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"Speak Into the Mouth," short story excerpt

Wednesday 7/20/22

A perk of being massively fragmented—because almost everything has a perk if you look hard enough, even atomic bombs—is that you can come home from a long day of work and separate yourself out nicely, and more or less evenly. I call it practical distribution.


What I like to do is nail my parts to the wall, or stick them there if they stay up by themselves. My heart, for instance, has this tacky quality, like it has rolled around in pine sap. Thumbtacks do for the rest of me, because I don’t want to put big nail holes in my walls. Value-to-you always takes a backseat to resale value.


Of course, with more people working from home now, it’s possible for me to be disassembled all day. I’ll go to bed at night, and I’m only a voice, if I’m even that. I don’t know what I am. I don’t make a dent in the covers. I feel no cold, nor warmth. It’s freeing.


One of the best things about having the parts of me on the wall is they’re not recognizable as my parts. I’m free to keep the shades open and now one looking in from across the street would think that was my brain, my kidney, my penis, my gut, all neatly mounted. They look like paintings. Light fixtures. A quilt. I’m amused by what my liver does on its own. It likes to go to the fridge and snatch some lemons, cut them open, suck on them. I think it’s trying to heal itself from the drinking I’ve done. You can’t really talk to parts of yourself, but if I could, I’d say something to my liver like, “Hey, who isn’t trying to heal themselves?” or “Yeah, you get it!” I call it constituent humor. Labels aren’t hard for me to think of.


I have a lot of Zoom meetings for work. They don’t want you to be naked, which is bad for company morale, but if they can hear you, it doesn’t matter on their end if they can’t see all of you. I’m perfectly at ease being all taken apart. They look through the screen into my place and I just give them some advice so everything goes smoothly.


“Speak into the mouth,” I say, because I’ll leave my mouth somewhere near my chair where they can see it, like a target. I welcome the idea of people talking into each other’s mouths as if they’re breathing life from one person to another.


They’re happy enough with the job I do. It’s less about medals and more about hours. Most things are about filling them, and businesses aren’t a lot different. Sometimes I’ll just nick out to the store, leaving the rest of me behind. I won’t be able to buy anything. There’s no place to carry a wallet. I go to go. I can’t see anything without my eyes, but it’s right across the street and obviously I know I’m not at home.


I wouldn’t risk going much further as I’m then constituted. The freeing lightness is the chief perk. I’d be amenable to being this way always, if there was a practical way to do it, and not carry around all of the parts of myself. Ghosts are supposed to be miserable. They always want something to be put right for them. But it’s not like whatever that is will make them happy. They’re tormented, and you know they’re going to continue on that way. I think the torment could be worse moving forward for them minus that torment, though, because what will they focus on? Problems are underrated. At least you have an idea to keep you going, right? A problem sets a goal for you.


You’d want to combine the best parts of being a ghost with an ability to always have at least one problem. I don’t know how practical that is or if it could be invented. I come back from the store. Whatever there is of me, or whatever I am, drifts through the crack under my door. I put my eyes back on. Fish them out of the coffee cup—without the coffee, of course—where I’ve left them on the back of the toilet. I’d be accosted outside if I was wearing just the eyes, which is the same reason I’ve left my mouth behind, and also in case I’m tempted to talk to someone and shatter the chamber of isolation between us. You can’t see that either, but it’s definitely implied.


I’ll move about like that for a while. Me and only my eyes. This is my other way of being naked under a robe, so to speak, which is how I sometimes go downstairs to get the mail. I like when I see people then, even if I am fully assembled, because I’m not doing anything wrong, but if I pulled the robe open, which would take the smallest amount of effort, I’d have crossed that line. One second I’m your neighbor in 4B, the next I’m forced to move, or worse. I enjoy the frisson of the choice. Those are my more intimate and potentially dramatic moments.


Eventually I peel my heart off the wall, pull on my legs, my feet, stuff my liver back where it goes after it has cleaned me out of lemons. “Why don’t you just put it on the shopping list?” I want to say, being sarcastic. I’m unsure why so much of my part-based banter is liver-oriented, but I read you can’t pick your friends, only your enemies.