Matt Bell

Domina, Doreen, Dorma

What month then, what spring or fall, what meaningless season of locusts and black flies besetting our town, flown in on thickening air, on sickening smell? And then, in the middle of its days, this chrysalis, this cocoon, found wrapped between us, tangled in our morning sheets, in the space where our toddling daughter once slept, dream-thrashed, nightmare-ridden. Where she once clung to our skin, our heat. A chrysalis? I ask my wife. A cocoon? What's the difference when it's your child inside, when it's your caterpillar?

We vow to keep it close, to sleep beside it, until it cracks, until it ruptures. What cocoons are for: Until she emerges, no longer a child. What joy, to cradle my pupa in my arms! To rock it in the rocking chair. To at last see the new shape pressed against the chitin. To crack the chrysalis wide with one hand, to force her free with the other. To behold the dripping wings, the glistening thorax. To behold the head, the new mouth. To open the nursery window, to fill the room with those other black wings, other black legs, other black mouths, devouring what they can catch: only me, only what flaking skin I have left. And then my daughter's fresh wings, her span of translucent amber. And then the flapping, the loose scent of molt dust, of moth smoke. And then the heavy touch of her hairy legs on my legs, on my hips, on my chest. And then the click of her mandibles, clipping locusts from my ears, knocking flies from my lips and eyes.

And then my wife and I at the window, watching her leave. Watching her join the town's other golden children, all flying a sky clouded shut. Keeping us safe, until the locusts run out. Until the flies are gone. Until the trees and grass and shrubs are empty of leaf and branch. Until we run out of food ourselves. Until my wife disappears.

The rest of us shut ourselves away, whisper through glass pane, through locked door. You can't ever come home, we say, but it doesn't stop the banging against our lit windows, our delicate houses. See my only daughter: How big she's gotten. How all grown up. And then her string of milky eggs across the window. And then her caterpillars, hungry for what remains.

Matt Bell is the author of two chapbooks, The Collectors (Caketrain, 2009) and How the Broken Lead the Blind (Willows Wept Press, 2009), as well as a full-length fiction collection titled How They Were Found, coming Fall 2010 from Keyhole Press. His fiction has been published or is upcoming in Conjunctions, Willow Springs, Gulf Coast, Hayden's Ferry Review, and many other magazines. He is also the editor of The Collagist. He can be found online at www.mdbell.com. "Domina, Doreen, Dorma" is the first published piece in a series of short-shorts.


  1. Love this, Matt. And the last sentence is gorgeous.

  2. Sitting here reading this, while everyone else in my house is asleep, one week to the day before my son's first birthday.

    Nail, head.

    ~~Tracy Lucas