The Undertaker’s Daughter by Ryan Griffith

We’re just guts and knuckles, father says, ice and dust. We die like abandoned diamond mines. I roll my eyes. I don’t buy that bluster. He’s trying to believe they don’t matter. All these bodies in the refrigerated night, the haunted songs of loss. I’m revising the language of the world for you, I say. I forbid all long vowels, the animal sounds of grief. Father shrugs. They’ll find new ways to scream. He tricks back a sheet and a dead man appears, gray as clay, mouth gaping. With a chisel, father cracks the mansions of the skull, hooks the flesh, plunges tubes. He stitches shut the lips, pumps him with infinity. What’s his story? I ask. Father sighs. Alive, then dead, he says. He weighs the brain like meat from a market. Three pounds, he says. Average. It makes me sick. All these acres of skin, his morgue-dark wit. What will you do when I’m on this table? I ask. The bone saw stills. Silence like a gas leak fills the room. Gloom-wounded girl, he says. I’d suck the poison from your wrists, rip the stitches and howl in all your forbidden vowels before you ever leave this world. Never, he says. Not ever. He takes my hand, and we climb the winding stairs up, up, up through the kingdom of roots, garden of bones. We surface like miners from an underground dream while comets scream fire across the sky.

RYAN GRIFFITH — Ryan’s fiction has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Flash Boulevard, New World Writing, Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2012 and 2022, Best Microfiction 2023, and elsewhere. He runs a
multimedia narrative installation in San Diego called Relics of the Hypnotist War.

Art by FRANCESCA LEADER — Francesca is a self-taught writer and artist whose fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Fictive Dream, the J Journal, Leon Literary, CutBank, and elsewhere. Her artwork has appeared in publications such as Scapegoat and FERAL, and will be featured on the cover of the November 2022 issue of Adanna Literary Journal. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at