A person can be internally consistent and absurd at the same time, like a comedy skit. Our imagined summaries make us lifelike, or so I heard on television. Don’t mind me, I’m just looking for permission, filled with suppositions about self-preservation through simple perseverance and tricky transposition mixed in blender-wise with kind attentions to the scratches on the table and the streaks on the glass as though I really believe I’d dissolve my fears if I could only embrace the imperfections of my style. Style—ha! When I set out to write I expected each stanza would begin with an abstract observation followed by a loosely corresponding question but here we are in the middle of yet another goddamn paragraph because I don’t stick with anything and slip on Freudians—a fact which you, conscience, always somehow saw as something akin to sin. In the end it was a party that pulled Styron out of his second round of depression, a fucking party, can you believe it? You could tread upon enlightenment and suggest all human achievement amounts to an elaborate mating game, though some pleasures, you’d surely concede, are incrementally higher than others, while others still are far. Sometimes, for instance, you sit nude before a keyboard looking for a compelling way to resist invisibility and silence through the publicizing of one’s life’s truths—a foolish pursuit, no doubt, when you’re so overwhelmed by unreality that you cover your face and refer to yourself in the second person because distance and non-knowledge appear to offer the only way through. But who knows the unwritten rules till we write them and then reject the limitations of language, opting for the ubiquitous lure of second-rate visuals of ritualized identity since it sometimes seems skin is all the world cares to acknowledge in the first place.
She looks down and sees her bottom jaw resting on the ground by her feet. Carefully, she picks it up to assess the extent of the ruin but it is clear: her mandible has entirely detached itself from her head and now sits quietly in the palms of her shaking hands. It half-smiles at her, just as it had done so many times before at handsome strangers and bad jokes.
As if newly erupted from the grip of the ivory bone, her teeth form a sparkling semicircular row. She studies the teeth, noticing that where they are not laced with blood and saliva they are obscenely white, almost iridescent, like menstruating pearls. They look delicate and indestructible.
She begins to run and so does the blood: it trickles through the gaps in her fingers, collecting in the crease of her elbow before dripping on the pavement, leaving a trail behind her. The blood is gooey and viscous, and though it looks too dark to be fresh it keeps on flowing. A mess of bloody saliva pours from her jawless mouth, down her neck and settles in a sticky pool on her chest. When she tries to spit out the taste of rusty nails and panic, she discovers that she has no tongue.
The unfamiliar residential street is surprisingly busy for 3 a.m and she knows a lot of the people that she passes. She stops to ask everyone she sees to help her put her jaw back in place. She is met with bemused faces. She screams and shouts and begs but no sound emerges from her, just the occasional crimson gurgle. She looks pleadingly at the passersby then looks down at the jaw in her hands, motions fitting the jaw back to her head and then looks back at her potential saviour, praying they’ll understand. They look at her with pity and faux-guilt, apologise and say things like, “Sorry, dear, I’m in a rush,” “I’m not a dentist, unfortunately,” and “Oh, I don’t really want to get involved.” The fact that she can’t properly communicate to ask for help, or even find out what has happened to her, frightens her and causes her far more distress than the fact that her jaw has fallen off. She tries to communicate using her eyes; she is certain that her eyes must surely convey the horror, confusion and desperate need to be helped that she cannot speak aloud. But no: she is ignored and unsaved. Tears tumble down her cheeks, over her top lip and straight down to her chest to mingle with the rest of the mess of fluid. She tries to spit again but grows frustrated upon remembering that she can’t. She runs out of tears and sits under the glow of a street lamp, with her bloody, perfect jaw beside her, and hopes for somebody to throw her a tissue at least.
Sometimes she wanders about the strange town for hours, begging for help through her eyes, frenzied, covered in blood and clutching her jaw in her hands, rocking it slightly as if it were an injured bird. Sometimes she gives up after a few minutes and resigns herself to living a life of silence, with only her bottom jaw for company. Sometimes she smashes her jaw against an orange brick wall, sometimes repeatedly, hundreds of times, but it always stays whole. Nobody ever helps. She no longer truly believes that someone will eventually come along and fix her because nobody ever has before and she knows that if she expects nothing, she will never be disappointed, only ever pleasantly surprised. She remains mute and hungry and ugly and cries and cries and cries, but she never dies. She is, after all, built of the same matter as her jaw: she is delicate and indestructible.
Standing behind her, he unpinned her hair and swept it to one side, taking his time, kissing her shoulders while he fiddled with the clasp on her necklace. Just as she noted how unusually gentle he was being, his fingers found the roots of her hair and he slammed her up against the door. With her cheek on the wood and her hands behind her back she could only roll her eyes, feeling a strange combination of relief and disbelief that this was happening again.
He said, right into her ear, “You look nice this evening.” She said, “You’re a terrible liar,” but she was secretly thrilled to have bumped into him while she was in a dress and lipstick. He’d only ever seen her dressed down in jeans and a shirt. Or wearing nothing but her socks.
She had always believed herself to be the queen of Holding It Together. She allowed herself pleasure but was under strict personal instruction not to open up to this man. It was too dangerous. She would not let him in. She was pretty on the outside and that was enough for him, he did not need to discover the ugliness inside her. But something was different this time as if her vulnerability had dug its way out, had swum up to the surface, had manifested in her voice. He unzipped her dress and she fell apart.
Her organs simply fell out. With her blackened lungs by her feet she couldn’t breathe. He tore her open, frantically searching for something that she didn’t want him to find. She tried to scream but no sound came out. She just stood there, face against the door, ankle deep in her guts like a vile Billingsgate fish wife.
He clawed through layers of her skin, the skin that he had bruised so often. All he wanted was to know who she was inside, who he was dealing with. He planted Stella Artois kisses on her bones but to his surprise her soul didn’t escape. There was no soul. She had no soul. He settled for her tarred heart instead.
It beat irregularly in his hand and was bigger than he had imagined. But her heart wasn’t made of gold like he had heard. It was covered in black, sticky tar and had 22 stitches down the middle. He wrapped it in newspaper and put it on a high shelf that she couldn’t reach. He was satisfied with his findings and decided that eventually she would come back to him to collect her heart. One day.
Then he hurriedly scooped up her organs and shoved them into her open back, trying to return them to the gaps in which they lived. He struggled with the silver zip but managed eventually. He made a clumsy effort to pin her hair back up while he kissed her neck. He was anxious to see her face.
She turned to him and said, pathetically, “I don’t want you to have my heart.” “Too late,” he replied. She watched the treacle of her heart slide down the bookshelf. She was tired. “Please don’t make me fall in love with you,” she said, reaching for her head as if the mere thought of the inconvenience of loving him had caused her a migraine.
Neither said anything for a long time. She sat reading the Big Book, swigging wine from the bottle while he mopped up the mess of tar and blood that had pooled on the floor. Afterwards they both smoked a cigarette in silence and then he abruptly said, “Right, go on then, you can fuck off now.” What? She didn’t understand. “You can’t stay here, alright? Now, do one.” She thought he was joking. He wasn’t. He threw her out. If she had a heart, that would’ve hurt her. But she didn’t have one anymore, it was still on his shelf, so she could no longer feel very much at all.
She walked home in the pouring rain and searched for her soul in the gutters. She even called out a few times but her spirit was nowhere to be found. She’d lost her mind, too, some years earlier. And her umbrella. The latter was the most likely to turn up.