CONTENT WARNING: In this story I describe sexual assault in somewhat graphic detail; it might be a trigger for some. That said, that this story is essentially about healing from trauma and finding joy.
The New State set up a program, the “Root to Seed//Clean to Know” program, in which females were assigned various work duties upon their completion of the school system. The State assigned these positions based upon intensive personality flowcharts, the positioning of the stars at the time of one’s birth, and evidence-based data drawn from one’s computer research habits, etc. They said that this highly advanced methodology would help females to find one’s “purpose in life,” which was, they said, the one true desire of all beings, purpose. They offered women all kinds of jobs, and they offered Coral the position of village baker.
Culinary professionals (and the New State) would tell you that baking is science, but Coral knew that baking was magic. Through baking Coral communicated with her ancestors, the primitive women who learned how water interacts with salt and yeast to form gluten in the baffling process of fermentation. During her nights at the bakery, all of Coral’s deeply buried memories regarding the dawn of that pre-systematized, pre-city consciousness emerged.
Coral found herself bonded to the nighttime with the glue of flour and water, time and fire. Her hands, in and out the oven all through the dark of night, she legit earned those burns, cuts, and bruises...unlike her other scars, scars that had been thrust upon her by other people. She liked the fact that baking bread could only be done on an instinctual level—that it had to do with touch. Through the light press of her index finger, the dough would tell Coral if it was ready or if it needed more time. Ingredients were living things and Coral could hear that they were in constant communication. Each bread’s dough was different, and, through experience, she learned that each dough must rest for a certain amount of time. Through experience, she also learned how the folding and punching of doughs encouraged the formation of gluten strands. At first she kept an alarm to remind her of all the things she had going at once, but that just didn’t work. She learned how to adjust her sense of time, and how to join the rhythm of the ingredients that began to speak to her throughout the night.
As a baker, Coral began to listen to the unheard voices of all things. When her nights at the bakery were coming to a close, after she’d put the last of her breads in the oven, as dawn approached, Coral could hear all of the voices—water, salt, yeast, and sugar—dying into one life-sustaining thing. After its formation time inside of darkness and fire, sunlight seeping into the windows, she opened the oven and pulled out the risen bread.
Coral took her shears out of her pocket and looked around to make sure no one was watching. Gardening was an expensive hobby for a baker, so Coral had carried her shears around town in order to collect free plant-cuttings, whose stems she nurse in water to grow new roots. It was a dark morning, 4:43 AM to be precise, the time of morning when the stars were at their brightest shine—the usual time Coral walked home from work. She walked home at the end of each shift when everyone else’s day was just beginning. A voyeur, she stared at other people from behind her tired eyes, in admiration of the morning commuters’ high-on-caffeine alertness, how they hurriedly walked into reality at the same time she glazed over into some Jungian dreamworld...some parallel universe of symbolism in the liminal space of mind and matter.
She cut off a piece of the philodendron and quickly hid it in her brown paper bag, which held the contents of her future breakfast—one of the deformed baguettes she certainly couldn’t sell, along with some orange preserves she’d lifted from the storefront (they didn’t pay her enough anyhow). In the coldness of the morning, Coral held the paper bag close to her heart—damp and warm from fresh bread—and then ran the rest of the way home. As soon as she got inside she took off her flour-covered pants and her butter-stained hoodie and drew her daily hot and bubbly sunrise bath. It was New Year’s morning.
Sitting in the bath, Coral’s negative brain loop flared up again. She could rarely pinpoint how this began: a thought, a memory, a vague feeling maybe? When she got caught in these obsessive patterns, her brain traversed between thoughts and memories and feelings.
Coral’s thoughts generally centered around her failures and negative beliefs. (“Why did a quit acting? I’m stuck in a dead-end relationship with Silt that I can’t get out of. I’m ugly. I hate my muffin top. I feel guilty for drinking too much wine. I need to work out more. I hate myself...I don’t want anyone to see who I truly am.” Coral had no control over her mind—whether or not she wanted to dwell on these things or not, her brain did so anyway. Then came the list-making, the probable antidote to her negative thoughts, Coral compulsively mapped out how each of her decisions had led her to this moment, far away from where she thought she’d be whenever she thought about the future when she was young. It never occurred to her that, rather, her current condition had little to do with any so-called voluntary decisions she’d made.
This New Year’s morning, her feelings jumped around from sadness to angst to hope to dread to panic. Coral rarely just felt okay.
Her mind often jumped from memory to memory, and today her memory drifted to the floral printed couch at her childhood home, where she felt safe watching Scooby Doo, wrapped warm and snug in a blanket and in the scent of mom’s fried chicken, okra, and biscuits in the oven.
As usual, accompanying this feedback system of memory and thought and feeling, was the clamoring physical sensation of a fast heartbeat, boiling blood, and shortness of breath.
She was ever internally trapped in this manner, spun up in a web like the prey of a some sadistic spider.
She pulled the drain out the the bath and watched the water circle as it emptied. With the passing of the moon across the night sky and with the Earth, ever tilting on its orbital axis towards or away the sun, Coral’s brain—a whirlpool—drained itself of thoughts in a cyclical manner.
This was why she was going to Mexico. She knew that the trip was risky, but she planned it anyhow. She needed to get away, to reflect, to find herself, to find love. She’d spent yet another New Year’s Eve alone, in the kitchen with her best friends—ciabatta, french, whole grain, challah, biali, and, of course, the baguette. The holidays had come and gone and it was finally the time of year when service-workers got a break. Coral had the next week off and she was headed to Chetumal for a spiritual retreat. After her morning bath, she packed her bags and thought about the the humid air and the ruins she would hike among, that maybe she’d discover some vestige of herself amongst the memories of a lost culture.
Because she worked the graveyard shift, that evening she and Silt would finally get to have dinner together for the first time in a long time.
Coral set the roast chicken on the table. Silt was silent. Coral sat down.
Silt was a lawyer. In his practice, he primarily arbitrated legal issues surrounding water. Before the New State, he often litigated cases; for example he’d resolve neighborly disputes about who could or could not dam up a river on a specific piece of property. These days, however, his focus had shifted to problems regarding oil-related water contamination, like the fall-out of pipeline construction, and—although the practice of fracking was short-lived—it had created processing claims for days, due to the high volumes of dead children and cancer-ridden mothers and fathers. Coral was proud of Silt and his work.
They ate in what could only be described as a loud and painful isolated togetherness.
There was red wine and Coleman Hawkins on vinyl. It was a rainy out.
They’d lived like this for a long time—food and silence, pain and love, wine and music. It was not bad, just not that good.
Silt, by nature, exuded sex. He was dry and hard and dusty. He always looked like he was hot, always sort of sweating and breathing hard. His sturdy demeanor made him look like he had roots. Unlike Coral, Silt never second-guessed himself. The mere fact of his solid existence helped Coral to feel grounded, not afraid of disappearing. Because of him, Coral knew that life, albeit brief, meant something in terms of eternity. His eyes were brown and red geologic craters into another time, a long ago time. Sometimes she thought he resembled a canyon rather than a human person. To Coral, every new wrinkle on his body appeared as a different shade of mud orange; every crease and dent on his face signaled to a different epoch. His memories must border paleolithic times, she mused, meanwhile the memories I can access of my own past are muddled at best.
By the way Silt sipped his wine, Coral could tell he would expect sex from her tonight, she was leaving town after all. Coral always adjusted herself to Silt; she decided that instead of resisting, instead of waiting for Silt to attempt seduction, she’d fuck him before bedtime and avoid the emotional argument altogether. At the very moment she made this decision (to fuck her boyfriend), Coral became angry at Silt, and Silt could thus feel Coral moving into yet another one of her mercurial moods. Slowly, Silt chewed a bite of food. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then shut it. Another sip of wine. Her calculated behavior was old hat for both of them by now. She was grasping for closeness and heat through anger again, he reasoned.
Coral, in fact, had highly calculated reasons for being with Silt. Silt raped Cora during the fall semester of her senior year in college. She and her friends would always take the bus from the seawall to the dunes to for late-night beach parties. She’d missed the last bus out that night and had to walk home after midnight. It was by the seawall, he’d pinned her down behind the dumpsters in perfect moonlight; when he thrust himself into her he had to hold her legs down so hard that at some point she had to stop resisting. When he came inside of her, she had her first orgasm. He could feel it, she could tell, and at the very moment, he just laughed. The next day she had bruises where the bones stick out of her thighs. He pulled out, wiped his mouth, and walked off as if he’d just payed the dinner bill at some casual dining restaurant. She lay there, shocked and ashamed, blinded by the fury of the moon, blinded her by own fury, a fury that later turned into doubt about whether that event had ever actually happened.
That following spring, Cora found herself across from Silt, ordering drink at the bar where he worked. He didn’t recognize her at all; he even flirted with her. She wanted revenge, she took her moment, and she flirted back. She went on dates with him; her plan was to get him to fall in love with her and then destroy him. Her plan was to give him amazing sex and then shame him by withholding orgasms. It was brilliant in that it worked. Theirs was a typical whirlwind romance: fucking and drinking cheap beer and smoky mezcal, laughing and watching terrible horror films, ordering in fried rice and dumplings, then fucking and sleeping and waking up to iced-coffee and chocolate croissants and more laughing and fucking. Silt said “I love you,” on the 3rd day. Coral had yet to have one orgasm since since Silt had raped her at the beach, which was, so far, a seven year freeze.
Her initial devious plan of revenge was only to last one year; however, with the construction of the New State, Cora never made good on the promise that she made to herself; no longer she afford to live without the protection Silt offered to her.
She took a sip of wine and closed her eyes. She felt the release of alcohol, that warm sweater feeling come over her. Her cheeks began to flush. She opened her eyes. She put her head in his lap and began to cry. He stroked the waves of her hair: Cora—who gave the appearance of flow and rhythm—when they first met it seemed that if he surrendered to her he would experience peace and grace and flow forever and ever. He submitted to her magical pussy powers, but he quickly understood that his initial assessment of her was incomplete. She was strong and forceful and violent and angry. Wind alone could simply stir in her into an agitation so deep that she’d become a cyclone of creativity and penetrating gazes and deep realizations about the true nature of herself and everyone else.
She sat up on his lap, her legs wrapped around his body while she kissed him. He carried her like that to the bedroom.
At first she was sort of even into it, but then it was like, ugh, Coral just didn’t want to be touched. As he was jackhammering away at her insides, all Cora could think was, can’t he tell I’m not at all into this, and, how is he so turned on while I’m so detached and clearly unimpressed?
Meanwhile Silt kept yelling, “Come for me baby. Give me an orgasm. Coral, I want to give you an orgasm so bad.” Needless to say, she did not climax that evening and after Silt came, he fell asleep.
Coral went to couch and turned on her favorite porn channel, The Temple of Inanna, which was actually not quite porn, it was more of a guided meditation through tantric awakening.
She was, at first, hesitant, doubtful even, to listen to who other people referred to as the ‘InnerNet Angel,’ or, ‘Inanna,’ or ‘The Cosmic Body Goddess.’ Coral only tried it because Ruby, her co-worker, had suggested Coral check it out. They were rolling the butter into the croissant dough when Ruby revealed to Coral that she’d found salvation through spiritual pornography. Once, when Silt was out of town on business, Cora returned home from work and after her morning bath she turned on Inanna’s station in order to avoid boredom, which was easy with videos entitled, “Releasing Blocks in the Chakra System for Deep Penetration and Inner Peace,” and “The Tiny Death: Eternal Waves of Pleasure,” and “Your Pussy and the Cleansing Catharsis of Gentle Self-Love.” Ever since then, Coral would listen to and/or watch Inanna’s station, although never actually with any intention of pleasuring herself, no, Coral watched Inanna because these videos provided her with endlessly fascinating distractions from her obsessive, brain looping//feeling-thought-memory//feedback system.
Silt knew that Coral was headed to Mexico on to do a spiritual retreat, what Silt did not know was that she was leaving on her solo trip tomorrow in order to participate in a confessional peyote ceremony at Inanna’s brick-and-mortar temple in Mexico.
Coral lit incense that smelled like winter alyssum and closed all the blinds. She shut the door to the bedroom so that Silt couldn’t hear. The video she chose included images of bodies, naked crowds gathered at festivals, disparately edited images of flesh dancing in unison, large groups of people bathing in the nude. All these images were juxtaposed with herds of wild animals, like wildebeest and coyotes. Inanna’s voice began loud and harsh and strong as she spoke of the spiritual nature of the universe and our collective karmic destiny—ascension and then final return to oneness. As the groups of people merged into an orgy, Inanna’s voice became quiet. It was as though Inanna was speaking directly to Cora: “It is time for the supreme letting go of self. Find the ecstacy of your death—let go of the control of your being. It is time to end the resistance of all that is natural and pleasurable and sensual, time to end the resistance to all that is hot and steamy. You deserve to receive eternal waves of unending positive vibrations from the life-force. The earth is in a state of perpetual fuck. The universe is an infinite fuck machine. Be the fuck that you want to be. Be the love that you are.” The images disappeared, the screen emitted a halo-colored yellow, and twinkling bells chimed.
This was probably supposed to be the climax, Coral realized, and laughed, because, yet again, she didn’t cum. Coral, after she denied Silt to pleasure her, couldn’t allow herself to release into any state of pleasure whatsoever. She shut her laptop. “My New Year’s Resolution: HAVE AN ORGASM!” ...she wrote down her intention on her calendar before she fell asleep to a rerun of Sex in the City.
When she woke up, Silt had already left for work. There was a sticky note on the TV: “I love you and I’ll miss you; now go find yourself you beautiful freak. Forever yours, S.”
Silt knew; how much he knew, Coral didn’t know.
That morning, before she left, Coral did some gardening, as Silt wouldn’t notice a plant dying if he was staring right at it, and her monstera plant, she’d noticed, its roots were exposed and she needed to transplant it into a bigger pot. She traded her her pink sweatpants and faded grey tank top for her overalls and clogs and stepped out into the mist. Once outside, she grabbed her trowel, her gloves, and some potting soil—her very own special concoction of rock phosphate and sulfate magnesium and kelp powder. She’d come to understand gardening the way she came to understand baking, via deep listening. By deeply listening to her plants, Cora had learned that they very easily go into shock during the transplant process, and that they become vulnerable to the elements when their roots become exposed. Coral found that, in many ways, baking and gardening were very similar projects to undertake, as both bread and plants can so easily fall apart in the mixing, or, maturation process. How easily anything can fall apart, she laughed to herself. She removed the monstera from its gallon-sized pot, carefully applied some rooting powder to its system, and replanted her friend in its new home, along with her potting soil mix. She loved to be off work and outside during the holidays; the streets, cheerful with bleak desolation.
Because of the rain there was a bit of a delay at the airport, so she arrived somewhat late to the temple, but still in time for the ceremony. She threw her stuff on her bed, ordered a beer from the outdoor bar, and joined a group of people on the beach who were noodling around on their acoustic guitars.
Inanna, Coral thought, was literally the walking version of a sex-on-the-beach...what with her long black hair and her cream-colored sarong, she seemingly straight-up walked out of the ocean.
They sat in a circle as Inanna passed out peyote buttons.
Then Inanna began to preach.
“Death, you see, death is like a dirtball the size of the earth.”
Inanna picked up Coral’s handed and pointed to Coral’s fingernails that were still filled with dirt from gardening that morning.
“And you see this dirt beneath Coral’s fingernails? That is one orgasm.”
Inanna picked some of the dirt out and let it scatter like ashes over the bonfire.
Coral lay near the fire, her head propped up with a Mexican blanket. She looked into outer space and watched as all of the faces that ever were flash across the sky. It was utterly painful for Coral to feel trapped in her body while her ancestors looked at her with disappointment—for not believing in herself, for locking away her thoughts from her feelings from her memories, for not sharing these things, for not sharing herself with other people. These faces silently begged her to open up in her suffering, to let them share in the burden. During this process something broke in her, and then she felt supported somehow, not so alone—for she knew now that there was a community of people out there who were willing to expose themselves, to let her inside of them if she would let them inside her.
Coral sat up and realized everyone else was on their own vision quest so she walked down the beach alone and she laid down on the sand in between where three giant pieces of old coral had washed up onto the beach. It was high tide and the waves lapped up to her chest. She went into a long and uninterrupted vision-memory of her younger self, back to the frustration of her primary days. She saw, from her mind’s eye, that little girl who desperately wanted to study about everything in the solar system, but for whom measurements got in the way. —That little girl who saw the literary complexity of atomic reactions and could decipher the metaphor in the distances between dying stars. Coral remembered her poetic theory of numbers: that algebra was really just the reunion of broken parts, that geometry might be a mere attempt to understand the relationship between abstracts shapes and actual matter, and that calculus was only the continuous mapping of all things.
She got stuck on one thought:
I didn’t create the system of imprisonment inside of my brain.
I didn’t create the loop of imprisonment inside of my brain.
I didn’t create the loop of imprisonment inside of my brain.
Coral ears then opened up to the syntax of the rocks and the trees. She listened to the voice of the cosmos. The light of the sun emerged from behind the the edge of the ocean and she could see that she’d been questing from the safety of a tidepool. It was low tide and the water lapped at her feet. Mesmerized by the spell of the intertidal zone, her backside rooted into the sand that was dissolving around her into the waves and she saw, from all four corners of the earth, groups of birds fly together and then rise up into a gathering swarm. She looked beside her and noticed a crab with a missing leg but whose hard shell also housed of a few barnacles. It scuttled sideways, towards the plane of horizon, using its feelers to find sustenance. On one of the ancient pieces of coral that she lie betwixt, she noted lichens and calcite shells basking in the sun; exposed to the elements of air and water, these were the few that could survive such harsh conditions.
Coral then walked back to the group; she felt called back to the bonfire, which was now dwindling into the morning. Inanna provided a cooler with cold, bottled beer for everyone. Coral cracked one open and pinched some salt, squeezed some line into it; a morning beer never tasted so good. All were silent, that is, until, an Om circle began and everyone began to weep and moan. Together, they chanted Om Shanti well into high noon.
Inanna founded her center in Mexico because she was pushed out of the states. She divided an already divided country in her claim that mystical, pure love could be found in sex, more specifically, that the world could find salvation through the female orgasm. Pseudo-religious zealots wanted to kill her. They preached to their flock about the dangers of her themes—rapturous excess in vibes and tingles, the satanic horror regarding feelings of bliss in the body, the delirium of intense and excessive passion. They labeled her the demonic reincarnation of Lilith; they claimed she was wilder than the lying temptress Eve; they warned citizens that she was the Queen of Babylon. Other people, not so careful with neo-Christian rhetoric, called her the bitch-cunt-whore of the shadow underworld.
Coral slept most of the flight back. She awoke as the wheels hit the tarmac. In the distance—at the gate—she could see the sirens of the police-doctor vans, which gave her a sinking feeling. When she walked out of the tunnel, they were waiting for her at the terminal gate. Three men in suits, two military officials, two doctor-police, and Silt.
“You are under arrest for indecency and deviancy. Your rights will be restored and you can return to The Order after we return you return to a normalized equilibrium.”
Outside the cold air hit her like mother might slap a child for sass. There, they strapped her to a gurney and roller her into the back of the van. Upon their arrival to the hospital-jail, they did not untie her. As they rolled Coral down the hall she noted the white walls, the crisp orderliness of everything, and that on every desk stood one lone, bulk container of hand sanitizer.
Intake took several hours. The doctor-police asked Coral intrusive questions and offered her a decreased sentence if she offered him a detailed account of her Coral’s lascivious sexual past.
“Have you ever been with a woman? How many times? Have you ever had anal sex, if so how many times? What happens in your mind when you have an orgasm? What happens in your body? Do you prefer to climax via penile-vaginal penetration or cunilingus?”
After intake, they gave her lunch—baked onions and meatloaf and mashed potatoes that were probably made from powder. They gave her an arrangement of blue and yellow pills which made her fall asleep, for how long she did not know, and when she finally did wake she felt as though she were drowning in a pool of her own sweat. There were no windows, so it was impossible to know what time of day it was, or whether it was day anymore at all. They’d exchanged her bed for a new one when, she realize; her ankles were now tied to stirrups.
A doctor and an adolescent female who was doing her residency entered Coral’s space, a shared room with ten beds, all of which were full. He wore a lab coat and a surgical mask and carried what looked to be a metal vibrator. He opened her legs, and he put his fingers on top of her lower pelvis, just above her clitoris. He said, “This will hurt at first, but then it will feel good. It’s supposed to feel good, Coral, you know this will help you find some peace.” He pressed his fingers hard onto her pelvis as he inserted the cold instrument into her vulva. While the doctor-police attempted to penetrate Coral, a routine procedure for all the patient-inmates, he carried on a conversation with his resident, “Not only is this beneficial for their mental health issues, but we can do research at the same time. So during this process you want to be sure to get the heart rate, mucous levels, any fluctuations in temperature, any brainwave activity, et cetera, et cetera.”
Coral closed her eyes and thought about low tide on the beach. In that moment nothing around her existed except for that one vision-memory. As the sun came up higher, the tide waning with the gravitational pull weakened by the disappearance of the moon, Coral’s whole body began to vibrate. Her heart pounded, and not in a bad way. Her heart pounded in a way where all she felt was pure love pulsating outward from her to everything else, and everything else resounded love back to her. She allowed her herself to let go, into the waves and the sand—her skin softened and her muscles fell away from her bones. She felt her own death, and then, beneath the white heat of sun’s pulsating rays, Coral came alive inside of the heat of the sun...and the history of all things came alive inside of her.
Patton Quinn is a writer, a teacher, and a single mother. She earned her graduate degree in Humanities from St. Edward's University. You can find her work in such places as: McSweeney's Internet Tendencies, Wanderlust Journal, Matchbook Series, Elephant Journal, Awakenings Review, and Rebellesociety.com. She lives in her hometown—Austin, Texas—with her daughter and their scruffy old buddy, Andy, a terrier from the mean streets of Dallas. When not doing life-chores, they are hiking, painting, baking, or playing make-believe in some capacity.