Erica Wheadon (Deakin University, Australia)
We start as a pack. Neatly creased in uniform navy—a respectable colour. Nothing flamboyant or sexy, or too ostentatious. Blue is universally pleasing. A safe choice for any occasion, stacked for ease of use, and ready to serve. We are unsheathed and unfolded from four ply down to two then one, and stretch ourselves naked for review, creases receding as we fight the primal desire to return to form. Our creases are so deeply scored that most will never fully disappear, but we’re not paid to complain.
I feel my corners lifted and pinned, and hold my breath as my bottom corner is matched carefully to my top, pressing me into a more appealing shape. It’s uncomfortable, but at least I am double-fortified again. I try to adjust to my new form.
My breath catches as my creases become gentle uniform rolls, and I do my best to comply, curling inwards like I am shown. A scroll! Could they have picked a more humiliating fold?
I once heard of an entire pack who were transformed into crisp lotus flowers too precious to unwrap. They spent the night smiling prettily at guests from a gift table.
Those jobs are so rare.
My countenance stiffens and flushes as my body is flipped. My tip is showing. I try to adopt a demurer pose, but I am pinched in half to form a V and inserted into a flute, my exposed apex pressing uncomfortably into the bottom of the glass—
Cassiopeia with her legs to the heavens, beckoning you to drink from her chalice.
not to be sick.
Later, we are plucked from our glass cocoons and placed according to preference. Some of us are tucked inside sharp-scented starched collars. Others are fluttered open and splayed across pink accordion pleats. I look across at my pack companion, her cheek pressed against the slightest trouser bulge as a plate is passed. The first splash lands on her face and she swallows hard as the oil blisters her form. She shrivels and begins to stain—a small tear forms at her breast.
It is so early. I fear she will not last the night.
An ebullient ballet of plates pass each other in the air. We laugh gaily as we catch the rain of crumbs in our mouths, gasping in mock surprise at the scrunch and giggle—our lipstick corners teased and flicked. My pack-mate is rolled back and forth between thick fingers and she shifts slightly.
A glass is toppled—its contents seep through peach cloth like a sweat stain and ten or so of my sisters are ripped from their packet, dry folds rudely spread as hands fumble and clamber over blotting rights. It is hard not to look away.
As more wine flows, the bawdy conversation takes a turn. The record is flipped, the chatter swells—dusty jazz spinning into the evening—and we dab cream from dainty mouth cracks with grease-stained crinkles as coffee is served.
After, we lie in the crumpled carnage of our own sin-making—
The paper-thin violence of our being.
Erica is a Brisbane-based writer and photographer. She is currently completing her MA in Writing & Literature from Deakin University, and working on a collection of short speculative memoir. Her work has been featured in a range of online publications and anthologies including most recently, the 2019 UTS Writers’ Anthology. She is an accidental poet and a serial playlist creator.