Fiction by Piper Courtenay & Art by Cheryl Gross
The First Fib
by Piper Courtenay
Grandma, what part is a woman?
A woman is a clavicle, the two wrinkles that form when she bends her wrist, a woman is hips.
Oh. And Grandma, what part is a man?
A man is shoulders, a man is knuckles, and that patch of rough skin on the back of his neck.
She touches the back of her neck.
They walk a few minutes more.
And Grandma, what else is a man?
Well, a woman worries with a tug on her earlobe, but a man worries in the space between his furrowed eyebrows.
Grandma shows her.
And a woman is wrinkled eyes when she smiles, but a man with his whole jaw.
She pulls back the corners of her mouth with her little fingers, squeezes her eyes shut, and smiles with what’s left of her face.
Like thish? Drool spills onto her chin.
Mhm. Like that.
And knees? Who is knees?
Woman. Woman is knees.
They walk a few minutes more.
But Grandma, what about bellybottoms? Are bellybottoms woman or man?
Belly-buttons, like on a shirt, are everyone. We start at bellybuttons.
We start at bellybuttons.
She stops, Grandma doesn’t, pulls up her shirt, and pokes her bellybutton.
Mhm. We are all bellybuttons.
They walk to the front steps of the house, through to the kitchen, and Grandma begins into the fridge.
Grandma, she says hoisting herself onto a stool. What about lungs? Is a woman lungs?
No, Grandma points a peanut buttered knife at Grandpa. He’s sitting hovered by a plume of burnt tobacco.
Man is lungs. That’s why we have chimneys.
Huh. Man is lungs.
She slides down and pads over to her Grandpa. Leaning over his arm she peers at pictures in the newspaper. He licks his thumb and turns the page.
Grandpa, who is thumbs? Are man thumbs?
He extends his arm, thumb erect atop a closed fist and examines. Grandpa turns it downward and back up again.
Yes, man is definitely thumbs. And you should wash yours before lunch.
Oh. She pads to the bathroom. She washes only her thumbs.
She stays in front of the mirror and stares into herself.
A squat and scruffy thing, rotund with protection. A balloon of parts. A heap of topsoil on a bed of bones and bits, waiting for a sapling to sprig and stretch upwards. Like the trees.
Grandma appears behind her in the mirror.
Who is brains?
Well, both. But a woman’s is in her gut and a man’s, lower.
She looks down at her airbag belly. And then at Grandma’s.
She sits at the table and pulls at the crust on her sandwich. She swallows a sesame seed and with it sends a secret message to her spine: grow an elevator. Then, her brain could go where it wants when it feels like wandering.
But who are teeth?
Man is molars, and woman is the front four. Grandma taps a long pink fingernail on the front of her dentures.
She opens her jaw and gnashes her teeth a few times.
Mhm. Now do that with some sandwich inside.
Well, hmm…what else. Grandpa, any suggestions?
A woman is the c curve under her bottom lip, and the s of her spine. She’s a pointed toe and a pointier tailbone.
She climbs onto Grandpa’s lap and places her palm over his Adam’s apple.
And hair. Woman is hair, right? She eyes Grandpa’s shiny head from below.
No. For hair, woman is nape of the neck and man is temples. For hair, actually, man is arms, chest, back, and legs, too.
Why is woman not all hair?
Because woman is warm enough, apparently. Grandma starts clearing plates.
Now Grandpa laughs.
On the drive home she thinks about her parts, all strapped together by a seatbelt. She wonders which she will get to keep when she grows tall like the trees. She examines each buckle and bend, each stretch of skin and dimple of fat.
Mum. Who is fingers?
Who is fingers?
What do you mean who is fingers? Those are your fingers.
No, who is fingers? Is woman fingers or is man fingers?
Oh. Well, they both are. That’s why they exchange one when they get married. Mum holds her left hand above her head so she can see it from the back seat, wiggles the fourth finger, and taps its gold band with her thumb.
Oh. Both are fingers. But I’m just going to keep all of mine to myself, okay?
For now. But your mind will change when you’re older, little one. You’ll meet a boy, a boy who you’ll want to give every bit of yourself.
No, I won’t. I won’t have anything left!
The car is quiet. She inventories all her parts, again. One at a time. Then all of them at once, not sure which she’ll be saddest to see go.
She likes her mountain range knuckles and her river of hair. She likes her sandpapered knees and her bruised shins. She especially likes all her teeth, and she’s already given away three.
So, she thinks, she’ll keep all her parts. Hide them under her bed. In her closet. Bury them in the yard. Lie, say she lost them. Or gave them to a boy.
If she’s going to all this effort to grow her limbs, she thinks, it seems silly to lose them like leaves.
Piper Courtenay is a writer, journalist, and potted-plant murderer living in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Cheryl Gross is a painter, illustrator, writer and motion graphic artist from Brooklyn, New York, currently living and working in the New York/ Jersey City area. She is a professor at Pratt Institute and Bloomfield College.