Before he planted a clove of garlic in her vagina, he peeled off its skin, stripping one layer away at a time, like coaxing off a band aid taped to the remaining sliver of finger flesh that had not been skimmed off by a mandolin. Then he inserted the clove with his right hand, index finger poking and probing so the sprout would grow the right way, and rubbed her stomach with his left hand, drawing circles around her navel, the same way he’d twirl a test tube of egg and sperm—around and around as though repetition would coax something to grow. It’s a nutritious environment in there, he said. She shifted her legs, the clove wedged deeper than she could reach, so deep she wondered if he had misplaced it, if she’d have to insert a fishing wire down her throat and into her intestines, rummaging around, puncturing every wall until there was nowhere to hide, no part unseen.
Over the next few weeks, she stopped cleaning the kitchen counter, putting away the dried clothing hanging on the balcony, separating the defrosted chicken even though she used to love cutting along the joints—where they folded and softened, positioned perfectly for a knife to rest. Too tired to even sneak bites of kimchi and Bing cherries, she slept. The clove sprouted. Thin, green leaves and roots emerged from between her legs like hairs. She rummaged for the scissors buried under stacks of previous months’ utility bills and receipts. Holding the blade beneath her labia, the metal pressed against her clitoris, she snipped. Bits of green and white and red fell to the ground.
But the sprout grew back faster and longer. Eventually, he caught her in the act, her skirt hiked to her waist and underwear hanging on her ankles, trimming the plant. He locked the scissors in his safe where he kept his gun and passport. Just let it grow, he said. Instead, she dug her fingers into the shoots and ripped them out, chlorophyll staining the corners of her nails and deep into her fingertip skin fissures, as though she bled green instead of red. The sprouts returned the next morning, as though she had never ripped out anything. But as a precaution, he taped her fingers together. Just because the vagina is an optimal growth environment doesn’t mean you should be actively destroying the sprouts. He ripped off another piece of duct tape and wrapped it around her thumb and the other four fingers, a skin-tight mitten. That’s what they do in mental hospitals—jam mittens on you so you won’t tamper with meds, she said.
The roots emerged from between her thighs, curling outward until they wrapped around her calves. Several sprouts had also grown in the opposite direction, puncturing holes through her vagina wall, climbing upward until they exited through her mouth and nostrils. And wasn’t it amazing how the clove grew to overpower its host? A testament to the strength of your body, he claimed. Only the strong sacrifice themselves to build something greater.
Twenty days passed and she had stopped sleeping in bed, preferring to stand beside the window under direct sun, letting the sprouts soak in light. She placed a pot of soil beside the window and dug her feet in until dirt covered her ankles. Then she worked the roots from between her legs into the soil, handling each thread like it needed to be serenaded and put to rest under a duvet of earth. At her center, sitting what seemed like an eternity’s distance away from her labia, was a whole garlic, its new bulbs sprouting green tips the size of wishbones, dwarfed by the original clove whose shoots had grown to fill her mouth and ears. There was more room though. She was sure she could fit more garlic bulbs—vaginas expanded, didn’t they? I can fit the universe in here, she mumbled, tongue maneuvering the sprouts to one side. Don’t get ahead of yourself, you hardly stretch, he laughed.
When the sprouts filled her mouth, she had already gotten used to communicating with grunts, not that she needed much from him besides the occasional water. Her stomach swelled. She forgot what the lack of garlic smelled like. The roots had wrapped around her toes, winding into the ground, tethered deep into the soil. She could not move her feet, nor did she need to.
When she stopped moving entirely, he brought a pair of shears and positioned the blades between her legs, hacking away at the roots. Once he had cleared enough space, he reached a hand towards the apex of her thighs and dipped one finger in, then another, pulling at the starts of the roots until they snapped off. He pushed his hand deeper until he felt a bulb and scooped them out with his index and middle finger. After pulling out two bulbs, he placed them on a cutting board and slammed the flat side of a knife into them. He crushed and minced until his hands smelled pungent and sulfur-like. Then he tossed them into a wok of heated peanut oil, the sizzle crackling like lightning before a downpour. As he left to take out the trash full of severed roots, the garlic bits blackened. Smoke rose from the pan like clouds. She could not smell the burning or hear the alarm blaring. She watched. She could only watch.
Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Up the Staircase Quarterly, Chestnut Review, Black Warrior Review and elsewhere. Her work is included in Best Microfiction 2021 and Best Small Fictions 2021, was a finalist in Best of the Net 2020 and long listed in the Wigleaf Top 50. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.