Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Austere Man


Listen carefully. This is the most important thing you will ever hear.

One inch by three. That’s how big it was. The first thing I noticed about the void was its size. This may strike you as odd, but I was never panicked by it, not even early on. It didn’t start as a small hole that grew. I didn’t wake up to find it had formed in the night. I was eating dinner and watching a TV programme. I think it was property show. I find them tedious and comforting. The pains of other people’s aspirations. I looked down, away from the screen and noticed it. Just there on my left arm. I suppose it’s a hole, but it’s not in any kind of medical sense. It’s not a gash or deep wound. I can’t peer into the meat and sinew. I can’t look at the bone and it doesn’t hurt or bleed. It’s just a void. Just a big patch of nothing. One inch by three.

That was a few weeks ago. My first thought was to go to my GP clinic, but I’m not ill. It doesn’t hurt and I find (found?) the clinical smell and the waiting so depressing. The tired look in the doctors eyes. I am so loathe to take the time off work for something that doesn’t exist, that they’ll have no way of explaining. But the more I stared at it, the more I started to see something in the dark, in the void. Something that I couldn’t really understand. Moving, shifting in a way I couldn’t really comprehend. Like I was just looking at something complex from an angle that made it seem simple. So I went against my better judgement and saw a doctor. He did little but ask me a series of questions relating to diet and stress levels and then laugh at the novelty. He took a tongue depressor and poked it into the void. It seemed to disappear as soon as it entered, yet was intact when he pulled it back out. I asked him what I could do about it. He asked me if it hurt, if I could still use my arm. I answered “no” and “yes” respectively.
“Then what do you want to do about it?” he replied.

I was half expecting to be abducted by a shadowy secret governmental division, to be locked away and experimented on. In truth I was little more than a dinner party anecdote.

Button down shirts have long been the saviour of people working office jobs, wanting to disguise or keep separate an aspect of their lives, from functional heroin addicts to the heavily tattooed. I now counted myself among their rank. The practical nature of clothes in this regard was not an idea I had considered up until this point, but would be something I would learn to rely upon in the days and weeks that followed.

Picking the hardened skin around the balls of my feet was habit I am not too pleased to admit to or let people see, at least when I still could, but has been a basic pleasure since a young age. I am glad to say I had graduated to a pumice stone for the most part, but would often indulge this admittedly disgusting habit after returning from work. As I picked at the skin around the base of the little toe on my left foot, a long strand of skin came away. As I pulled and pulled it ran around the little toe like an orange peel, revealing raw, bleeding skin and muscle. An article I had read some months before had talked about how humans are still evolving. One example they cited was the loss of our small toes, how they were effectively useless now, given how few people walk barefoot. I really don’t remember thinking much as it happened. I certainly don’t recall any pain, or even that much blood. My little toe seemed to come off neatly in my hand. I didn’t really know what to do with it. I knew I didn’t want it back but I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw it away. It wasn’t as if it was hair or toenails and would regrow. I placed it in a ramekin and covered it over with cling film as if it were last night’s dinner. Then I remember thinking how uneven my feet looked. The other came off just as easily, with even less bleeding.

The next day, the remaining bits of flesh had begun to turn into blackened ribbons, like a plaster that had been left on too long. Like many men my age, I ran and swam to keep fit. I thought about my weight and appearance probably too often. As I stared down at the tatters of hardened skin, I began to think about home improvements. About streamlining and minimalism. About efficiency. Why should buildings have something that I wanted for myself? Why should remodelling stop at fitness or gender reassignment or turning yourself into a fucking catman. Why should I wait on the slow pace of evolution for improvements? I wanted them now. I deserved them now. I sat near-naked and stared into the void, the hole that was not a hole and pulled at the skin on my legs. It came off like paper that scratched in my gut. I could imagine that a few days before this would make me gag or cry but now I barely even saw the blood. I wound it round and round until the skin up to my thighs was gone.

Next, I thought about my hair. The money I spent on haircuts and products. The time and energy on worry about the inevitability of greying and hair loss. I had begun to get a widow’s peak like my father and uncle. Shaving was not enough. It was only a reduction of the problem, not a solution. And so I pulled out my hair, from the root.  This did make me feel sick. Not because of the physical sensation, but because of the memories of a boy at school who would get into rages and do the same in a ball of angry tears and snot. This passed after the first few clumps. Then it was just dry crunching sounds from the inside of my head and the jerk of my vision as my head jumped forward when the hair came free. I placed the skin and hair into a vacuum-sealed bag and put it in the fridge alongside my toes. The reaction at work was muted at best. Some comments. Some to my face, some murmured. I didn’t care. Everyone had begun to seem from another time to me. I was just readying myself. Preparing for something that they couldn’t see was coming. That they couldn’t be bothered to open their eyes for. No matter either way. They wouldn’t see much more.

With a mind to presentation, I left my hands as they were, but my feet looked odd with skin and no nails. Out they came with a pair of pliers. Easier and easier. The pain was left for someone else, some other part of me to complain about. The part that was being left behind. But I had the same thought as before. All these pieces of me. ‘Of me’ in the loosest sense now, of course. I couldn’t throw it away, freezing it was pointless, but any other option would be just leaving it to rot. I looked at the tiny, greying digits, the mess of skin and hair and toenails in the fridge and I remember sighing, pitying myself. The me that soon was. I took the toes first and dropped them into the void. They disappeared into the darkness that was in and on my arm. Where that piece of my arm used to be. Silently gone. Slight surprise at first until the thought fit perfectly into place. Streamlined into my new way of understanding. The void pulsed and grew, as if happy, before returning to its original size.

Apart from my face and hands, the rest of my skin was next. Peeled off and fed into the void in one long line. I wasn’t quite ready to completely remove myself from society. Twice weekly visits to sperm banks had near guaranteed my part in propagating my bloodline and species, so my genitals were next.

Consulting anatomical texts and diagrams I located my appendix. My hands sank into the flesh of my gut and I pulled it out. My body didn’t bleed out aside from some minor fluid loss, as if we had come to an understanding of sorts. Perhaps my body had no control at all. I was beyond the point of scrabbling for scraps of reason.

I didn’t stop with my appendix. Beyond supposedly useless organs and body parts (spleen and spare ribs), my stomach went next. Perhaps my greatest move as to remove my reliance on food was to remove my reliance on everything. Produce, therefore money, therefore work, therefore the outside world. No more guilt over eating too much or the wrong things! I had become the perfect human! A model of freedom and efficiency!

Naturally, my feet and legs were next. My ears. My nose. By god, my nose. To be rid of the foul stenches and chatter of the ordinary. My face, no longer needed. No one, if seen, was owed protection from what I have now become. It continued. So on, and so on, pieces given for the sake of efficiency. Pieces for the void. It grew and remained, just beyond my realm of understanding, somehow happy.

Little more than my head, some torso and right arm now remain. Above the void I have stripped my left arm to the bone. The shoulder joint is a marvellous piece of work. So fascinating to find out how muscles and tendons really work by removing them one-by-one. I leave this to you, whoever finds it. The one reason my tongue remains- to leave a record of my achievement. The pinnacle of humanity, I am alone. I am streamlined beyond a need for this world. Perhaps one day you will understand, but I think this is doubtful. I have realised there is nothing else to do, except this final act. My right hand is pushing inside the void. It feels warm. My thumb has taken purchase outside of the hole. I am beginning to pull in. The void. The void is growing to meet me.


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Apologies again. I have this all planned out but am not able to write it as I'm laid up in hospital with pneumonia.


Tom ¦ Born Frowning