Among Women by Jessica Murphy

“The chickens are for today, child.” Mother diced her onion on each syllable, and the young girl sniffled at the fumes. “I know you hate it, but you have to bring them in.”

The girl nodded to no one, as Mother turned her back to ignite the gas stove. A pot sat on top, the water inside of it cooly sloshing around. The girl’s shoes made soft pats on the kitchen floor as she went to the backyard, delivering a, “Yes ma’am,” to Mother.

She pushed through the screen door and squinted her eyes against the sun, feeling a dampness on the back of her neck. Her brows spread like an awning over her eyes until she entered the shaded part of the yard, the only good thing about going to the chicken coop. The grass tickled her toes through her sandals, and the blood left her head from the sudden drop in temperature.

She heard them clucking and ruffling from behind the wood panels, gossiping like the neighborhood mothers before Mass started. Placing her hand against the rich varnish, she felt the cool gloss underneath her fingertips.

“Just one of you. That’s enough for me,” she said quietly to herself. “Mother always makes a stock.” Her hand balled up into a fist.

“Just one!” Mother echoed. The girl sucked a small amount of air into her lungs, startled by Mother’s words. She put her forehead against the coop, focusing her thoughts. Gently, she pushed her weight off of it and darted to the entrance, hoping to find one quickly.

When she opened the small door, the familiar scent of feces hit her nose, warmed up by the fowls’ constant presence. They clucked even louder now, and ruffled their feathers to protect their bodies, their eggs. A few eggs dropped to the floor, not cracking but rolling. One hit the girl’s foot, and she stared at it.

Looking back up, she saw two chickens huddled in a corner. The girl flexed her jaw, feeling it crack and click.

“Mother, I couldn’t decide.” The girl held one chicken under each arm, her back bent with the strain of keeping them both calm. The pot on the stove billowed with rice, and Mother fluffed it with a fork.

“Then you need to choose. Right now.” Mother didn’t look at her.

The girl’s head felt cold in the back, and her stomach tightened.

“Don’t pitch a fit. This is your fault. Now you’re leading them on.”

The chicken under her left arm started ruffling her feathers, fighting against the girl’s grip. The plumage irritated her arm and she let the chicken go in defeat. She screamed.

“For God’s sake, child!”

The chicken flew into the cabinets in a flurry, clucking as she went. The girl squeezed harder on the chicken, pushing it into her chest and wishing it would sink into her heart. She screamed so loud her ears went numb.

Mother grabbed a baking sheet from the counter and waved it madly, cutting the air. The chicken’s claws scraped the open dishwasher, knocking a few glasses on the floor but not shattering them. Mother wielded her weapon in her hands, and swung. She let it go, and the girl stopped screaming. The sound of metal hitting bone caused her to blink.

In the dead silence, Mother stared at the girl. The chicken lay on the floor, twitching. Mother closed the dishwasher, then lifted the chicken by the throat. It flexed its wings with cracks and clicks. Mother took her eyes off the girl to land the chicken on the cutting board. This was her art. A puppeteer.

“You look here,” she said. The chicken in the girl’s arms had gone limp. The girl fought through tears to look at Mother, to see what she was doing.

Mother took the cleaver from the knife holder and held it in the air for a moment. Sprawling her left hand across the chicken’s neck for proper trajectory, Mother lifted her right, holding the cleaver tightly, and brought it down swiftly.

It did not make a vicious sound. Rather, the cleaver cutting into flesh and bone only reminded the girl of the onions Mother had chopped earlier. Soft, muffled metal on the cutting board wood. Familiar.

“Give me that one.”

The girl only looked at the eyes of the chicken’s head, and grieved. The chicken in her arms had suffocated. The girl’s eyes were still full, but a warmth re-entered her cheeks.

“She’ll be rancid, give her to me.”

Mother motioned her arm and the girl delivered the chicken to her, holding it by its neck. Mother had her way with the second bird, less patient, more sloppy.

“I’m sorry, Mommy.” Blood ran onto the floor like red licorice.




The woman’s hips jostled from side to side as the train rumbled forward. She gazed from the pages of her book to the cloudy skies outside. She’d won the window seat, but the fiberglass held vestiges of scratched graffiti, BITCH carved crudely in block letters. She crossed her legs and adjusted her back, which bounced in time with the bumps in the track. Rear-facing.

The sun peeked briefly through the clouds and exposed the dust clinging to her lashes. The mountains in the distance held clusters of trees that had started changing color early. The woman closed the book in her hands, curving the paperback against her thigh. She blinked as the train went quickly under a tunnel, and tried not to get sick. It was not like her to feel so ill so easily. It seemed she was outgrowing her childhood strengths.

Small ponds followed after the larger rivers from the beginning of her ride, small and insignificant in comparison. She felt that a deeper fantasy lay in her book, until the train decelerated and squealed past a line of abandoned storage containers. The woman rearranged her legs, letting the left bear the weight of the right. As her short skirt lifted with the movement, she saw a bright red circle of blood vessels just above her knee, right before she stretched the fabric back over the skin. She fixed her eyes on the containers.

On the ground, for a brief moment, she saw torn strips of pink which gnarled and curled up in the grass. It appeared to be either a destroyed mattress or decaying animal flesh. It passed too quickly to be determined.

In the open side of a white, rusted-over container, fabric blew like flags. When the train rode past, she saw a long piece of pale, white flesh cocooned in the cloth hanging from the top. Dangling against the fabric was a foot, immobile.

She blinked.




“Come on, Peach. It’s really not that cold.”

The young woman folded her arms against her chest, feeling her gold necklace bounce in rhythm to their steps. Her sweater reached over her knuckles, the knit fabric hugging her hands.

“Your arms look like condoms,” the boy continued.

“You’re just convincing yourself it’s not cold. It’s a masculinity thing, no doubt.” Her teeth chattered on the last word. She had been looking down the entire exchange, making sure to not step on any twigs or small animals. The sun began to set and the young woman saw shapes in the grass morph into different creatures.

The boy in front of her leapt through thickets of rocks, gliding across rough patches with ease. His blonde hair bounced freely, strips of faint brown looking like worms to the young woman. He was actually much younger than her, and he reminded her of that fact every night they were together. They were never together, but they had been close enough for him to the see the soft appearance of wrinkles.

“Chicken’s feet.”

“…crow’s feet?” she asked.

“Sure. Whatever you girls say,” he replied.

“Maybe we’ll find Medusa tonight,” he called out behind him.

The young woman barely caught up to him when he paused in the middle of the field, the grass coming up shorter around his shoes. She plowed into him, forehead first, not realizing he’d stopped. “Jeez, are you okay?” she asked, whispering for the sake of the twilight.

“You’re asking me if I’m okay?” She could only see the profile of his face, blurred by the setting sun, as he looked out of the corner of his eye. He stood very still.

“Anyway, what are we doing?” She hid behind him, nestling her covered hands in the curve of his back.

“It’s Medusa!” he jeered, swinging his body and grabbing the woman, tickling her sides. She couldn’t move, and so she screamed.

“Really?” she played along, releasing her arms from his grip. His face disappeared with the sun, and after so much time together, he still didn’t look familiar to her. She could probably never point him out in a line-up.

“Did that warm you up?” he asked, smirking.

“It just made me wish there was an actual Medusa.”

“So you’re not Medusa? My mistake…” he chuckled and walked through the short grass.

She hit him gently on the shoulder. What was left of the light in their forest made her notice the color of the grass. She thought of rotting septic tanks and nuclear waste. “No, I’m not, but I may be soon.”

He sucked air through his teeth. “Don’t worry, some barrels in storage containers leaked a few years ago. Nothing to worry about. The world recuperates somehow.” She scrunched her brows.

“How did you know what I was thinking about?” He didn’t reply. “How did you know what happened here?” she asked carefully. He was still ahead of her as they walked a bit farther, though his pace had slowed. She saw his back convulse as a shiver went through him, his body trying to fight the cold.

“I’ve been here a couple times. But don’t worry, you won’t become Medusa.”

She looked at the ground once more, releasing the tension in her brows.

“I don’t understand the Medusa story, really,” she offered, changing her topic.

“How so?” He trudged forward so she would catch up. They walked side-by-side, finally, the cool night blanketing them.

“I mean, why would anyone go to someone who’s notoriously dangerous?”

“Didn’t he have to do it so he could save his mother from marrying a crazy dude?” he asked, placing his hands in his jean pockets.

“I guess that’s as good a reason as any.”

“Anyway, here it is.” He gestured, his hands raking against his jeans as he pulled them from his pockets. He slapped them against his thighs, startling the night into silence.

“Here what is?”

“The storage container!” He was excited. The container was long and white, with rust stains embellishing the sides. A phone number was plastered on it, but only in bits, the constant weather ruining the peace of mind.

“Wait.” She wrapped her sweater tighter around herself. “We’re going in there?” She looked into his black eyes as they squinted.


The young woman’s lips pursed out. She just gazed at the ground again.

“You don’t want to?”

“It’s dark and we’re alone,” she said sharply, looking into his eyes. They almost looked green.

“That’s what’s fun about it!” He grabbed her shoulder, collecting hair. She dipped away, feeling a few strands rip from her head from the motion.

“I’m not doing it, sorry. I’m going back to the car.” She started walking, the thuds from her shoes pulsing with her heart.

“If you don’t do it, I’ll just find someone else to do it with,” he called to her.

“You do that!” she yelled back.

She could hear him slapping his thighs again.




The woman on the train looked away from the window, her heart racing, her fingertips cold.

She kept her eyes closed for the rest of the ride. It was better not to see.




Jessica Murphy is a recent graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a Bachelor’s in English and Writing. She writes speculative fiction and women’s fiction, with a focus on sexual violence.



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