He sits surrounded by demons. They whisper vivisection, critical analysis. Their words hover, overwriting the mouths of passersby like bad voiceover, incongruous with the movement of their lips. They follow him, disembodied, when he goes into his room each night and builds a barricade of cushions, pillows, and bed sheets against the door.

Behind him, stacked in a corner between the end of his bed and the closet, are fifteen canvases—self-portraits in acrylic at various stages of completion, their progress interrupted by slashes straight through the material; by blooming scorch marks made with a can of hair spray and a lighter; by dirt and mud and blood smeared across their surfaces in childish rage. And when he hasn’t the blood for them he does three hundred jumping jacks, two hundred bicycle kicks, and one hundred crunches, and wrings his clothes out over a small mason jar and watercolours with his sweat, using brushes restored with hair woven from his own head, thinning in patches, a poorly kept lawn. The canvases are pungent, like the den of an alleyway surgeon; he hangs a new fresh pine scent car air freshener from his ceiling every week.

In his lap, a handful of bloody tissues used to wipe the stain from his lips. To his left, splayed across another tissue, blotted blue, are numerous shards of broken plastic scattered overtop the ink reservoir of what was once a ballpoint pen. To his right, nestled in unwashed shag speckled with paint, a small sandwich bag of yellow arrowhead-shaped tablets.

He removes one of the tablets, stares at it in the palm of his hand. They say it’s dangerous to take on an empty stomach, he thinks as he fetches with his other hand a half-inch piece from the pile of broken plastic. He places the shard between his lips and swallows. Feels as it descends his oesophagus, already cut and scarred, its walls rungs of a ladder. It gets lodged partway and he starts coughing, hacking globules of blood and small chunks of flesh into the tissue in his lap.

“A_____, are you okay?”

Holly’s voice comes through the floor as if smothered by a heavy blanket. He scratches out loose, abstracted consonants in response. Places a hand against his upper body, to try and force the words, but they won’t come; they’ve fallen between the jaundiced, visible ridges of his chest.

Not wanting to waste another moment, he pops the arrowhead and, with difficulty, swallows.

The tablet lands in his stomach with the weight of an apple dropped into an empty barrel. Almost immediately, he begins to disseminate: his fingers stretch like taffy until the skin between each bone snaps and becomes a bubble; his arms separate at the joints; his legs; his torso; his neck; his head pulling free—effortless dismemberment as the individual pieces of him lift off from one another to settle into individual orbits.

His head, weightless and untethered, bobs downward; sees the pieces of himself floating farther apart, his body the surface of a lake rippled by a stone’s throw.

Her voice again, closer: “A_____, can you hear me? Is everything okay?” She pounds on the door; her strikes like sheet metal, battered and bruised. He attempts to raise his head but can’t control the direction in which his newly planetoid-like appendage moves. The world is made lighter; as the bubbled pieces of himself begin to glow—yellow at first, then deeper into gold—he loses sight of the finer details of his existence: the whole into which the separate parts combine; how long it’s been since he’s eaten; how long before he can eat again.

“A_____!” In his periphery, like a sliver through the veil, he sees his mountain of cushions and pillows being pushed aside and the door opening; hears cursing; feels hands on his shoulders shaking him as his bubbles pop and reform. Weight flooding back into him, a river pressurized.

“What have you done?” she screams, face emerging from the gold.

Her hands on his wretched, narrow shoulders, he lurches forward and vomits blood and plastic all over her.


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