A Stiff Flame from the Neck | Kathryn Scanlan | Granta

A Stiff Flame from the Neck

Kathryn Scanlan

From a locked case came the headless torso of a woman cast in cool, heavy chrome like the hubcaps of cars a man’ll collect to commemorate how good his forefathers had it. The headless torso was also armless, and her legs stopped mid-thigh so she’d sit flat on a tabletop. She was naked. Where her head should’ve been was a wick and a wheel, below which a little hollow – the woman’s gullet – opened up for pouring flammable fluid into.

Once she was in my hand, I saw how the woman was made to be held – gripped. I gripped her and struck the wheel on her neck, but I couldn’t get it to spark. A spark would’ve let a stiff flame jump up where the woman’s head should’ve been.

I can knock five bucks off, said the man behind the counter.

I paid him and put the woman in my bag. She wasn’t a mutilated woman. No one chopped anything from her. She started out as a lump of clay in an artist’s studio. The artist simply omitted what he didn’t like – as artists do. In this way artists are true perverts. He brought the woman to life in his image. He pushed the soft stuff of her this way and that with his big thumbs, thinking.


Image © Gilbert Mercier

Kathryn Scanlan

Kathryn Scanlan is the author of Aug 9—Fog and The Dominant Animal. She lives in Los Angeles and is the recipient of a 2021 Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Image © Melanie Schiff

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