by Christine Kalafus | There's no such thing as an empty space.


Last week a reconstruction surgeon held my johnny coat open and said I was young in my body. He was looking at my left breast. He shifted his gaze to my right breast and said that the body doesn’t like empty spaces. My right breast, once child-flat, then fertile-plump then a tumor-less cave, now bears a scar resembling a single tuft in a cushion.

How easy, how reductive, to think of the body as decoration. How simple to paint a ceiling to hide a water stain or move a chair to protect the eye from electrical outlets—not so easy a scar that gallops from clavicle to nipple. When I met Katrina, where I lived then—in Virginia—it was at the end of high school. She loved to pair skull-and-crossbones patterned leggings with her hair, short and cropped. She was someone else on her horse—tailored.

We were eighteen when she put me on Boogs. Bareback. I’d never been on a horse before. It was as if I was on the roof of a skyscraper, one with the power to throw me. The next week, that skyscraper threw Katrina. She’s an inch shorter now. I wasn’t there when it happened; I had just moved to Connecticut for college. I’ve always felt responsible for Katrina’s fall, as if my leaving was the empty space that caused the compression of her spine.

Recently, I moved to a place that used to have two horses. When I came to view the house and barn, there was only one. He stood in his stall beneath two-hundred-year-old beams—a male horse with a female name: Lindsay. His shape was an unbroken line of mane and muscle. I touched him. Still, it was uncomfortable to look him in the eye. I didn’t understand him—I’m not remotely horsey.

When I came home after the appointment with the surgeon, I stood barefoot on one of the mottled, protruding stones in the yard—out behind the barn where the land is flat, clover and grass bordered by a haphazard stone wall born, I imagine, from generations of farmers frustrated with a plow. There’s a groove in the grass where the horse had been trained—a dirt oval slowly being reclaimed by buttercups. More mottled stones surround the paddock, protruding, lichen-covered, like the rounded backs of whales—only their smallest, most vulnerable part showing.

Christine Kalafus’s essays, flash nonfiction, and poems have appeared in Longreads, the Connecticut Literary Anthology, and Get Lit Barbie, among others. “I’ve Heard You Make Cakes,” recorded at Laugh Boston, was featured on the Moth Radio Hour. Formerly a seamstress for the interior design industry, she recently completed her first novel. More at and @christinekalafus on Instagram.

This essay first appeared in the New Guard, Vol. VII (2018).

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