The Whispers Have Always Been Here

by Emily Perkovich

There has never been an exit. There is only the lingering. When did the voices start? There was never an onslaught. I am on my knees, picnicking scraps of my dignity, before I know the word. I feel the tongue of my flesh alight before I hear the buzz of their wind song.

Is it ok to begin with the obvious?

I’m in the kitchen cutting lemons. I let this wash over me. I let it stain my finger-tips and bask in the complacency of the way the citrus will stick to the countertops. The pulp softens, releases, blood spurts to land on the glinting, rose flecks in the marble. I can remember telling admirers and guests that we moved here for the kitchen. I just couldn’t resist copper appliances and a farmhouse sink. The window sash reminded me of my childhood. The light hits the floorboards just right at midday, and the dust motes play in desaturation. The lie is less heavy than the truth.

How do I say that I chose this house for the feel of the grass between my toes? “Just look at the garden!” is too close to reality. Better to blame the kitchen.

From the street you can watch the way the house stretches, two, white-washed stories, ready to greet the sun. The porch fetal-position, cradles the front and sides, and roses flourish about the foundation. There are enough trees and foliage on the property line that the fence surrounding it is unnecessary, rendered an aesthetic. I like the way the ivy climbs between the slats. I have found myself praying for it to creep across me in the night. To cover the back chimney, slither through my open window, and wrap me in chest-tightening, forced sleep. I know what it will say when it comes.

I head for the door at the back of the house, lemons in hand. In a patch of bright sunlight is a pitcher of tea. I pick up the decanter and drop in my offering. I should go back inside. The dahlias shush at the far end of the yard. The sweet-pea titters. I feel my face heating as goosebumps rise across my legs. The grass is in need of cutting, and as the wind comes through, it bends towards me, imploring, begging for my attention.


Is it ok to begin with the obvious?

The whispers have always been here.

The breeze pulls my hair away from my face, cools the sweat at my collar bones. I slip out of my shoes, my grip slackens.

“cora,” the sigh washes over me as the whispers breathe out my name. The pitcher falls from my hand, shatters. Sugared tea and lemon spread across the bricks. The sticky liquid slips between my toes, and I am undeterred. I close my eyes, lifting my face into the wind. The hem of my skirt is dancing between my legs, bringing wet heat. My right foot comes down on broken glass. The blood is immediate. I am snapped open. The moment not ending, but seeping around and out of me. No. I should go back inside. The breeze settles. I limp back to the kitchen, anger pulsing with each rush of blood.

Inside, I curse the flight of stairs and then curse the claw-foot tub in the bathroom. Its high walls mean I have to climb into the bath to wash the blood and muddy tea from my feet. I am dripping scarlet on the tile as I wait for the water to become a tolerable temperature, and my mind is settling into all of the cleanup that this one moment has caused. I twist the knobs, wait for the bite of cold to even out before I lift myself in. I can’t seem to get the water right. I watch my toes reddening, and my brain chimes in with one of its classic misfires, whispers I’m cold, as sweat drips down my spine.

It ebbs and flows out, boiling me in my own reflection, but the red never seems a bright enough shade. The blisters never bubble at the rate I had hoped.

I want to watch myself disappear.

I want the muscles to thrust their way to the surface and the bones to crack on the tide.

I want to watch the way I fall apart.

I want to fill the bath with dirt then drown in muddy banks.

I sink in, fully clothed, but I do not plug the drain. I feel the backs of my thighs burning, and press my body down, ears between my legs. My feet are no longer bleeding, and the water is clear, but I can still smell copper. It hangs around, bitter and sharp. I lift my face, remembering the hot moisture that I had felt in the garden. I stick my hand between my legs, and it comes out stained with the pink, new blood of beginning. This is too much. I bury my head between my knees and let the steam lull me.

The bathtub has always been a safe place. Mama had a temper. She would stumble around the trailer, slamming doors, shouting, stomping, but she never looked in the tub. I would curl up, pull the shower curtain around, and wait out the storm. Most times, she would pass out on the couch, but some nights I’d find her, limbs splayed, commandeering the entire bed. Sleeping on the couch meant the whispers would keep me awake all night.


It seeped in under the door. It would rattle around in my chest, my head. The hush was always floating over me when I was alone.

I dream of my mama. She enters the bathroom, feet bleeding, cigarette hanging from her right hand. Her nightgown has a rose pattern, barely discernible through the stains. I am still in my dress with the water swirling around at my feet, and she climbs in facing me, pushes her legs between my thighs, so I am spread wide-open around her. The tub fills quickly, blood swirling between our legs. Her skin is waxy, dripping down her face. She is screaming and the water is roiling and the blood is thickening across the surface, turning everything sticky and viscous. My lungs tighten and my chest feels heavy, and the tap is off, but the blood is pouring out of my eyes and my nose and my ears and between my legs, faster now. The hot, metallic syrup is up to my waist. My mama is screaming. My mouth will not open. I am closed up. My tears come out thick and crimson. I hear the whispers over her screaming. They are calling me, as always. My stomach cramps, and I dig my nails into my lips, trying to release the noise the pain wants to let out through my mouth. I tear crescent bites into the skin, unable to break the seal. The pressure is building, my mama’s whimpering shouts pushing their way inside of me and clenching at my guts. Something is tugging behind my navel, and I feel its pull tighten around my lungs. I am swallowing my tongue. It is crawling down my throat. My eyes are bulging. My mama reaches between her legs, and pulls out a thrashing mass. All three of us scream in unison. A throbbing crescendo yanked out of me as I am birthed. Her between my legs, me between her. New blood.

I wake with cold water rushing around me, grateful that I never dropped the plug in. I am shivering, and my back and neck are kinked from my stooped position. There is still some light outside, so I can’t have slept extensively long, but it was long enough to run the water heater down. I stand and remove my wet clothes, remembering that I still need to clean up the dirty footprints that I tracked through the house and the glass outside. The day has gotten away from me.

By the time I have dressed, my anger has dissipated. I am resigned to the mess. Outside, I use a towel to scoop up misfortune, tossing the glass in recycling. I am careful to avoid stillness. I do not look at the dahlias. Their bed is their own. I fill a bucket with bleach and hot water. The rest of the afternoon, I spend on my hands and knees, scrubbing at the floors. I concentrate on the way the solution lifts the rusty mixture of blood and dirt from the wood. I watch the shadows creep across the stairs. Let the fumes cloud my worried mind.

When night finally falls, I do not sleep well. Insomnia is a jealous lover. It breaks through the sleeping pills I swallow each night and cuddles close, holding me in place. I wind the quilt between my limbs, toss and turn against the pillows. My legs ache, restless. My head pulses with too much silence. I give in. I throw open the window behind my head.

Is it ok to begin with the obvious?


I freeze, stop rubbing my legs against the blankets. I listen to my name hum over me like insects in the summer night. Heat is creeping up me, again. My skin aches. My nerves are over-stimulated. I reach between my legs and play in my own blood. Push at my insides. Drown in blood. Imagine the curl of ivy coiling up my thigh. Twirl my fingers to mimic the tendrils. I climb and steeple. Climax hard, moaning against the whispers. Bleed on the bedding.

I dream of my mama. She is in bed, nightgown bloody, hands bloody, sheets bloody. She rocks and cries. A baby screams in the center of the bed, mottled in tissue. In her arms, raw meat. She cradles the flesh, weeps for it, as the baby screams beside her. She stands without warning, and proceeds to the door. I follow, and we are outside. She kneels in the woods, knees muddied, and digs at the earth. Her progress is slow. She lays her bloody bundle in the grass and twigs, then disappears farther into the trees. I watch the meat ooze. It is decaying in front of me. The red wetness of it looks sickly, wrong. Mama returns, shovel in hands, and continues digging. She digs straight down, the hole not very wide, but deep. When several feet of earth have opened downward, she falls to the ground, kisses the meat, and drops it in.

I wake with blood under my nails and birds chirping. The window is still open, and the whispers are filling me.


I know I was born from earth.

I dream of my mama. Birthing still-borns. I dream of my mama. Planting still-borns. I dream of my mama. Praying to the ground. I dream of my mama. Bringing her baby back.

The whispers are filling me.

I begin with the obvious. I strip, head for the garden. I step outside and let the daylight wash over me. I bathe in the sunlight. I am not bleeding hard, and when I walk I feel it dry quickly between my thighs. I make it to the edge of the lawn, and drop to my knees. I press my face into the grass, and listen to the whispers on the wind. I crawl to the dahlias. I pluck one and trail it across my sternum. I lay down on my back. I tense against the earth. The flowers strain against me. Whisper on my skin. They are coiling around my ankles, snaking up my thighs. They curl inside me, pushing through me, pulling me under. Unraveling me.

I want the muscles to thrust their way to the surface and the bones to crack on the tide.

I want to watch the way I fall apart.

I am taut.

I want to watch the way they mend me.

I want to watch the way they birth me.

I whisper.

Return me to mama.

Emily Perkovich is from the Chicago-land area. She is an Art Evaluator for Persephone’s Daughters and she spends her free time in the city with her family. Her work strives to erase the stigma surrounding trauma victims and their responses. Her piece This is Performance-Art was a finalist for the 50th New Millennium Writings Award, she is a 2021 Best of the Net nominee, and she was featured in The Divine Feminist Anthology from Get Fresh Books Publishing. She is previously published with Wide Eyes Publishing, Witches N Pink, Coffin Bell Journal, and Awakened Voices among others. Her novella Swallow and the full-length poetry collection god shots wanted: apply within are forthcoming with Pegasus Publishers and Sunday Mornings at the River, respectively. You can find more of her work on IG @undermeyou

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