Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Flash Fiction
997 words
SHJ Issue 3
Spring 2011

An Integrated Man

Clare MacQueen

David’s mind swirled with colors: black, red, the pale ivory of bone. The drugs had worn off and his foot was throbbing up to his knee. He had slept too long. An afternoon sun set aglow the lace that dressed Livia’s windows from ceiling to floor. Despite the pain, he paused to consider the patience and precision each hand-crocheted panel represented.

“Clearly,” she had said, “I must enlighten you. I must show you why things so ‘pedestrian,’ as you call them, are worth doing well. Stitch by stitch, line by line. A true artist can elevate the spit you hawk from your throat every morning.”

Black, red, and the ivory of bone. The colors whirled again. Livia had left a note for him on the nightstand with a glass of water, ice long since melted. He swallowed two Percocet with the water before reading that she had been called in to the hospital. How thoughtful of her. His bladder called for relief then, forcing him to limp to the bathroom.

After returning, he opened the nightstand’s drawer to remove the knife. The blade was clean and sharp. Just this once, he thought, that was easy enough. Undercutting his amazement was a waffling horror. If it were so easy, then would he repeat it? That he could do it once was monstrous enough. That he had succumbed to Livia’s calls to action now baffled him.

“Analysis and experience do complement each other, of course—within the integrated man,” she said. “Living in the moment without self-reflection is indeed meaningless. But no matter what you say, dear David, you haven’t experienced enough to be fully integrated.”

He had protested otherwise, while the anesthetic took hold and the instruments waited on the stainless steel tray beside him.

“Prove it,” she said, in the voice he found so vibrant and provocative. “Prove it to me; prove it to yourself. Engage in this moment with experience, not analysis. Sensory input! Action! The nowness of life! Action leads to the truly artistic existence. You’re a poet—surely you understand this? For the artist—for us— the moment is the universe. The moment is immortality!”

Hash-headed from the smoke Livia had exhaled again and again into his mouth, David cried out, “Yes, I understand!” Her intensity intoxicated him further, convinced him to his bones she must be right. Mesmerized by the knife she held, he nodded. Then he had waited with the same delicious dread that roller coasters inspired in him at the crest of the first long drop.

Now, he recoiled. He felt nauseated remembering all that blood. His blood! It had made sense in the wee hours, but now— Slowly, he turned the knife, watching the light slide across the handle. From an adoring lover? sprinted the petulant thought through his mind. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, determined not to degrade himself with jealous speculations. His foot throbbed anew. Touching a finger lightly to the blade, he wondered what had possessed him. He looked more closely at the handle where two silver-edged snakes were etched into the onyx, joined at the tails, each head straining in opposite directions.

“S is for Sorceress,” he muttered, almost believing Olivia Sadici had bewitched him. A swell of dizziness joined the nausea simmering below his breastbone. He lay back, trying to quiet his stomach and ease the pounding in his foot.

“You’re crazy,” he whispered to the reflection hanging above the bed. He watched the man on the ceiling mimic him, contorting his jaws as he exaggerated each syllable.

“You–are–in–sane. You–are–fucking–obsessed!

Tendons on either side of his neck curved downward like tree roots, blending into his clavicle. The image might make an interesting photograph, that section of neck between chin and upper ribcage. He could call it “The Fig Tree,” use it to illustrate a sestina.

The man above him abruptly shifted his stare to David’s right foot. Singsong, he counted toes hiding beneath the bandage: “This little piggy went to market...and this little piggy cried wheeeee! and never found home.”

David drew a shuddering breath. Temporary insanity, had to be. Why else would he allow Livia to cut him to the bone and beyond? He flipped the knife away, heard it clatter on the floor. Sitting up, he wondered, how many others? The throbbing in his foot began to fade as the Percocet kicked in. He was suddenly sure with a feral instinct that he was not the first. Neither had questioned the other’s past, believing personal histories were unimportant. There was too much to experience together in the richness of the moment to fret about irrelevancies. Yet now he wanted to know: how many, before she began demanding they sacrifice bits of themselves, exciting them to acquiescence? And how many since then?

He imagined that she had meticulously collected those trophies of flesh and bone, and then locked them away in some secret place as they mummified. He could see her, a sudden phantom in lavender and rust draped voluptuously across the bed. She held a vial between her fingers to admire the contents as they danced in the lamp’s bluish glow.

“And this one,” Livia said to the mirror above, “belonged to David Cameron.”

The scene was simply too bizarre to believe. Where would she hide them anyway? He glanced at the doors of the armoire that crouched in the corner like a Sumo wrestler, fierce-faced, guarding the dreadful secrets of its mistress. Fighting a surge of dizziness, he leaned down and picked up the knife. After carefully replacing it in the nightstand, David stared at the organized assortment within the drawer: tubing, gauze, tape, sutures—basic supplies any nurse might need. He looked back to the corner. Though its eyes were glazed heavily, the wardrobe glared a wordless challenge as if guessing his intent. It seemed to hunch lower, squatting on thick legs as it waited for him.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury