My sweatpants bound my ankles together. An inventory on the sink beside me: on a clean paper towel, a shiny packet of lubricant and a mint-green catheter wrapper, ripped open. The toilet seat numbed my butt cheeks, flesh on chill porcelain. A table-top mirror balanced atop a milk crate in front of me, poked up and down with my pinkie finger to calibrate the precise angle that let me see my clenched urethra.

The wall between the bathroom and the basement was thin, constructed by my partner’s grandfather from roadside scraps. Planks of warped ply board and roofing nails bent crooked, beaten straight. Behind the old vanity mirror, a slice in the drywall. A sly opening. After shaving his stubble, that grandfather slid his razor blades through the slit, the wall a secret home for sharp hidden treasures.

We discovered the razor pile when my partner and I renovated our apartment with his parents, the first floor of the house they inherited. A crowbar wedged into the slit, wrenched down to rupture. In falling plaster dust, we laughed open-mouthed. We could clone him with DNA off the blade.

I was bleeding. My trembling fingertips dangled the catheter by its end, mindful of bacteria. Those unseen, microscopic dangers. A nurse had taught me how to insert the tube with her head between my legs, guiding my hands with her own. Your body accepts its own bacteria. Alone I stared into the mirror, pushing and poking at the tender folds. Where did I open? My muscles clenched against intrusion over and over, until one push split tissue, then red.

I’m hurting myself, I thought. I have to learn, pushing inward again.

My in-laws lived above, on the second floor. Sound seldom traveled between us, except in muffled creaks across the ceiling. I worried how far my groans carried.

My father-in-law exercised on the other side of the bathroom wall, his makeshift gym lined with tools and spare pine. Thud of kettlebell, clang of weights: percussion to piss. When his old stereo kicked on, my bladder spasmed, triggered by CDs I had burned for him years before, back when my laptop’s DVD player still functioned. Sharpie scrawled across their slick surface: to Dad, love Erin. Hand-drawn stars and itemized song lists. Year after year he sang along to those discs, off-key renditions of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” and Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

My father-in-law mistrusted doctors, took pride that he had no physician. He shunned their prescriptions for mail-away catalog supplements with chimerical names. Tree of Life. Solaray. Life Sprout Bioceuticals. He connected wellness with religious faith. He connected wellness with strength. He connected wellness with deserving it.

The family sang the myths of his wounds: the time he flew off the roof, sudden blows to the gut, every time he split his head open in a flower of red.

We did not speak of my chronic illnesses. I did not speak of them.

Spots of blood spattered, then slid down the bowl. My pelvis pulsed a hostile rhythm.

From beyond the wall my father-in-law’s voice bloomed, a soaring baritone, And the daylight grew heavy with thunder, With the smell of the rain on the wind. He sang a cappella, a cowboy from the Old West, slung low by grief. He was near, vibrations against the architecture between us: paint, plywood, circuitry, spackle. The guts of a barrier. His song was new, aged whiskey sliding down a throat. Its tenderness plucked a quick sob from behind my navel, so I clapped a hand to my mouth, the other still pinching the blood-tipped catheter. My father-in-law poured out the last notes, amber liquid into a basin. Ain’t it just like a human, Here comes that rainbow again.

Then silence, hovering absence. I unmuzzled myself and examined the slick spit on my palm, evidence of something held back.

Why not scream? Why not sing? Why not craft an ode to my blood, urine, spit? I’ve grown bored of champions conquering their wounds, smashing through suffering by penetrating it. I’m bored of bodies that behave.

Pins-and-needles crackled my calf muscles. Shifting on the toilet, I admired the porosity of the wall. Impressive, really, to have endured with worn-out parts. To have stood firm while holding razors inside, after we near demolished it.

I gave up force. I dropped the catheter into the bin, flattened a sweaty palm against my belly and spoke aloud, “Let go.” Fevered twangs replied: Not yet. Not yet.

Erin Vachon has published her writing in Cheap Pop, and she holds an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Rhode Island. She reads CNF and fiction for Longleaf Review and novels for Split/Lip Press. Currently obsessed with writing about food, body fluids, and companionship, she lives near the sea in southern New England. You can find out more about her work on twitter @erinjvachon or contact her at [email protected].

Art by Jill Khoury