She used to be someone important, when her body was fresh and unwrapped. Now she can’t remember, the mirror can’t remind her, and her subjects and suitors are dead. Or maybe not dead, exactly; they have vanished into indifference, leading their own lives somewhere in the ether of otherness.
She is more remote from the world than most; her skin is not a sensory separation from the outside, but it is thick like leather, a real exoskeleton at this point, a fortification around flesh and bone, and around this leather lies a further layer, cotton gauze, golden with the passing of time.
When she was younger, she fell for rows of men, and each of them responded in worthy terms to her obsession. Then came the one they expected her to bring to the throne, the one who said, ‘Why worship this one god when there are so many to choose from?’ He ran from her and disappeared into the desert, taking his love with him.
The first thing her mother the queen said when told the news was this: ‘What did you do to make him despise you? How could you, my daughter, fail to bring us back a king?’
This question burrowed deep into the princess’s nose and began, over time, to slice chunks from her brain until the entire skull’s chalice was clean as a bowl.
The question tore into her chest and lifted out her lungs, her stomach and gall, all of her organs, each placed by worried servants into separate jars, leaving the princess with only her heart. A useless, hyperactive pump of a heart.
Doubt stuffed the princess with fragrant linen and buried her in salt until her skin was thick and impermeable. By then, the mother had died, buried alongside her husband, the sun king, their bodies wrapped in worship of Aten.
The servants rubbed the salt from the princess’s skin, which was now tough as bark around her bones, her limbs sucked dry. At that moment, she was beloved by Aten, but she didn’t care: she wanted another’s love, and she, the princess, had been told no. In response to this, she felt the sun had done enough shining in her mind.
Let the organs that receive the sun be numbed and separated, let the skin that tingles from the light be reduced to callous and indifferent leather, let the lungs that breathe his warmth be taken and plunged in cold, dark water.
Let the stomach, who eats the sun’s lush crop, live in a foodless prison, let the kidneys who clean the body’s water like a pair of springs be forever removed from sunlight’s decontaminating touch.
Piece by piece, the princess refused herself to the sun, who had so entranced her parents, saying, ‘If you will not give me his love, then you shan’t have my body, which is worth so much more than a soul.’ The princess knew that only bodies can love, that souls without bodies feel nothing but dispassionate bliss.
After forty days, the servants wrapped her skin and flesh in bandages to keep the rot away. Her priests came, chanting and applying further balms. They stood around her in formation below the supervising jackal head. The princess became impatient. She was a mummy now, and there was much to do.
Without organs or brains to weigh her down, she picked up tremendous speed, and returned to her practice of rattling the sistrum. Exasperated by the slowness of her scribes, she took to making her own inscriptions on grave sites, writing a different version of her life’s story on each tomb.
In one, her body had been mummified from a fall into a glacier, the cold turning her skin to leather.
In another, she was murdered on her father’s throne, and wrapped in salted linen for seventy days.
In a third, she died in the desert while howling at Aten, the sun; she stood with her mouth open and her eyes weeping until not a drop of liquid was left in her.
In a fourth, her body slid into the acid waters of a bog and was recovered only weeks later by her betrothed, who had changed his mind about celestial matters. By that point, so the anointed princess wrote, it was of course too late – the age of Aten was beginning to wane, and all the other gods had begun to grow back inside the soil of the mind – and her skin could no longer let anything in.
In a fifth, she was swallowed whole by a jackal and lived inside his body for the duration of his canine life, and by the time his death came her flesh had merged with his, so she stood up on her hind legs and walked through the desert until she reached the ocean, drinking salt water until her heart turned to stone.
This is the state she’s chosen for herself: mummification so as to avoid feeling as much as she previously has. Her numbness delights her. For a few months, she buries her new body up to the neck in sand, feeling neither thirst nor itch. The sun pummels her empty skull and she permits it, day and night in the fragrant desert.
She imagines the sharpest pain she can fathom, a hook ripping through the soft belly of a crocodile, the pain of desire unrequited, left to pulse on its own with no-one to radiate out towards, and even this pain has no physical effect. Her body has become unfeeling, and underneath the mask on which her features are painted, she conceives a smile.
In seventy days, she has become untouchable, untouched. Her hollow body is filled with linen, flowers and air. She is a bird in the sand, under the sun, she is resin. The violent rays hit her gauze and no longer burn a thing.