The Cyst by Jenny Gray

Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, Jenny attended The University of Chester to study English with Creative Writing. After graduating, she moved to Vancouver where she wrote her first novel, The Lightning Tree, which was shortlisted for the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition in 2013. Upon her return to Scotland, Jenny obtained an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in a number of publications including Pandora’s Box, And Other Stories, Northern Renewal, Passages, and Glasgow Women Poets. Jenny lives in Edinburgh where she works as a copywriter.


The Cyst


It whispers to her as a friend might. She can forget it is there and then, just when she has lapsed back into her everyday life–perusing fruit in the supermarket–its voice creeps back into her head.

She remembers a story about a man who became horrified by his own skeleton. She pauses by the peaches. Her hand hovers over the felted fruit and she thinks: it’s not that.

No, agrees the cyst and then is quiet once more.

She isn’t like the man who hated his own bones. She has come to admire the cyst. Sometimes when she is lying in bed, caught in the fissure between dreaming and waking, she will run the palm of her hand over the bunched, distorted flesh, feel how the fat beneath the surface ripples away like water trapped in a plastic bag.

When her flatmate moves out she doesn’t think about getting another. The cyst is enough. She moves her things into the empty room, she takes the kitchen table through and pushes it against the long windows so she can sit and look out over the river and the park. She could use the rent; in the colder months she watches her breath plume out before her. When she was a child it was a playground game–pretending to be a dragon or a train. Now the breath hangs in the air, a reminder like the unpaid bills stacked up in the hall.

She finds she’s eating less. Hunger has slipped away with the leaves from the trees. Her clavicles are two razor clams trapped beneath the snare of her skin. She’s taken on new angles, her bent arm the sharp ‘V’ of geese flying southwards. In the soft hollow of her underarm the cyst stays plump and full of promise. The embryo of its essence hums to her as she lies basking in the sunlight that falls onto her unmade bed.

Don’t move, says the cyst. She doesn’t. Days creep away, folding into nights; they are short and hot and filled with carnival noises. Then suddenly they’re cooling once again. She dozes as fireworks pop in the sky.

The pressure is building. It wakes her in the night like labour pains. Her skin is hot and sticky and when she feels in that familiar place, the cyst is different, ruptured somehow. Hot fluid comes away with her hand and something else too. Something brittle. She sits up in bed, crosses her legs and looks down at her cupped hands. There, sitting in her palm, like some poor rescued insect, is a tiny woman. She’s fragile, her bones visible beneath her skin, the nails on her fingers and toes have grown too long, the ends of her hair are chewed dry. But there, in the hollow of the miniature right arm is that familiar bubble, swelling ovular beneath the tautness of her skin. She is exact and she is perfect.

Jenny can be reached via email,