Geert offers her his fantasy as a gift, an early Christmas present.

“There’s no need for you to be so timid,” he says, squeezing her left breast.

Her objections to his “gift” go unheard. Perhaps they aren’t loud enough. Or he disregards them as modesty. Evening muteness takes over and they watch TV in an atmosphere of forced tolerance.

A week later, he gives her a time and place, and she is annoyed. Unwilling.

“But we talked about this,” he says. His annoyance is stronger.

Before long, she gives up, gives in, gives. Because he has already paid the guy—of course it’s a guy. Because she doesn’t want to be a spoilsport and supply Geert with ammunition. Their life together is degenerating—one thing they agree on—and as long as their one-year lease lasts and her moving out equals financial disaster, she might as well make an effort.


The atelier on Prinsengracht is impressive. Designer furniture, antique ladders, a stash of theatrical costumes, masks, and props.

She has arrived unprepared, physically, mentally. The photographer tells her to brush her wind-blown hair and hide her clothes behind the paper screen.

“Excuse me?”

“Yes, I’m shooting you naked,” he says, as though it’s the most natural thing in the world.

She considers walking out. You forgot to mention the details, she would tell Geert. And he would reply that she must have misunderstood. As always, there would be no recording to play back. His word against hers. The fight would win.

While she undresses, she talks herself into the idea, like she talked herself into cohabitation. She hates to admit that she’s in this Geert-mess because of a pathetic infatuation. She was impulsive, hopeful, blind.

Her socks and underwear leave her with seam-indented flesh. She appears embarrassed before the photographer.

“Don’t worry,” he says, setting up his camera. “There’s post-production.”

He doesn’t seem to notice her much during the shoot, which is reassuring. He must have done this a million times. Because his directions are reasonable, tasteful, she leans this way and that, complying as best as she can, until he tells her that she’s free to go.

His last words echo on her way back to that place she can no longer call home.


A selection of twenty digital photographs arrives in Geert’s inbox. Her body in his inbox, because he paid for the session. Their favorite shot will be blown-up, printed, and framed. It’s included in the price.

The idea of her naked self as a life-size image on the wall depresses her. But complaining about the arrangement now seems silly. She should have asked the right questions in advance. Her mistake.

Together they sit on the sofa, laptop on his lap. The photos are attractive, which doesn’t surprise her. Her body is young, well made, and the photographer was professional. But will any of these pictures improve their sex life? She assumes this was Geert’s goal—as though sex would fix them.

“Fantastic,” he says, clicking through the results. “You must be thrilled.”

He doesn’t realize that she’s done him a favor.

They compare how her breast hang or poke on each shot.

She thinks of rental rates in Amsterdam and their unaffordable heights.

“But my smile is so lame,” she says, commenting on the photo he calls his favorite.

“Who cares?” 

She gets up, wondering if they’ve ever spoken the same language. “You choose.”

When she sees his grin of dark pleasure, she regrets her surrender. He loves winning. With each sick victory, he’s gnawing away at her autonomy.


On a dead December day, she returns from work and finds a large framed photograph hanging on their living room wall. He stands beside it, proud, a bandage on his finger where he must have hammered himself instead of the nail.

She feels strangled. The lighting and composition is flattering in this shot. The photographer has matched her curves to the background curtains. Even the airbrushing is smart, leaving her cute moles and dimples intact. But she doesn’t recognize herself. She sees an anonymous body. Not even a woman. A body. 

“Why’s my head missing?”

He reacts as though her question is an offense. “I asked for it.”

“Asked for what?”

“To have the picture cropped.”

A surge of humiliation is followed by a rage so strong, it makes her calm as ice.


“Because… you’re naked. And we have friends coming over all the time. I thought it would make you uncomfortable. Hanging there. Naked.”

“So why do I hang there naked?”

She might as well have suggested they’d fuck—he couldn’t be more baffled. “But nobody will suspect it’s you! I made you unrecognizable.”

“You chopped off my head.”

He throws up his arms as if warding away an evil spirit. “Give me a break. You always make me into a monster. Why give it such an awful spin? You’re gorgeous. I made you look gorgeous.”

Silence drifts into the room like poisonous gas. She checks the horizon for the arrival of dawn, but his face remains dark.

“Why did you want this photo of me?” she asks.

“You don’t like it?”

“That’s not the point.”

“I wanted you to know how beautiful you are,” he says, softening, perhaps thinking he’s getting a chance to make things right. “Look. Will you please look? This is how I see you.”

She looks. She sees a body. No head. “I feared as much.”


Outside, the streets are wet and slick as though it has been raining for years. She walks without aim into an uncertain future. She should have plotted her exit better, but the victory in her homelessness fires her steps.

Claire Polders is the author of four novels in Dutch and co-author of one novel for younger readers (A Whale in Paris, Simon & Schuster, 2018). Her short work appeared in Electric Literature, Tin House, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Fiction International, and elsewhere. She’s currently safely stranded in Vietnam. Find her online at clairepolders.com.

© 2020 Claire Polders. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, May 2020.

Editors: Troy Palmer, Beth Gilstrap & Alvin Park. Images from The Noun Project (credit: Juan Pablo Bravo).

The 2020 Flash Issue:



by Claire Polders
The Guillotine