Constricted, Flash Fiction by Sheila Armstrong


The Spire ripples in the haze as it roars up through the pavement and cleaves the crowd in two. There is a protest happening on O’Connell Street. She knew this, but came in anyway. Despite this. Because of this. Unrelated to this. Some placards are hastily printed in black and white. No pictures, just harsh black letters that scream hysterically. Others are glossy and colourful with pictures made up entirely of smiles and hugs and beatification.

After a few rousing cheers, they break up and leave. She waits on a corner and lights a cigarette, daring the passers-by to look at her in disgust, daring them to tut and tut and tut again under their breath, to shake placards at her, to throw fruit; begging them to notice and see and judge her.
They don’t. So she gets on the bus when it comes.

She’s heard about corsets, heard how some women wore them to death. Shape and define, squeeze and tuck. Tiny hourglass waists with creaking ribs and intestines that are forced downwards. She’s never seen the appeal. She’s heard about those snakes, deep in those jungles that she’ll never get to visit. They can snatch a mouse, a boar, a child. Squeeze them, define them, give them a new shape as a pile of sinew and fat dissolving gently in stomach acid. She’s seen vices, compacters and presses, watched them spread their pressure evenly over a surface until something gives and everything falls apart. But nothing, nothing, can compare to that first initial squeeze.

They all say it’s impossible to remember. Can’t be done. Scientifically impossible. Created by her imagination. Watched too many soap operas. Paid too close attention in biology. Arrogant, and a bit silly, even, to pretend that she does remember.

But she can. She knows that place. In pictures, it is pink, but in her memory it is grey, but a kind grey. No warmth, for how could she know warmth until she felt cold? No contentment, because there was no discomfort. No time, no pain, no grazed knees, no grazed souls. Eternally. And then the light, and the spasms, and the churning, and – oh agony, agony – the squeeze, and the glint of stainless steel, the first glimpse of alien colour. The pincers had come for her; they had caught her at one end – and right then she discovered there was an end to her – and they squeezed, too, along with the shuddering walls and she was drowning. And she has felt that tightness ever since. It has shaped and defined her, she believes, like a corset, like a snake, like a vice.

She had a pointed head for a month afterwards, they told her, from the tongs. Difficulties, blockages, inversions – they are harsh words more suited to troublesome sewage system than a body. Her mother had squeezed her only once after that, that she could remember. Grabbed her shoulders as she left for school one day. No words, just a short, sharp squeeze. She feels that too, sometimes, in sympathy, or perhaps empathy; she could never remember the difference. Feel for you, feel with you.

When she gets home, she takes a twisted grey shard of guilt and stabs and stabs at herself until she bleeds hard and deep and true. She bleeds to death, but not to her own, and she finally feels the lifting of the pressure, the end of the squeeze.

Sheila Armstrong