Originally published in SLEEPiNG FiSH
and later published in the single-author collection Museum of the Weird (FC2)
The man had always aspired to live his life as inoffensively as possible, and when his woman came home one evening and found he was gone, she was sure for days that he was around there somewhere. Perhaps he had gone to the bathroom and was in there, quietly creaking, making silent curses over the pipes. Maybe he was in the attic. Or maybe he was working late, something he did not treasure but did with a kind of silent pride that suited him and bothered her.
After a few days, it became apparent that the man was not in the backyard or behind the television. She grew nervous, imagining how disappointed he might be upon returning to find that she had not kept the house clean. Indeed, she had forgotten she was in a house at all, and had scattered newspaper across the bedrooms and allowed branches to crowd the door. A thin skin of dust covered the bookshelves and countertops and toaster oven and toilet tank, her desk and his desk. It piled up like snowdrifts in the framed pictures on the wall. She tossed and turned in the bed until the covers parted and formed a protective whorl around her body.
The woman stopped leaving the house. She decided that if her man peeked through the window or knocked lightly on the door and realized that she had gone, he would leave for good. She ate all the fresh food in the house, and then all the canned food, and then the expired food, and then the spices. She washed tablespoons of cinnamon down with tap water. She reached out the windows, pulled leaves from the trees and ate them with the last of the salad dressing. She released the cats so that she would not eat them, and then she ate their food.
The man's father called to ask if there had been any updates, and to inform her that he had called the police. At the time of his call, the woman had been using a dainty flathead screwdriver to open the man's computer. She had wanted to see if the man had left any clues in there, but there was only more dust. She swallowed the computer's tiny screws.
It became apparent that the man had not taken any of his clothes with him. The woman knew that her man owned 3 black undershirts and 5 white, 7 pairs of jeans and 27 button-down shirts, 5 collared polo shirts, 4 t-shirts with silkscreened graphics and one novelty shirt that he only wore as a joke, a button-down two sizes too large and covered in neon images of ice cream and hot dogs. She could not bear to eat it but took it out of the closet and observed it every morning, salivating.
She ate all the pages out of his books.
When the detectives arrived, she apologized for her appearance. She explained that she was too worried to leave the house. She showed them the man's clothes and his personal effects.
She took them of a tour of their home and showed them the toilet he used and the ironing board and the grill. The things were untouched, she noted, she had left them untouched. When the man came home, he would appreciate his things being untouched. He was very particular and appreciated her respect and in exchange, he showed her respect. The detectives looked at her distended belly and asked if she was pregnant. She cradled the mass and said that she was.
Things started arriving in the mail. There were bills and notices that the woman no longer understood. It seemed like someone was asking the man to pay a huge sum of money to a credit card and a house. She took all the paper money she had not yet boiled and stuffed it into the envelopes provided and sent them back.
Other letters were more troubling. There was a handwritten letter from the man's grandmother that didn't make any sense until the woman cut out all the words and rearranged it:
The woman thought that was all pretty good advice, and taped it to the refrigerator. She opened the refrigerator and ate the baking soda from its box with a spoon.
Some days later, the man's phone rang. He had left it plugged in when he vanished but his woman had not heard it ring before. When she heard it, she vomited into a small trash bin next to the phone. She could barely summon the strength to pull herself up to look at the phone. She couldn't make out the number displayed through the layer of dust. The phone's ring sounded like the old rotary phone her parents kept in their home. She wondered if it was the man calling his own phone, and why that would be. Perhaps she had gotten phones switched and was confused.
The phone stopped ringing. The woman placed the phone in her lap, pried the number 2 from the keypad with a screwdriver, and ate it.
It was a terrible idea to go outside again. The woman had seen a couple out the front window and was sure that the man had placed them there for her to see. She banged her fists on the windows to try to get their attention but when they didn't make a move to acknowledge her, she threw open the locks on the door and rushed out.
The couple was a boy and girl couple, and they were eating love right out in the open.
They swallowed great handfuls of love, sticky tangled masses of it, standing nose to nose with one another. They were gorging on the stuff. Love dripped from their hands and landed in spatters on their shoes. The boy wiped his hand in his hair and left a long slick. These gluttons of love spread it across each other's mouths. They made wet noises as they consumed. The woman rushed up to the people and slapped the love out of their hands and said Don't eat that! That's poison! and the boy laughed but the girl looked at her unkindly and bent down to gather the ruined pile of love up from the ground. The woman watched the remainder seep across the asphalt.
Get a hold of yourself, the girl said. The girl clasped the slop to her chest. It bled through her shirt to her skin. Look at what you did, the girl said. The woman looked. She felt relieved, but of course it was not enough.
|Amelia Gray is the author of AM/PM (Featherproof Books) and Museum of the Weird (FC2).|
|SLEEPiNG FiSH is a compilation of literary text objects published by Calamari Press.|
|Fiction Collective Two is among the few alternative presses in America devoted to publishing fiction considered by America's largest publishers too challenging, innovative, or heterodox for the commercial milieu. Since its founding in 1974, FC2's mission has been and remains to publish books of high quality and exceptional ambition whose styles, subject matter, or forms push the limits of American publishing and reshape our literary culture. Now published in association with The University of Alabama Press, FC2 continues the commitment of its founders to unsettle the bounds of literature and broaden the audience for America's most adventurous writing.|