Dara Yen Elerath June 2021 First Prize

The Button Wife

by Dara Elerath

The button wife bends her body across the bed, but the cloth husband is not interested in touching her. Instead, he phones the burlap wife. He likes the way her coarse skin brushes against his body. At night, the button wife cries, recalling how her husband used to clutch the dark thread of her hair. She knows the burlap wife’s curls scratch him in the fashion he prefers. The cloth husband has a passion for roughness, but the button wife, woven from cotton, has only been soft and yielding. One evening, she decides to scour the buttons of her eyes with a steel wool; she hopes her husband will love her again. Soon, they are scuffed and cracked. When her husband comes back he looks at her with anger. You have ruined your eyes, he says, how can I look at you now? Later, gazing in a hand mirror, she notes she is no longer beautiful. She lifts a pair of scissors and snips the strings that knot the buttons to her face. Then she can no longer weep; then she can no longer see her husband leave the house each evening. She irons the hem of her dress in darkness. She waits to hear the sound of his car speeding down plastic blacktop. She dreams of the burlap wife’s hair cutting her skin the way it cuts her husband’s. Sometimes, she pricks her arm with a darning needle to feel. The red thread that unspools from her body is long as a dog leash. She wonders then if she is a dog. She hopes the cloth husband will walk her when he returns. She resolves then to wag her tail in greeting. She resolves then to sleep at his feet.

About the Author

Dara Yen Elerath is the author of Dark Braid, which won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry (BkMk Press). Her first published flash fiction appeared in Tahoma Literary Review and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, AGNI, Boulevard, Plume, Poet Lore, Hunger Mountain, and The Los Angeles Review, among others. She received her MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts and resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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