Darren Thompson

Assembly Required

            “Did we break up in front of your parents last night?” Not my best first impression.

            “So we are broken up now?”

            I blink a couple of times, my memory hazy.


            “Are you going to work today?”

            “No,” I say.

            It’s Monday morning and the week is already falling apart. You make to leave me alone, naked in bed except for my boxers and socks. We’re in the guest room of your parents’ house, but I only vaguely remember the moment when we decided that enough was enough, we were both at the ends of our ropes. When we slept together sadly—probably for the last time.

            Then, as I watch you walk away, something strange happens: I reach into my mouth and pull out a molar.

            As soon as it happens—it was an easy thing, it didn’t stick at all, like it wanted to come right out—a panic sets in, or maybe it’s the panic of losing you as the reality of last night finally hits and I really realize where I am. I feel trapped in this bed—this foxhole—and I’m wounded. I fumbled my own hand grenade last night, and now I’m all blown up. Everything is all blown up. Pretty handy with a hand grenade has a neat ring to it, and I make a mental note to update my profile later.

             I take cover under the sheets, but I find something there.

            It’s my toe. Namely, my left big toe. It’s sitting on the mattress, a little piece of white bone shining at one end, so that it looks like a cartoon drumstick.

            I shut my eyes but it makes my head feel vast and dangerously empty, and I’m sitting somewhere way back, deep inside the cave, watching flashes from last night projected on the inside of my skull. I think I overdosed on Xanax. I’m not entirely sure how many I took before collapsing sometime around I-don’t-know-when and I’m-too-drunk-to-read-my-text-messages-anymore. I’ve never overdosed on anything before, but I—yeah, I’m pretty sure this was an overdose.

            I Googled the side effects warning on the Xanax, but I didn’t find anything saying that it could cause loss of body parts. Not even if you try to take them all.

            Sitting up induces vertigo, so I lie back down and wrap my arms around the cool pillows that feel soothing against my aching head, which I pull the sheets up over. I didn’t mean to fight with you last night. It’s just, your parents were asking about our future plans and that sort of triggers me. For so long things were going great, and then…why did you have to do that? It turned me into so many things I never wanted to be. It was irreversible. So I did what everyone does: I got a prescription.

            I text Kat, this bartender I’ve been visiting at the Irish pub across the street from my office  on Fridays after work, before coming home to you. I’ve been going there for as long as I’ve had the prescription, pulling apart tiny chicken wings and sucking the meat off the bones and washing it all down with thick, black Irish stout. I tell her we’re fighting again. She tells me about non-violent communication and how to use it—the same thing she’s been telling me for weeks. About using lots of I statements and not being accusatory when describing my feelings. Amid the sheets I wallow at her intelligence and charm, which vastly exceed my own. And then my heart drops; why was it so hard to do what she said? I hear you heading downstairs, you and your parents talking in low voices. Some sort of agreement is reached and then I can hear the front door open and close. I move from the bed to the window, and I watch your snow-covered car speed away. I thank Kat and tell her I’ll see her on Friday—maybe sooner. Then I text my boss and say I won’t be coming in today.

           One of my fingers detaches just before my dad calls. Fatherly intuition, I guess. He sounds concerned, and I tell him that something happened last night. I tell him I think you’re really gone this time. And, I start to tell him, there’s something else going on, but then I say I’ll just explain in person. We make plans for lunch at this all-day-breakfast place on the edge of town before he hangs up. I think maybe a shower will help, so—still half-naked—I quietly slink into the bathroom.

           I’m looking at myself in the huge mirror, bookended by the custom white cabinets and hanging over the opulent marble countertop. And I think, I’m never going to be here again. And I feel like maybe crying, and then I feel like maybe smashing the mirror. But instead I start running the shower. Inside, last night’s alcohol starts to come out of my pores. I’m feeling nauseated by the smell of it mingling with the steam and soap, and there’s a sharp pain in my ribs as an unwelcome vision of my dying, irradiated mother invades my thoughts.

              I retch, and then my nose falls off.

            I bend down to pick it up, and then take a seat under the steaming shower head. It looks bigger than I thought it was. It’s really going to be noticeable, being gone.

            When I get out, I toss the nose into a wastebasket next to the toilet, full of snotty tissues, waxy cotton swabs, and crumpled tampon packaging. I open the window to let some of the steam out and the ensuing whirl of cold and hot air gives me goosebumps—I hug myself.

           I’m startled by my reflection when the steam lifts off the mirror, because suddenly I look much older. I realize how much I resemble my father. Then on a closer inspection, without a nose, I realize I look like a pink fleshy deformed skull that resembles my father, and then I throw up in the sink. Another tooth falls out and rattles around in the bile.

            I open the door a crack to make sure your parents aren’t around, and then I tip-toe in my towel back to the guest room. I dress as quickly as possible, and then I make the bed. While I’m straightening out the sheets, I find my left big toe again, but because I don’t know what else to do with it, I leave it on one of the pillows, like a mint.

             I sneak out of the house.

             I try to sneak out of the house.

             One foot out the door, I hear your father calling, “Hey!”

             But I’m gone.

            The cold air feels more than unpleasant where my nose used to be. Like having two giant, blazing menthol cigarettes hooked up directly to my olfactory system. Or getting hit in the face with an icy hammer. I unlock my doors, get in, start the car, and go.

            My other big toe detaches en route. I feel it shaking around in my boot like a nettlesome stone. Then my hair starts to go. The more I think about the toe, the faster my hair seems to be falling off of my head, so I leave it in the boot. I discover the incredible difficulty balance is when you’re missing both big toes as I walk across the diner’s parking lot.

            My one-eyed dad reads my face (which is missing a nose, two teeth, most hair, and has an ear that feels like it’s peeling away) and surmises that something is amiss. We order coffees, pancakes, bacon, hash browns, and eggs, then he asks about you. So I explain the situation. The food comes fast, and we keep talking in between big bites. Mostly my father listens while slurping down gulps of coffee. When I’m finished speaking, and he’s finished his food, my dad starts telling me about how it took a few relationships before he found my mom. I can tell he’s unhappy with how I’m managing this mess, and he starts to get that cloudy disappointed look in his eye so I look at my phone. There’s a message from you.

            We have to talk.

           One of my eyeballs falls out and lands with a splat into a puddle of syrup that’s pooled on my empty plate. Ashamed, I try to pick it up but it’s surprisingly squishy and evasive. After watching my struggle, my dad tells me the trick to picking up an eyeball, and I’m fumbling trying to push it back into the empty socket when I ask the waitress for the bill. She says not to worry about it. I realize that she’s right and leave the eyeball on top of an extra generous tip.

            In the parking lot my dad shakes my hand and my arm breaks off at the elbow. But he doesn’t seem to mind, he just sort of sighs and tosses it into a bush. “You gotta pull yourself together, son. When we lost your mom…” he trails off. I get a glimpse of the stub where his ring finger used to be as he opens his car door. He takes one last look at me and sighs one last time. I’m wondering how I’m going to get home—my car’s a stick-shift—while I watch him drive away.

         I don’t know what else to do, so I clumsily text Kat with my left hand. I tell her I’m sort of having an emergency. I don’t know where else to go. She says that she has a few hours before she has to go to work, but I can stop by her apartment.

           I reach across with my left hand and jerk my way through the gears, steering with my knees and working the pedals with a pair of feet that feel dangerously close to detaching. At Kat’s apartment, her dog gives me this look. This sort of, I-know-what-you’re-doing-here-and-I’m-not-impressed look that I just can’t shake. I’m trying to hold myself together while I watch Kat play a video game she says is called Destiny. Her dog isn’t making a sound, isn’t moving; just sitting there staring at me, which is making me incredibly uncomfortable. Sensing my uneasiness Kat breaks the silence. “So what’s going on?”

          “I just don’t think don’t think there’s any pulling myself together after this,” I say.

           I’m down to one eye, one arm, one ear (it finally fell off in the parking lot), twenty-five teeth, and eight toes when the dog finally makes its move, biting my leg and running off with it.

           Kat apologizes and says, “I have to go to work now. You can hang out here. There’s beer in the fridge, too, and I think you could use one.”

           I drink most of Kat’s beer in between hopping around and trying to get my leg back from the dog. Eventually I give up and lock it—and my leg—in the bedroom. I flop down on the couch and fall asleep.

           I wake up when Kat comes back, and she’s upset. At first she just says that her boyfriend came to the bar and started some sort of scene. Then she starts to cry. Then she tells me everything, her whole story. And it’s exactly like mine, except everything is the other way around. I feel sad for her, for me, for you, for all of us. Everyone in the whole wide world. I try to explain this, but my tongue falls off. I probably didn’t have the words anyway. Everything’s happening too fast. Nothing really makes sense anymore. Kat picks my tongue up, puts it on the table, and leads me into the bedroom as I hop along. The dog rushes past with my leg in its mouth. Kat takes off her clothes—her body fully-assembled, whole and inviting—and we make love. I’m thinking, it’s awkward having sex while you’re falling apart and just before I come my other leg detaches at the hip and falls to the floor. When I try to pick it up, my other arm detaches at the shoulder. Kat gets up, sighs at my limbless form, and says she’ll be right back. I wonder what she’s getting. A thread and needle? A stapler? A welding machine? Whatever it is, I’m ready. I’ve always just wanted someone who could make me feel whole and help me keep it all together. Is that so much to ask? You seemed up to the job, but then again we did move pretty fast. Maybe too fast. Maybe this time I’ll go slower. And Kat seems to be into the work-in-progress types, the kind that come with a little bit of tragic damage. She’s told me all this, in different ways, ever since I started going to the pub to see her. She’s into the fixer-uppers. The more I think about it, lying here in pieces, the more I realize this could be exactly what both of us have been looking for.

            Then my head falls off and rolls under the bed, and all I can do is keep watch on the doorway for her feet to return.

Darren Thompson received his MFA from Miami University. He lives and writes in Southern Ontario.



JD Thornton