Deconstructing Me was a piece that we talked about for a long time during the shortlist discussion. It's darkly twisting, yet one dimensional narrative drives and builds and then comes apart at the seems in the same way that the main character does. But, what we all knew, is that it was well written, and got us talking -- and that was what put it in the shortlist.
Flash Fiction 1000 - Shortlist
It begins with my nose. An itch; the slightest of tickles. Just an extreme hair. It’s nothing serious, but it bothers me. Just one scratch, one subtle tug from behind my book, to end the irritation. No one will see.
No one on the 279 from Finsbury Park notices. Not when I find more on my finger than I’d bargained for. The two discoveries are simultaneous. The first - that I can breathe more fully than a second ago - is diminished by the second: a lump, a chunk of flesh wedged precariously under my stubby, nibbled fingernail. Short, smooth, curved on two sides. The sides of my nostrils. I am staring at my philtrum.
It fascinates me. Should I be appalled? It’s seeing the inside of my nose for the first time that displaces revulsion in favour of fascination. Up to now, I’ve looked up my nose, inside my mouth, but I’ve barely seen beneath the first few layers of skin across my body. I’ve not been one for cutting myself too deeply. But my detached philtrum allows me an entirely new perspective of me. I’m sorry daylight prevents my refection from revealing the cartilage that now protrudes from my face.
My book falls to my lap and bounces with a papery scream to join my discarded philtrum on the filth-covered floor. I barely notice, but it’s enough to make the pre-school child opposite look up. My finger finds the hole in my nose again. I’m curious and so I scratch without too much pressure. I feel the noise as my nasal wall falls away with my finger. And then a cheek. My left.
My hope that the toddler didn’t notice is shattered by her wide eyes and the first spray of milky vomit as I scratch away my chin. I make no effort to form a tidy pile of my flesh. Let it find its own way to the floor. I am on a journey of discovery.
I have stopped seeing what comes away with each tug and pull. It’s difficult once my eyes tumble of their own accord, one landing beside my detached tongue to view the twenty-three feet and two crutches resting on the bus floor, the other rolling to the rear door until the Seven Sisters stop, where it topples into the gutter, destined to watch the world drive by until pigeons descend and squabble for the snack.
I register disgust from the toddler’s mother, who must have looked up from cleaning her child to see the state of me. I can’t see her, of course, but her horrified scream hits me in the back of my exposed throat.
But I must go on. I need to know my substance. I must know what makes me the man I am. My face holds no interest for me now. Not much remains anyway. It dawns on me, I’ve never actually felt the ribs of a trachea so I rub it, wrap my hand around it and squeeze until it disintegrates between my sticky fingers. How odd to feel my knuckles on the inside of my neck, the sensation of my spine upon my inner wrist. The nerves along my spinal column tingle a language of their own that isn’t as painful as it probably should be. Perhaps the thrill of discovering the inner me dulls my sensitivity to pain. I need only one arm, and my clavicle and a handful of ribs lift away easily with it as I pull. I am falling away from the bone more effectively than a slow-cooked Sunday joint. My fingers flick spasmodically in the stickiness below my seat. I suspect I must be bleeding profusely by now. That must explain the cacophony of retching and sickened groans around me. And the driver’s emergency stop to see what is causing such distress amongst his usually silent, self-absorbed passengers. My awareness of his realization and their staccato explanations ends abruptly as what’s left of my head topples forward and is hastily kicked backwards by a horrified priest now defaming her god.
From now until the end, I will hear little of my deconstruction above the running commentaries into phones and the snapshots for posterity. When I feel the brush of tasseled cotton against my remaining arm, I understand one of them could not resist the opportunity for a macabre selfie with what remains of me. I suppose I should feel disgust, but there is enough of that coming from them, and what does it matter anyway now? Let them search their own souls; I’m too busy looking for mine.
I always hated liver as a meal and now it has become my least favorite organ. I appreciate that beauty is only skin deep, but really? That’s disgusting. But at least it detaches swiftly.
I must look absurd: a pair of legs supporting a gaping torso. But that is easily rectified as I wrench them in turn from my hip joints and discard them on the growing pile of me. I don’t even wobble with the savage removal of my legs. I had no idea my balance was so precise. My core is strong; my centering is good.
There is still too much bone, gristle and flesh in the way of my truth and the sirens are closing on me, weaving through the stalled traffic that honks and blasphemes at this stationary bus. They have no comprehension, and I have too little time.
I am swift with my remaining ribs, the pelvis and the tangle of pulsating arteries and veins. Away with the lungs and my kidneys. My intestines, both large and small, are an ugly barrier to what must hide beneath. Stubborn, too, until gravity helps and they pour out of me like a meaty Slinky on the stairs.
Next the pancreas, and something slimier. Then the heart; excised and discarded.
Pick and tear and pull and remove.
Until the sirens stop, the bus empties and the truth of me remains.