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when your body is treated by men as if it's a house to be lived in

Read an extract from 'Soft Fruit in the Sun' by Oliver Zarandi, a new anthology best described as 'tender body-horror'.

by Oliver Zarandi
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Oct 8 2019, 1:39pm

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Soft Fruit in the Sun, an anthology of Oliver Zarandi's writing about bodies -- women's, men's, his own, and others -- has just been published by Hexus Press. As a writer and the editor of Funhouse, a journal of stories and art about the weird and anatomical, Zarandi's work deals with the absurdity of occupying a flesh-and-blood human shape. Drawing on his own experiences with disordered eating, his surreal, macabre, and wryly hilarious stories inhabit the realm of 'tender body horror' where characters bleed incessantly, or eat furniture, or conspire casually on first dates to kill family and animals alike.

We've chosen an extract from “Cello”, in which an unnamed woman narrates her experiences of being defined by men, who treat her body as if it’s a house to be lived in.

Zarandi's work has been featured in Hotel, Hobart, FANZINE, Vol 1 Brooklyn and Little White Lies, among others.

My body started to improve. My stretch marks magically disappeared or perhaps I just wasn’t looking at them; or that maybe people weren’t pointing them out anymore. And my feet had returned to their former size and no longer a point of ridicule amongst the men. My breasts were the same. My hair was no longer falling out and, again, maybe this was because there was none left to fall out.

It all fell out over a number of years and left me with a shiny head and a penchant for purchasing wigs.

*

There was no sex, although the men offered to move into my vagina as if it were a house. Can we move in, they said. It’s cold out here and probably much warmer in there.

I said no. This house is not for sale. It’s not up for rent, either. In fact, this house is abandoned and empty. There’s a box of toys in the house and they’re from a time before we were born and over the box is a muslin cloth and nobody’s touched these toys in years.

*

My body wasn’t my body but a film. My eyes were cameras, 35mm cameras, and looking at my hands I thought: these are not my hands, but a moving image of what my hands look like. The same for my face in the mirror; it was like the first person had become the third person.

There she is.

There it is.

It’s not happy.

And this continued for some time. I became a character in the house and watched a life unfold.

I watched, as it was cooked dinner by other men. I watched it receive kisses in locked bedrooms and saw it getting undressed, positioned carefully by the bedroom window with the lamp illuminating just enough of its body – the curve of its back, buttocks, a nape – so the men camped outside could watch.

It was a body with an audience with perfect grammar.

*

The men complained of injuries, others of grievances suffered throughout their lives.

I broke a toe, one said.

My wife left me for a younger man who looks the same as me, but better in almost every single way.

My wife left me for herself, who she said was better than I could ever be.

I became tired of listening to the men. I had listened to my husband for ten years. I listened to other boyfriends for years, too. I tried to think of how many hours I’d spent listening to men and created a pie chart in my head illustrating the ratio of time spent enjoying my life and time spent listening to men.

I thought of all the men who had used me for various things in their life: for talking at; for sex; as a punch bag. Looking at childhood photographs, it is interesting to see vitality in my eyes. Now, however, you could say some bulbs had blown in my vessel. I was tainted. I’d been handed around too many times. I was like an object that once had vibrancy but over time and with wear and tear had become dulled, blunted and ultimately nothing.

When all the men had gone to sleep and my doors were locked, double- and triple-locked, I sat in my bedroom with the lights off. Out there were the dying embers of the men’s fires and I could just about make out their eyes, open and staring back at me.

No matter where I go or where I travel, those eyes will be staring at me and their fires will not die out.

*

Sometimes the men danced. They danced into the night and made whooping noises. Some men got undressed. It was usually the fatter men who did this and their buttocks looked like battered pillows.

The men would become drunk and haunted in their eyes. Sometimes they’d storm the house but thankfully they provided me with barricades only hours before in case of such an emergency.

*

My breasts can fit several pens underneath them. I don’t need a penholder. And then my feet; my husband said they were large – even larger when the baby was on its way. Look at the size of these, he’d say and I’d say nothing. I’d smile a big wide smile that was fake and looked like I needed the toilet. He used to turn me over and investigate me. Look at this, he’d say. A prod. Look. And it was a spot on my spine. How does a woman get spots on her back? I don’t know I said and I was still smiling even though it wasn’t really a smile. How does a woman get a spot on her back? And here too. He prodded just above my anus, which was unshaven and shabby – his words, not mine – and there was a spot there too. I was covered in spots. He said I was a shipwreck again and again and that my body was sinking treasure. I smiled and smiled and smiled.

Order the book here.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.