Generational Curses

They say it takes a village. This is a story from The Village of Shouldn’t.

You are born. You transition: A life of warmth, comfort, and darkness, every need met, suddenly becomes loud, bright, and cold. This is the first trauma we all must endure; there are no plotting villains here, only nature.

You will not remember much from your early life, and yet, it will be written on your body anyway. There are giants everywhere. They are the villagers from “Shouldn’t.” Their loud voices carry meaning, every word uttered a rule of the world that you must learn. One of the first: Ladies don’t burp. To say this is to ignore the entire production around burping: burping babies, burp cloths. There is no further explanation about why nitrogen and oxygen are gendered, how swallowing air while you feed is classed, as though it is the most natural law in the world. You will not remember this lesson in your squishy sponge evolving brain, but your body will. When you burp, your lips will pucker and you will transform—sour, resting, and bitter face. You will never know why this happens, only that it does.

You are a little older. You can hold your own head up, say a few words, move yourself from one place to another. You still stumble, and your th doesn’t quite sound like everybody else’s. Every day you grow—more steady, more confident—in this village made of giants. You begin to play, simple at first, and then something more alive than the villagers can understand. Your memory holds water now—much of it slipping through a sieve, but some clinging to the edges. Like when you are told, You are a girl. You will marry a boy. You are so young that you barely remember “a before,” but you remember the after. At first, you think it is the whole ring finger that has turned to iron. You try to get help at first, but nothing works. The giants don’t seem particularly concerned. The iron encasing your finger has keyholes. Not one, but many. As you grow, you try to pick the locks with hairpins and pencils sharpened like knives, and once even a multitool that nearly lopped your finger clean off. Nothing helps, so you simply learn to live with the weight of an ironclad finger. It is heavy, but you must bear it.

Then the giants teach you pity. You notice one that walks with a wooden stick; you are quickly quieted when you ask about it. Later, one of the giants tells you the horrors of a body gone wrong. Some villagers, they explain, are forced to live out their days dependent on wheels and crutches and the kindness of others. The worst thing that you could be, the villagers teach you, is disabled. They teach you how to pray against it, how to not deserve it. And, slowly, yellow tape wraps its way around your legs, like a snake skin shedding in reverse. The words on the tape scream CAUTION CAUTION CAUTION. It does not take long for the yellow tape to merge, for it to become impossible to tell where the warnings stop and the realities of your body start. The ink of CAUTION seeps through, internalized, a word whispered in the bloodstream.

When you get closer to giant sized, you begin to bleed. You cry at first, thinking for sure that you must be dying. The giants explain that you are not. You begin to see your body change in the mirror. Your roundness changes from childlike. Each day you wake, the giants say that’s enough. But still, you grow. And the villagers inform you that you grow too much, too wildly, too thoughtlessly. They tell you where your body is too much: Your arms are too soft underneath, like pudding. Your stomach is round like a crescent moon in the wrong direction. Your thighs will break free of their caution tape. And so, each day, you begin to disappear in the mirror. Your face first, then every part of you the giants have not criticized. It does not take long for the mirror to only reflect the parts of your body that are a problem, a funhouse highlighting flaws.

You grow up and realize that The Village of Shouldn’t isn’t full of giants. In fact, many of the villagers try to shrink themselves to hide their shame. The villagers have hair where they shouldn’t, in colors that they shouldn’t. They are too loud. They are too big. They stomp when they should tread gracefully. They are divorced when they should be living happily ever after with a man. They have no children or their children do not visit. Some even have body parts that don’t work like they used to, that require surgeries or aids like glasses and canes.

And then, as a would-be giant, you see a small thing. A child, you realize. But the child does not look like a child. The child looks like glass. How odd, you think, to have such a fragile thing around giants. And then you see others get closer, gaze at the child. From the right angle—the perfect angle—the child looks like a mirror. Suddenly, you witness the villagers whispering their insecurities—at themselves, at the child. But you still have not forgotten childhood—not entirely, not yet. You know the child cannot understand that giants see themselves reflected, cannot understand they are simply echoing all the things they hate about their own bodies. All the child hears are the many ways they are wrong. You try to decipher how to break the trance of the reflections—the villagers staring like Narcissus trapped at the water’s edge—but without breaking the fragile glass child. It’s a riddle and you wonder if there is any true answer at all.

AUDREY T. CARROLL is the author of the What Blooms in the Dark (ELJ Editions, 2024), Parts of Speech: A Disabled Dictionary (Alien Buddha Press, 2023), and In My Next Queer Life, I Want to Be (kith books, 2023). Her writing has appeared in Lost Balloon, CRAFT, JMWW, Bending Genres, and others. She serves as a Diversity & Inclusion Editor for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies, and as a Fiction Editor for Chaotic Merge Magazine. She can be found at and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter/Instagram.