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by Nicolle Ma
California, United States
genre: Horror

The sun streams through the stained-glass window, vibrant with sunset hued zinnias. It’s one of my favorite things in my favorite room in the whole house, the place where I experience dawn and dusk, where I look out when the leaves change color and the place where I paint and create art.

I have been working on two art projects of pomegranates – a painting and a glass mosaic piece – for months. The idea came to me when I was cutting open a pomegranate, first taking off the top to reveal the ruby red seeds underneath trapped within the membrane. Before I learned how to cut the pomegranate across the membrane so that it was divided along its chambers, I used to haphazardly quarter it, the red seeds spraying pomegranate juice onto the kitchen table and my clothes. I delighted in picking off the pithy white membrane, separating the delicate skin sheath from the seeds. After learning the more efficient and admittedly cleaner method of cutting pomegranates, I do not regret cleaning up the stains but the surgical precision lacked the joy and carefreeness of my wild methods. 

Upon contemplating the beauty of the pomegranate I was holding, I realized that this fascinating fruit in all its rich complicated splendor should undoubtedly be the object of my attention for my next art project. I thought about how to best capture pomegranates. My free wielding brush would depict a pomegranate as if I have used my unassuming methods of cutting it open, however imperfect the final outcome may look. The mosaic would depict a pomegranate as if I have used the exacting methods of cutting along the membrane. When I use this method to cut the pomegranate, it has on occasion yielded star-shaped patterns on different pomegranates and even yielded heart-shaped patterns on others. I haven’t yet chosen the pattern inside the pomegranate for this glass mosaic piece. 

I plan to continue working on additional pomegranate pieces including close-ups of them, in the same way that Georgia O'Keeffe painted close-ups of flowers. Perhaps I have been primed to feature pomegranates in my art for a while. My partner had gifted me a replica of Salvador Dalí’s surrealist painting Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening shortly after we met. It was a strange gift (dare I say surreal?), but I good-naturedly hung it in the foyer so he would see that it’s being seen.   

I don’t feel like working on the glass mosaic piece today so I continue working on my painting. I easily slip into a dreamlike trance with my all-consuming work. When I first started my pomegranate pieces, my partner joked, “You devour pomegranates and they devour you.” We’d laugh and make plans for later. Except later became few and far between. We no longer recognized each other. Last week I realized something was missing in his apartment. Two months ago I had painted him a bouquet of white and yellow chrysanthemums sprinkled among purple hyacinths which he promptly hung above the fireplace. That painting was no longer there. 

I asked him about it and he gestured toward the trash, explaining that he spilled some wine on it the previous night and tried to clean up the stain but to no avail.   




I continue painting, quietly absorbed in my work, my thoughts swirling along with the colors I manipulate. The second to last time my partner visited the house was largely spent in silence. He stared at the sun setting through my stained-glass window full of blood orange zinnias before remarking that proper care of zinnias involves deadheading. 


I thought he said beheading. 

“Deadheading,” he clarified, “is a form of pruning to help with blooming.”  

I didn’t know he was interested in flowers or gardening in general. I didn’t realize that this fascination extended to e-commerce until I found out he was selling my unblemished painting online. 

With this discovery, I realized I needed to deadhead or prune what was holding me back. I just didn’t know what or how to do it.




I am distraught, but strangely more distraught about my artwork. I can’t quite paint the seeds the way that I desire and some of the glass beads for my mosaic piece are the incorrect shape and color. I need to replace them. As I stare at my muse, a pomegranate I had placed on the windowsill, the moonlight strikes the pomegranate to reveal the unusual truths that are uncovered at this late hour: the seeds look like teeth – that is, the seeds are shaped like teeth. 

I need teeth shaped glass beads for my mosaic piece. That is now a certainty. What is uncertain is where I can procure these teeth shaped glass beads.  

I walk around the house and see the Dalí painting of the sleeping woman. There is a heart-shaped shadow cast by the small pomegranate below the woman. Now I know what pattern the inside of my pomegranate will be. Yet I am drawn to the tiger who is about to pounce on the sleeping woman, peacefully dreaming. Not too long ago, I think to myself sadly, he was the tiger who pounced and decided to destroy my dreams. I don’t want to be that woman. I want to be the tiger, the one who pounces and decides and has agency. 

As I gaze at the painting, the tiger enlarges and floats out of the painting toward me, simultaneously beckoning me and taunting me. I stare transfixed at the tiger’s teeth, realizing how much power is concentrated in the fangs.         




I do not know how much time has passed, but I find myself back at the Dalí painting in the foyer, coming out of a dreamlike trance. I study the painting more carefully. Every time I’ve come to look at the painting, upon first glance I never see the rifle with the bayonet pointed at the sleeping woman’s right arm which was even closer to her than the pouncing tiger. It is only after staring at the painting longer that I realize there is more to the painting than the woman and the tiger. The pouncing tiger about to attack the woman originated from another pouncing tiger which was spawned from a rockfish which was generated from a large pomegranate hovering at the horizon. It is a bizarre cycle of creation and violence, ultimately ending in the attack of the unconscious woman.  

She remains alive, since she is only woken up from her dream, but her dream dies a horrific death. 

The thought makes my mouth dry. I recall seeing some homemade pomegranate juice in the fridge, though I don’t remember making it. I pour myself a glass of pomegranate juice, which is sweet and slightly metallic.  

I head back to my studio. I start at the glass mosaic and the perfect enamel beads in place, snugly positioned inside the pomegranate’s heart-shaped chambers. I must have found the beads at the bottom of my bead kit.   

I drink more pomegranate juice, emptying the glass and placing it on the darkened windowsill. Out of the corner of my eye, I spy two pomegranate seeds at the bottom of the glass. I pick up the pomegranate from the windowsill that’s been serving as my muse and am horrified to see glistening enamel inside its chambers instead of its ruby red seeds. I hesitate before brushing my hands across the enamel beads on the mosaic piece and am startled by the feel. These are not beads. 

The moonlight glides over the empty glass, revealing another truth: those are not pomegranate seeds. I tip the contents of my glass toward me and two pearly whites slide down the glass into my hand, smelling faintly of pomegranate juice.

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