map Paring

by Keely Brice

Published in Issue No. 291 ~ August, 2021


As Julixa was frying an egg for lunch, she had a vision:  

Torches flickered in her peripheral, the ground dropped away on all sides like stairs on a pyramid.  Hands flew up to her face.  In them, a halved coconut.  Filled with blood.  There was a great flash of light, and against the white of the coconut flesh, the blood was tangerine orange.  Far below, a drumbeat.  The hands brought the coconut up further, tilted it, and Julixa’s lips met the rim.

I want an egg,” said Julixa’s three-year-old, Rosie.

“You just had lunch,” Julixa replied.

“I want an egg.”

Julixa slid the egg onto her plate, alongside some stir-fried vegetables and a tortilla, and passed it to Rosie.  She cracked another egg into the skillet.  

Rosie lanced the yoke and licked, stuck her fingers into it and raised it into the air.  “My egg has worms in it,” she joked.  Then she launched herself from her stool and scrambled from the room on her hands and knees.  Julixa hollered after her to wash her hands.  She wiped the yoke from the floor, the stool, the kitchen island.  Then she slid her egg onto the plate and fixed her burrito.  


Julixa’s hands—

they could: cut wooden detailing on a jigsaw to maintain their Victorian home, sew a fairy costume out of a first communion gown from Goodwill, write an article in half a day, grow kale, squash, corn, tomatoes, and cantaloupes in the raised bed in the front yard.  

Early one morning, an opossum got into the chicken coop in the back.  Julixa’s husband, Rob, heard the chickens screaming and ran out.  The opossum had attacked their favorite hen, and blood gushed from a gash in her chest.  Rob wanted to euthanize her.  It was Julixa’s hands that cleaned the wound and stitched her up, and she’d lived another three years.

Julixa was sitting on the front stoop with the BB gun in her hand, waiting for the squirrels.  The tendrils of the squash and cantaloupe snaked long and thick over the entire front yard.

She looked down at her lap, where her left hand drummed on the butt.  Rob had bought her emerald engagement ring on their trip to Tulum.  It had frosted over from a glinting baguette to a murky rectangle, but in sunlight, it glowed, and she looked at it often.  Her nails weren’t long, and she never painted them, but they were nicely shaped.  Julixa had always found nail-biting to be one of the most disgusting habits.  All those germs, the grime, the crunching.

  Her phone chirped to announce she had an email from an agent who had requested a full-read of her manuscript six months ago.  I found myself cheering the protagonist from the beginning, he had written without a salutation, but by the end, you’d set me up for devastation.  Accidental death, suicide, perhaps the ex murders her? So much to admire in the pacing, tone, and details.  Would you consider ramping up the climax, paring it down to 80,000 words, and resubmitting?

She had the vision again.  Bugs screeching from the darkness this time, but the same hands, the coconut, the blood clinging in graceful arches where it had touched the sides.

It reminded her of her final month in pregnancy when she’d had a momentary vision of breastfeeding or the urge to squat and push, and she knew it was primality preparing her for what was to come.  

Julixa chewed at a mosquito bite on the inside of her right wrist.  Her spit watered down the blood, and when she pulled her wrist away from her mouth with a smack, the mixture seeped pink and streaky.

The corn rustled, and she looked up, aimed the gun.  A squirrel had made it all the way to the ear, and the whole plant was bowed and about to snap.  She squeezed the trigger and the squirrel dropped to the ground, spasming.  Julixa’s five-year-old son, Ben, ran out the front door and down to the squirrel.  

“He’s dead!” he howled.

“I’d only meant to scare him off.  I must have hit him in the head.” 

“You killed him!” he picked up the small carcass with both hands and brought it to her.

“I’m sorry, Boo, but we need to make sacrifices if we ever want to harvest these vegetables.”


She’d been working on her resubmission for a month now.  The ending of the novel was out of sync with the tone of the book.  

Once she had loved her protagonist, Iris.  She’d dreamt about her, had cheered vehemently with all ten fingertips when Iris took risks and achieved epiphanies.  Julixa had worried when Iris made dreadful choices or behaved badly.  Now Iris was dead to Julixa.  Dead, literally.  

Rob waltzed into her office and tried to read over her shoulder.

“What?” she asked and turned to block him from the screen.

“Have you had a chance to look at the rotten wood on the dormers?” he asked.

“No.  I’ll call a carpenter tomorrow.”

He rolled his eyes.  Ever since she’d quit her job as a reporter to work on her novel full time, he’d begun nagging her to use every skill she had to make up the slack.

Ben and Rosie were squabbling in the next room.

Julixa fought back the urge to throw the computer right through the widow.  

Instead, she clapped it shut and looked out at the raised bed.  The squirrels had eaten all the corn, and the tomatoes were wilted.

After Rob left, she got back to work.  Her tendon twanged under her skin, below her teeth.


“You’ve got a topical infection,” her doctor said.  “I’ll prescribe an antibiotic, and you’ll need to clean and dress the wound, and put on a topical cream every morning and night.”

On the way home, the steering wheel was firm and hard, like the coconut.  She bent her lips and savored the blood.

After she’d sent off her resubmission, she felt an instant of relief, and then anxiousness.  It would likely take the agent months to get back if he wrote back at all.  The pages and emails darted over the fiberoptics at the speed of light but died in New York.  Or wherever the agents read and deleted them.  

She read the last five pages of the manuscript, sucking on the tendon and pushing severed veins back and forth with her tongue.  

The doctor debrided the wound every week now.  Julixa had been on antibiotics for four weeks.  The doctor talked about staph infection.  She got another doctor to review her case.

Fever came, went, multiplied the details in the vision.  They lasted long enough to see the gold rings on the hands, that the flash of light was an explosion from a distant volcano.  Sometimes a feather or fly floated in the blood.  It tasted salty and metallic, like ink or the BB gun against her cheek.


After Julixa got home from the hospital, she found that typing with one hand was slower than dictation, so she talked to her computer.  She was working on another draft of the novel, this one for a new agent who wanted the pacing to be faster, the beginning to start at Chapter Five.  The agent who wanted the explosive ending had written back.  You have done what I’ve asked, but this draft doesn’t work for me, he said.

Julixa talked to her computer in her office, the coffee shop, at the doctor’s, and at the dinner table.  Rob wore a headset when he was home.  The children told their friends about Julixa’s characters as though they were all living out the novel.  Rosie’s preschool teacher told Julixa that Rosie said her Aunt Iris’s ex-boyfriend had killed her.

No one talked about the hand, but Ben sometimes stared at the stump.  Julixa stroked his hair with the other hand.  I’m still me, she would say, There’s a lot of me left, Boo.


By the time she finished this next draft, she’d burned her left wrist trying to juggle a pot one-handed.  The blistering wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been on the most delicate part of her wrist, just above her hand, where all the veins were so close to the surface.

As she worked on her next book and waited to hear back from agents, she blew on the blisters, and then she nibbled at them between sentences.  The AI on her computer learned to discern her words even through a toothful of skin.

The vision had shortened and occurred several times per day: she would take the coconut with one hand and down the blood.


One night, Rob noticed the pustules on her left wrist.    

He grabbed her hand, and his eyes grew wide.  “What is this?”

She looked back hard and shook her head.  As with the right wrist, she only worked at it when no one was looking. “I burned myself, and I can’t take care of it with only one hand.”

He got out the tub of supplies that she’d used to care for the stump, and he carefully rubbed the ointment into the new wound.  Then he bandaged it and held her close that night. “Jules, Jules.  If you ever need help, you come to me.”

For the entire next week, he cared for both wounds, and she’d not written nor had the vision.

Then the agent who wanted the new beginning emailed offering representation.


The agent quickly found her an editor.  Julixa locked herself in her study to work on the final draft of the draft with the new beginning, and now she was adding a new ending because she’d discussed the new old ending with the editor, and she liked it but had some modifications of her own.

Julixa dictated to the computer between mouthfuls of skin and blood.  Her tendons sprung between her teeth like pages against fingers.  The blood smudged her desk, her face, the back of her neck.  Pooled in her lap.  Ran down her legs and dripped onto the floor.


On the morning of her book release party, the literature professor from the university that was hosting her reading came to help her dress.  She would also stand beside Julixa during the reading and turn the pages.

“Could you please fasten that on me?” Julixa asked.  With her stump, she pushed her emerald ring at the woman. Even though she was divorced, she wore it around her neck on a chain.

“Anything else?” 

“I have a hard time with door handles since I can’t talk to them.” Julixa laughed. “If you could please leave the door cracked.” 

After the woman left, she called Rob.

“Well, good luck,” he said.

 “Will you bring the kids to a reading someday?”

 “Probably not.” He sighed.  “Hey, Jules?”


“Was it worth it?”

In the hotel mirror, her image pushed her stumps together, the sleeves of her blouse rushed to meet, and she looked like a priestess.  

“I still have arms, Robert.” 

“And your next book?”


Julixa’s arms— 

they could: pull her out of bed, hold a glass between the two stumps, shoulder a backpack, open a laptop, wave at a friend.  They could hug her children.

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Keely Brice lives in Bentonville, Arkansas. Her forthcoming novel, Hard and Breakable, is about two people who meet when their partners die in the same national tragedy. Brice received an Artist 360 Award and grant through the Mid-America Arts Alliance to complete the latest draft.