Engraved illustration of vintage corset from La Mode Illustrée, 1885, France, Paris

by Isabelle B.L

I’m a whale, a bell and a multifunctional cord.

Today, I receive something to make my waist smaller. The giver says:

“It’s made with 98 whale bones, my dear.”

Hands of a woman I can’t see thread black cords, in and out, pulls and ties. My feet enter a circle of jade and white lace. I’m a church bell. Ding-dong. He wants to see me.

My right arm slides down the mahogany rail. With each step, he adds an adjective. Breath-taking. Beautiful. Bewitching but I can only feel breathless.


The painter sees many church bells. Blue bells, golden bells, white bells or jade bells bordered with white lace.

I lay before him. I’m cordless. I’m free but only for an hour a day. He threads slowly, pulls gently and ties reluctantly.


They tell me not to read. They tell me not to write. They tell me not to paint. They tell me not to go outside, but like Eve, I’m curious.

Unfinished painting. My cordless body will never complete his canvas.


I pace back and forth. I speak to objects because they understand. I pretend my dinner plate is a ball. Shattered bodies. Shattered porcelain. Same thing.

Screams from cheekless faces, twig-like arms, bodies that slither. We become the names they call us.

A writer visits us today. We tell him our crimes. Nos with exclamation marks, an opinion too many, a wish for a cordless body. We want to breathe like a man. Can he write all that?


Waiting is hoping. I wait under the table with my head buried between my arms. Who will read our stories? Will anyone come for us?

I stand on the table and see naked trees.

I stand on the table and see April showers.

I stand on the table and see trees in full bloom.

I stand on the table and see a red, yellow and orange impressionist landscape.

One day, I can no longer straighten my legs, reach the iron bars and see—colour. I lay in the dark. I’m finally cordless but I’m not free.

Isabelle B.L is a teacher based in France. She has published a novel inspired by the life of a New Caledonian feminist and politician. Her work can be found in the Birth Lifespan Vol. 1 and Growing Up Lifespan Vol. 2 anthologies for Pure Slush Books, Visual Verse and elsewhere.

Engraved illustration of vintage corset from La Mode Illustrée, 1885, France, Paris via depositphoto, ID 13177899.