Formaldehyde

My bath bomb smells like liquor or perhaps even formaldehyde.

I remember the first time I encountered the smell. It was in Biology class, Sophomore year. I loved Biology. I loved learning about the parts of the cell and the splitting of chromosomes. For a while I thought it may be my ‘field’ but as with most things in my youth, eventually it fizzled out. 

The only thing I didn’t like about the class was that they frequently had us pair off into groups for assigned projects, which I always deemed as petty. I couldn’t think of a single peer in my class I’d deem ‘partner’ worthy.

A week long of intense, social interaction was an abhorrence in my teenage years. I often ate alone, walked the halls alone, lived alone.

Questions I didn’t want to answer or really have to ask. I was never that bad at feigning social interaction, I just didn’t care enough to try. 

“______ why don’t you pair with those two over there.”

I sighed. One of the girls was in my Cosmetology class, she was a real insecure bitch. The other was a boy she was interested in. He was into theater or something? I don’t know, I didn’t bother remembering. 

As with most issues in public schooling systems, I didn’t have much of a choice. I sat down next to them in order to please the nearly bursting pregnant teacher and offered a crooked smile. She didn’t like me, back then I wasn’t sure why but now I know it was because she was, well, as I said before, insecure

I’ve never been one to bother with small talk. You either broach me with a topic of interest or a real conversation or don’t bother approaching me at all. She remained silent for most of it. The few things I said I either received a sneer or a snide remark. To which I would just shrug my shoulders and stare absentmindedly out the window. My initial hopes were to intervene and get them all an A, but if you push my patience too much well, you get nothing

We were about a week into the first dissection piece and I was loathing it entirely. We started off with waterlogged earthworms. I let the male handle that portion, partially because he seemed so interested and mostly because I was utterly mortified at the idea of it all. He seemed eager enough. However, it didn’t take long for him to become a little squeamish, I could see it in his eyes. She seemed generally interested,

“Poke into its brain.”

I recoiled into myself. 

“Oh man that’s so gross,” he muttered with a chuckle. 

I merely scribbled notes. 

The smell was putrid. Truly repulsive. Pungent and dead but lingering. Lingering in an essence that wasn’t natural, wasn’t right. I tried to stay home several times but my mother always threw a fit about it. I was nearly truant and back then I didn’t much care. Anything to get away from the stigmas and predatory circuses. 

—-

On Friday they brought in the pig fetuses. 

I walked up to the teacher casually after class on Thursday. 

“So… where do they get these from?”

“Well…” she seemed startled, and tried to ponder up an excuse similar to what my father did whenever he left, “let’s just say it’s humane. It’s natural.”

Natural. 

Natural

My brows furrowed and my heart sank into my stomach. That was all the answer I needed. 

All the teens thought of theirs like it was a Thanksgiving turkey or Halloween pumpkin. Like it was their property. Their god given right. 

“I want the biggest one.” Some jock exclaimed. 

“That’s disgusting, I’m not touching that,” a female muttered.

And I could agree with her to some degree, but on a much different level. I remember feeling the knives behind my eyes, trying to close off my nostrils and peering into the plastic bags they lie motionless in. Their little hooves were so tiny, nearly soft. I could only imagine them in a pasture, noses pink with moisture sniffing up at the air or towards their mother. 

I remember when they cut the film and laid them on the slab. Their skin was shriveled and their eyes were swollen shut. In a way they were still absolutely adorable and that made the pain all the more unbearable. 

The stench was rancid, nothing the teacher could’ve prepared us for. She spent weeks trying to describe to us what it would be like, told us that we had to act mature, but looking around the room I realized nobody realized the severity of the situation we were in. And every minute she spoke I recoiled back a little bit more into myself.

It was wrong, I knew it was. She explained the process of cutting the carcass open correctly and I felt an all too familiar knot in my throat.

Ours was a girl, she was only about seven inches long and her snout was not at all moist or pink. She’d never smelled a pasture, she’d never breathed air. She’d never even met her own mother. 

“________ you’re awfully quiet, you better be taking some good notes.”

“I am,” I choked as another intestine was removed, “what do you think her eyes look like?”

They both stopped to give me an incredulous look, their previously flirtatious conversation coming to a halt, “I don’t know,” he spat back, “who cares? They’re probably all shriveled and gross anyways.”

The girl laughed, a deep, cruel echo emanating from her throat. I wanted to pull her hair out and shove a glass vial down her throat. 

“Just curious,” I never broke away from the pale, bloodless skin, “She never got to see with them so I figure it wouldn’t be much different from a babies eye, blue and whatnot.”

They both fell quiet as the corpse. 

I stayed in the bath until beads of sweat pooled on my forehead and the smell no longer lingered in my nose. 

He eventually lifted the lid, and a pale, colorless eye stared back at me. They gave me a real hard time for it. Said it was gross and disturbing. 

Formaldehyde. 

Liquor

I stare at the water and it’s murky and golden with glitter. 

I am never, 
ever, 
sicker. 
And as much as I wish it would, my memory will never betray me of those baby blue eyes. 

– B. 

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