
will do,” I reassured him. And that was enough to comfort him.
Tonight, I would develop the picture,
scissor the damned bully nice and slow.
How Conrad Fell in Love
Over family dinner, we tried to talk him out of it.
“Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” my father said.
Conrad was about to say something.
I squeezed his hand to make him stop. It crackled.
“Don’t worry,” I whispered over a mouthful
of grass, earth, and dark river water. A family recipe.
“I’ll weld the broken bones later. Just don’t make
father angry.” The feral cat-dog was whimpering
under the table. Mother shooed it away.
“Conrad, honey,” mother cooed. “Love is only for humans.
You are somewhere up there in the food chain.
And that girl’s hair has clogged our drain pipe.”
Conrad bowed his head, and I knew that he would think about her
tonight, how she had clawed at him when he lifted off his face
and how she had called him a “monster, monster, ugly beast.”
I would drag that girl into the kitchen tonight, keep her alive
for a while, make her understand what monster love was all about.
Kristine Ong Muslim has been published in hundreds of publications worldwide. Her poems and stories have appeared in Issue 3 of A cappella Zoo, Boston Review, Coe Review, Fifth Wednesday, GlassFire Magazine, Grasslimb, Hobart, Minnetonka Review, Narrative Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, Other Poetry, Pank, Southword, and Tipton Poetry Journal. She has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize and four times for the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Rhysling Award. Her publication credits are listed here.