Tigers Have Striped Skin by Davena O’ Neill

The heart of a shrimp is located in its head.

They say the heart can rule the head, but it can lead you into trouble. Maybe shrimp are romantic. Or dumb. Dad eats shrimp, pulls the heads right off, and sucks the liquid out. Mom says men’s brains are between their legs. Guess that’s why they hate getting kicked there, it could cause brain-damage.

The average heart is the size of a fist.

If I had the choice between a heart and fist, I’d be a fist. The heart pumps blood around but it can break too easy. A fist can do the breaking. Dad has really big hands, rough, with scars on his knuckles. Having a big heart doesn’t mean you love more or that you’re kind.

Laughing is good for your heart. It reduces stress and gives a boost to your immune system.

Like oranges. I try to make Mom laugh, dancing around the kitchen, pulling funny faces. It works for a while, then she rubs my head, goes to her room. I hear her crying sometimes. I prefer that to when Dad’s here. Different sounds come from the room then.

It’s possible to have a broken heart. It’s called broken heart syndrome and is similar to a heart attack.

So, you can die from a broken heart. Mom said Dad broke hers, too many times. I started to cry; afraid the next time would kill her. She told me you can’t die from it, but Mom lies about a lot of stuff.

The heart can continue beating when it’s disconnected from the body.

But why, what would be the point? With no blood to pump, it can finally take a break. Like having no one to love, you have a lot less to worry about. That’d be better for your health than eating oranges every day.

***

The human body contains enough fat to make seven bars of soap.

I can’t picture my Dad as a kid. But he has a mother. She could be a soap factory. She wheezes into the house, makes mean comments, but says nothing about Mom’s bruises. She calls him “my boy”, like he’s something special. I think it makes him sound like a dog, except, I like dogs.

Stomach acid can dissolve metal. If it touched your skin, it would burn right through it.

They were shouting in the bedroom, then all went quiet. The pain in my belly was like I was being burned alive. I wanted to run in there and spit on him, watch him blister and melt. But I hid in my wardrobe, until I heard Mom crying. Then I could breathe again.

In cases of extreme starvation, the brain will begin to eat itself.

Words don’t always mean what they say. Like, “if you leave me, I’ll die” or “I love you so much I could die”. You can be starved of things other than food and they can kill you just as quick. Love can eat you up just as much as hate.

Every organ you have two of, you only need one of to survive.

Like parents.

***

Rats laugh.

They make a sound like laughing when they’re tickled. But what fool would tickle a rat? Dad kicks empty cans on his way to the fridge. His eyes are bright and his smile too wide. He looks more like a shark than a rat.

Female lions do 90 percent of the hunting.

Females seem to do most of everything. I tell Mom I don’t see the point of men. She says I will when I’m older. She dances her way back to the bedroom and I watch TV until it gets dark. I turn the volume up high, so I don’t hear.

Around 50 percent of orangutans have fractured bones, due to regularly falling out of trees.

Mom’s friend brings her home from the hospital. I draw a smiley face on her cast. People say we’re related to apes. You’d think they’d be more careful when they know something is dangerous. You’d think they could hold on better than that.

Tigers have striped skin.

Looking at her swollen eye Mom says, “a leopard can’t change his spots”. I’m not sure if that’s true, but a tiger’s stripes aren’t just on the fur, they are also on its skin. Sometimes what you see on the outside of a person goes all the way to their bones. Maybe that’s what she means.

The Arctic wood frog can stop its heart when it freezes. When the temperatures rise, they thaw, and their heart starts beating again.

I tell Mom everything’s going to be alright. We are better off just the two of us. I tuck her in bed, hope it’s the last time, but as I sit in the dark, I’m cold. It doesn’t seem to matter how much stuff I fill in my head, it always comes back to the heart.


About The Author

Davena O’ Neill is an Irish writer, published in FlashBackFiction, Spelk, VirtualZine, Lunate Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, among others. She was selected to read at Cork International Short Story Festival and was one of Grindstone Literary Dirty Dozen 2019. Find on Twitter @o_davena