Human Things

by Emily Livingstone

The skyscrapers hug me close, and no matter how different I am, they hide me, making me part of their maze. I pull my date into an alley, and I’m ready to let him touch me. I kiss him, pressing into his heat.

He puts his hand in my hair and yanks. His dinner face has fallen away, leaving a different one.

I smile and scratch my fingertip against a thin gray line on my wrist. My body breaks into a hundred pieces, like cuts of meat on a butcher’s diagram. He heaves, my blood on his empty hands. Then he runs.

In the quiet, I breathe in without lungs, and the pieces of me find their places again. If you look closely, you can see the fault lines on my body, but no one has ever looked that closely except my parents.

Growing up, when Mom was mad, she’d push on one of the lines, demolishing me. She’d done a remarkable thing, loving my father’s soul along with the patchwork of his body, brought to life hundreds of years ago by a scientist who’d refused to imagine consequences, but she wasn’t ready to accept everything.

Dad’s appearance didn’t bother her, nor the odor of the old flesh. It was his melancholy. Dad went around with a hood covering his face. He rarely spoke, even to us. Mom would scream at him sometimes, but he just pulled the hood closer.

He was the only one who could touch the lines on my body without turning me to rubble. When he touched them, it was as if he crumbled instead, somewhere inside.

Dad won’t come back to the city. He left when I was twelve. Occasionally, we find each other outside the city limits, under an overpass, or deep in the woods.

Mom has grown old, not gifted with the strange life-in-death that maintains Dad and me. She has her own lines now, soft cracks in her skin that I can trace and trace, and she only dies a little more each time.

“Victoria,” Mom says sadly. “Live a human life. Find love. Be happy.”

But what is a human life?

I have a human job. I sell popcorn and giant sodas to moviegoers, then slip into the theaters to watch their faces glaze over with story.

Love? The people who get caught in the spiderweb of my skin are strange. And if all of them have been strange, aren’t all people strange?

I meet Liza through a dating app. She wants to hear me tell stories, and I do, mixing movie plots and family history. I take her to the subway and tell stories on a sticky bench, humid air pressing us together and covering us in a film of human smog. Eventually, she complains that the stories are all the same, but she won’t leave me alone. I reach under my knee and press on the line there, disintegrating down into the tracks, huddling around the third rail.

With Javi, I fall apart one piece at a time. It interests him, guessing which bits will drift apart from the rest of me. He collects the fragments and hides them. I realize that I sense where my eyeball is, and my third rib. I can claim them, and my right pinky toe, whenever I choose.

He gives me a ring, and I beg him for the finger back, to put it on. We do human things together like plan a wedding. He begins returning the pieces, wrapped in tissue paper on special occasions, then taking others away when we make love. We live on the exchange.

Then, he gives a piece away to a woman from his office, and I feel my fingernail in her apartment, ready to scratch out an eye.

I kneel before Javi and draw the fantasy map of our lives together on his body. I imagine slicing along the lines, bringing pieces of him all over the city: an ear for the rats in the sewer, a kneecap in the bushes at the park, lips on that subway bench where Liza and I sat. But I do not cut. I take the ring off my finger and put my last ear in my pocket so he cries to me on mute.

I visit Mom. She traces my empty eye socket, the missing nail, the craters in my skin. She speaks, but I close my fist around the ear in my pocket. Still, I know what she means.

When I am reassembled, I take a train away from the spiny ridge of the city and toward the blank sky, looking at it with two eyes. When the train stops, I join the hooded figure waiting for me on the platform. We walk away from the noise and into a silence thick as a tree trunk.

%d bloggers like this: