Excerpt from This Boring Apocalypse
In the mornings I take her outside to lie in the sun and feel warm
I lay her in the sunniest part of the yard. I rub her body with suntan lotion and place mirrors all around her torso, so the sun cooks her.
Are you going to eat me? she asks.
I hold her up to the sun and look at her body. I imagine sandwiches and stew and porridge and breakfast burritos and I look at her leathered, crinkling skin.
No, I say. I do not think I can eat you.
I gather small people and cook them in the sun
Shhh, I tell the small people, shhhh.
But it is hard for them to listen because I have cracked their skulls open delightfully.
You are delightful, I tell them.
They cook and cook until their bodies are delicious brown leather that I cover with garlic and cracked black pepper and olive oil. I take their small bodies inside to share with her, but she tells me, NO, she does not like olive oil.
To impress her I tan my body and it is so tan, so brown, so cracked and leathery. But she is not impressed. She will not open her eyes when I stand over her tub of ice water. She won’t even shiver. She won’t give me the satisfaction of a shiver and her shivers are so satisfying. I can subsist off only shivers for whole years of my life. In fact, for the first seventeen years of our relationship, I did.
In the absence of her arms, I grow lonely
There are not enough arms in my life. I consider their size and softness, suppleness, the delicate bones, prone to fracture, the crook of an elbow, the honesty found in that useful hinge. I try to collect arms, but I’m unsuccessful. Other people have a more respectable number of arms. These people shouldn’t be so pompous about their collections. I have been collecting for such a brief time. Why shouldn’t they be expected to share or at least direct me to their source?
I place an ad in the paper, requesting arms for my collection and people line up on my lawn, gripping the arms of their children, their spouses, their friends, their neighbors.
Are these for me? I ask.
The people nod vigorously. Please, use this one, one woman says.
No, this one, another says.
No, no, no, someone towards the back of the line says. Look at these arms. Superior arms. Flawless.
Don’t worry, I say. I can use all the arms. I go down the line and pull the arms off each person. Some of the arms come off easy with enough pulling and some are a struggle, pieces of tissue and muscle clinging the arm to the torso, so people team up to help me sever the connections. Thank you, I tell them. Now please go away. And they go away. I do not know where they go, but it is away and I feel pleased with all of them.
I bring all the arms inside and try to put them into the ice tub, but they will not fit. You are going to have to move, I tell her, but she doesn’t move. I pull her out of the tub with towels, holding her away from me, and she drips all over the floor. The dripping isn’t just ice or water, but yellowed liquid and bits of flesh.
Where will I put you? I ask.
She doesn’t answer and I lay her on the couch, face-up so she can enjoy the living room. Then I carry the arms into the bathroom and put them into the ice water. They pile up and don’t all fit in the tub, but throughout each day I rotate them so they’re all in the ice water at least some of the time.
Her body grows into to the couch and no matter how hard I try I cannot pry her off it. She laughs at me as I try to lift her. Her body has finally dried out, stopped leaking. Her skin is turning floral and the floral couch is turning skin. I cannot discern which is which, but I know her body is still there because I can hear her breathing
I tire of arms
They seem far too small, insubstantial. Their accruement matters so little. I can have arms or not have arms. I can collect more or not. I develop an affinity for torsos but I always find them attached to worthless appendages. I try to convince people to bring me torsos already detached from their appendages. Detaching arms and legs and heads is hard work. Grueling and rewarding, but it would be best if everyone else would gruel while I am rewarded.
No one brings me torsos. Not a single torso. I dream of lovely torsos against a red or purple background. Intimate table settings, candlelight flickering.
I go out in search of torsos. No one is hiding the torsos, hoarding them like I expected. Do they not realize the torsos are delicious? Have they never tasted a torso? Licked a skin covered rib or grazed teeth against the muscle of back? But I realize everyone else is one step ahead of me. They are hiding their torsos and well. They are leaving the appendages attached to their torsos. They are leaving their torsos alive and allowing these torsos to have jobs and friends and hobbies like working on their cars or building paper mache statues. These people are smart. They have planned well. But I am on to them.
Sometimes it is hard for me to tell which torsos are for eating. It is hard to distinguish between a person who you love and a person you intend to consume, a person you intend to de-arm and de-leg and behead. You should label those close to you. But even then, it would be a tricky business. How am I to tell a well-intentioned label from a label someone is securing to mislead me so they might hoard the torsos for themselves? So I label the people, not in a confusing way, but in a well-intentioned manner. I carry a self-inking stamp with me everywhere I go. It is double-sided. One side says Delicious. The other side says OH this one does not look so good. It does not look so good at all. The stamp is self-inking and I have added a sort of acid for semi-permanence. I would hate for the stamps to wear off, but also I do not want them to be permanent. A person might grow less delicious after a few years or a formerly unattractive person might become more delicious. Things can change. So the stamps only last a year or so, at least this is what I think. I can’t be certain because I have just begun the stamping process.
I build a fort to protect myself from the person capable of judging lemons
I make a fort that doesn’t look like a fort. If my fort looks like a fort, the person capable of judging lemons will know what to attack and will do so quickly. I make a fort that looks like a lemon. It looks exactly like a lemon. In fact, when she comes to visit me, she eats the lemon and tells me it is delicious. I watch her for a while, wondering how safe the fort is inside her stomach. Could I climb into her stomach and still be safeguarded by the fort? But I remember digestion. Surely her digestive track is no safe place.
I make a fort that looks like nothing. The person capable of judging lemons will never recognize it. He will never be able to attack it because it is impossible to attack nothing. But I misplace the fort that looks like nothing. For me, nothing has always been a hard item to locate. Hard to carry with me, hard to remember, hard to feel attached to. I have lost nothings before and I hardly remember those nothings or the idea of having those nothings. I lament the loss of nothing, but is a short, unremarkable lamentation, so I lament short lamentations, because remembering feels significant. Self-expression should be valued. There should be more prolonged screaming and bleeding, being born and dying, dying again, dying differently, dying in a way that is long lasting. I have seen many unimpressive deaths. Death should be more than the lack of life. Death should be a terrible event, forever ongoing. Life is so momentous. Why shouldn’t death be lauded as well?
I make a fort that looks like tortured people. I have always been good with tortured people. It is my talent. They appreciate working with someone who appreciates them. It is the secret of the tortured. They do not want to be saved. They only want to be admired as beauties and labeled aesthetically pleasing, because of course they are pleasing. Who hasn’t tortured someone and felt that twinge of pleasure? That beauty? That something? That something-something? I am good at torture. It is a talent many possess but few are proud of. If a person has a skill, they should be praised for their skill. Their skill should be appreciated and utilized. When I go into the houses of strangers and torture them, I expect a Thank you, and a mint, and a sweater, because it has been cold lately and torture is tiring work and I do not like to be cold. I do not deserve to feel uncomfortable, because I have a skill and this skill should earn me something. It should matter.
I abandon forts. They have not worked for me. But I dread the man capable of judging lemons, so I destroy all the lemons. I build a fire and burn them. It is a citrus burning. Nothing anywhere on Earth can smell bad. Nothing can smell unfresh. Young people fall in love. They hold hands and sniff each other, admire one another. There is mating and the production of untortured offspring who may acquire torturing later, either as a skill or as a fate.
The world is turning beautiful and I move into the abandoned house I have longed for.
Brandi Wells is the author of Please Don’t Be upset (Tiny Hardcore Press) and the forthcoming This Boring Apocalypse (Civil Coping Mechanisms). Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Paper Darts, Folio, Chicago Review and other journals.