Bad to the Bone (Swati Sudarsan)

Bad bones, my boyfriend says and slaps my house like an ass. This baby’s gotta go down

A litany of tears down my cheeks in protest, but he’s busy fingering my walls to the corner, fingers wedged in their dovetail, checking them for a pulse.

Yep, he confirms. Rotting from within

I’m at work when the hammer first rips into the flesh of my home, spraying guts over my front lawn. I try to focus. Printer printing. Shredder shredding. I evade my heartbeat asking: How does one go home when home is gone? 

When I get back, house entrails stick to every surface. This is sick, he says, about my face: morose, maudlin, and ungrateful. What would you do if the rot killed you?

He hugs me by the nape of my neck, proposes we make the changes a bit more fun. In every room, we’ll play a new role.

A fresh coat of paint later, he rails me in the revamped study. He’s a babysitter and I’m his doll, lifeless except for the stray blink. In the breakfast nook he’s a cowboy and I’m a wild horse that needs breaking. Then in the pantry he’s a food critic. Clever him, judging me with each lick. 

His renovations bore deeper, straight into the heart of my home. Rot trails out of the wall. The house is breathing. When he rests, I check what’s been pulled from the walls. Spaghetti strings of maggots congealed in the vents. Mouse carcasses with chunks of their torsos missing. I am appalled by the stench I’ve been living with.

Weeks pass, and he dresses my house to his liking. There are fragments of crown molding in primo spots, and windows sprouting wherever he wants. I play his games, always his prop. In the den, he’s an old man and I’m a cane. He raps me until he comes into the fresh thinset mortar. In my engorged closet, now a walk-in, he lays me down and douses me in pudding. I flail, and he licks up my brown shadow.

I am scared of my own house breaking, but terrified of the house being built. I stay small and aside, letting him hammer, nail, and drill me and the house, both. The house starts breathing shallow, like it’s holding too much. It rasps the way a heart does when it’s still too wet to break, and I wonder if the bones are not healing. When I ask him to double check, his face changes shape and tenor. It darkens as he growls, You think I let shit get away? 

Then one night he says, Tomorrow is the last of the renovations. I want you to close your eyes so I can surprise you. 

He wraps a blindfold onto my cheeks after dinner and asks to play one more role. I more yield than consent. He leads me to the shower, and sets the faucet to scalding. I wonder if this is hell. His voice distorts under sheets of water, and he paws at me with mortar fists, rough as if they were nail files. His lips pitter down my chest, quibble at my thighs, open and shut. He can’t decide which way to go. He cuts off my locks, and runs them through the water. They itch down my body and into every crevice. He pounds me until I puddle, and then he lets me rest. I fall asleep with the blindfold on.

The next day at work, I shove papers in the printer. Shred on a whim. I am scared of my house’s final transformation, but my scream stays in my chest. On the drive home, I think of his hands scraping over my body, digging into the hollows of my neck.

When I get to the driveway, the house is leaning. There’s yellow caution tape laced over it, making it look like an unveiling. 

“Are you the owner of this property?” a man with a badge asks. 

I’m quiet, not sure if I know the answer.

“The foundation collapsed this morning. The house fell in on itself.”

He did say it had to go down, I think.

We found a body, stuck in the wall. Must have been inside when it broke.” 

I look at the home before me. Only the bones are left. 

I want to ask it, What would you do if the rot killed you? 

My house would answer, I would kill it first.


Swati Sudarsan is based in Oakland, CA (Ohlone Land). Swati has received support from Tin House, Kenyon Review, Kweli Journal, and Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She was the runner-up of the 2022 So to SpeakContest Issue, and has work in McSweeney’s, The Adroit Journal, Maudlin House and more.


image: MM Kaufman