It was Friday that her finger fell off. It was a sunny day and light fell in slabs through the windows of her studio. Sculpting a man made of clay, she was lost in thought on the topic of how little she knew of bodies and how they actually worked, only how they looked and how her art had occupied her body and mind both. Her hand and thoughts had fallen into pins and needles and, distracted, caught on the false man’s jawline. Indifferently, the pinky of her left hand separated and fell to the floor. It did not hurt. Staring, shocked, she kicked the loose digit under her work-table and promptly fell back in to her work.
When the sculpture was finished, only then did she feel it. Nerve endings were silent and her mind was still, but in the space where her finger once was she felt an itch. It was slow, and gentle, like the waves of the sea travelling up and down the empty space. Desire, localized to a digit.
Before her was a man made of clay. Were he not on a table he would have reached her waist. He had a tiny clay penis and a tiny clay face. Broken off, the tiny clay penis fit perfectly where her finger once was and the itch was scratched. Her new finger wriggled with satisfaction. Rubbing off the tiny clay face, she kneaded it in to a leaf, detailed it with the head of a pin, and placed it to cover the statue’s now-absent organ. She quite liked the new look, both of the statue and her hand.
On Tuesday she lost her leg. Soft music played and light fell like ice from lights above. She had been admiring the segments of an orange peeled in the produce aisle of the supermarket. An employee saw this and turned down the aisle towards her. Shamefully stuffing the orange towards her stomach, she tried to turn away, but her leg had fallen numb and so she fell too. Oranges fell to the floor. The one on her stomach burst and spurted sweet juice on her. He rushed towards her. She tried to rise and fell again, her lost limb stuck in the leg of her jeans. It flopped, stubborn. Stinging citrus swamped her nostrils. The man walked towards her with steady rhythm, smiling, and bent down. He had brown hair, and brown skin. Buckling at the hips, she heard a sound climbing upwards from inside of him. Hands intertwined, he lifted her with ease back upright. She covered her phallic finger with her other hand.
On her feet (foot) now, he brushed dust off her back and she smiled. Was he going to arrest her?
Over an orange? he said.
Yes, she replied.
No, said the man. And then he smiled, and reached in his back pocket.
She walked away, staring at his business card with her loose leg tucked beneath her arm. Behind her, the tinkle of tightly tuned strings came from the man who organized oranges with steady rhythm.
In the studio, she tossed the leg away and it rolled, jangling, under the table. She took her shirt off and balled it up, stuffed it under her nose and smelled the sticky sweetness of oranges as she stood by the studio’s furnace in her brassiere.
Saturday, her left breast came loose. Working in the studio on an abstract splattering on a canvas portrait, she had thought that maybe art was not for her and recoiled at the thought so hard, the damned thing just sort of popped out and jangled around until she bent over and it fell through the top of her shirt. Wood was her leg, now, snapped from the base of an easel. From the floor her disassociated tit stared, shocked, back at her with a lone pink and accusatory eye. She kicked it, and it cartwheeled under the table.
Papier mache ended up being the best replacement medium. Clay melted from the heat of her heart and left stony tears down her stomach and a balloon made her look like an obscene drawing in profile and a lopsided idiot head-on.
In front of the mirror she tested poses, wobbling on her peg-leg. The sculpture held for she had moulded it under the cloth on her table of materials, feeling her lost breast through the darkness emerge as wet glue on newspaper. Who would love this body, she thought, that is so artless, so haphazardly slapped together? She called the number on the business card of the man who made music when he walked. On the final number of the sequence, the index finger of her left hand fell off. It was happening faster. Her heart threw backflips. She doubled over and vomited her appendix out on to the floor. It went under the table too, with her finger and her leg and her breast. She swallowed a cotton wad as a consolation.
Doorbell! Wobble, smile, awkward hug. They drank tea and talked about their art. He made music, in his life and speech and in her too, in her heart. She saw that the fuzz on his arms shone golden, and the hair on his head was wiry and thick, and his lashes trembled as he plucked his beard. He was high-strung, and she sat still as he talked.
When did you start to fall apart? she asked.
I was born falling apart, he replied.
How do you stop it?
I’m sorry, said the woman with a wooden leg.
It’s okay, said the man whose movements sang.
Walk to the door, moment of chit-chat, kiss quicker than a heartbeat and he was gone. Why don’t people ring the doorbell when they leave? She thought, and laughed at herself.
Wednesday he called her and said she must come and her hands did not fit on the steering wheel. Right hand maneuvering, her left had been replaced entirely by a corded wad of pipe cleaners with the ends frantic and flayed which was jammed in the pocket of her coat. A button-eye stared back at her from the rearview mirror, mocking the miraculous biology of the remaining natural one.
At his house, they sat in the kitchen and talked about their hearts.
Have you had to replace yours? he asked, soft.
No, she replied. Have you?
Black T-shirt gave way to knobs and strings by the lift of his hands. She moved to move closer and he nodded, so she reached out and plucked two strings in a melancholy minor chord and it made him laugh and she laughed too for what felt like the first time in forever. His body was not real. It was better than reality.
She touched his skin. It was dark wood shot through with veins of gold. He held her mangled hand, and her heart pumped blood through her so hard she felt a little faint.
In the morning, they drank coffee in silence and sunlight.
Her left breast was crumpled beneath his T-shirt that she wore.
What did you do with my heart? she said.
You weren’t using it, he said. You were falling apart.
You were born falling apart.
Shut the fuck up, he replied with no music at all.
In silence and sunlight, they drank their coffee.
Monday she woke to a scattering of her body in the bedsheets around her. She screamed, but only a thin whine dribbled between her lips. She arrived at his house with no warning, shambled to the door, and left three teeth in a triangle on the step. Inside, she dug through the pocket of her coat and replaced it with a small fairy light that looked like a fang.
I do not think we should call each other any more, she said in the grey kitchen.
Because I don’t want to anymore. You stole my heart, and now I’m falling apart faster with you than I was alone. He looked at her and said:
Then why do you keep replacing parts of yourself, if you’re not doing it for me?
Her jaw clenched and the light bulb shattered, scattering sparks of glass apart all across her tongue. She could not answer, even if she had one to give. There was too much blood.
Later, in front of the mirror, she took tweezers and attempted to salvage the small sparkling grains from amongst ribbons of white flesh painted with red. Funny, she thought, you don’t need a heart to bleed so long as you’re cut in the right way.
On Sunday, she lost her words. Her tongue had gone numb after being cut but in the midst of splattering paint on a piece of cardboard, resenting every second of the process now, of art and body both, the heartless dance, her phone rang and she knew who it was but still, surprised, bit a formidable chunk of the muscle in her mouth off like sponge toffee. Petrified, she spat the wad on to the ground with a formless yelp, indifferent blood flowing over her lips and on to her shirt in the same patterns as the art she now so hated to make.
He showed up.
I’m sorry for taking it, he said as he brushed through the door. She was sitting on the floor. He lifted his shirt like before and she let out a cry. Her heart was impaled upon the harp-strings in his chest. It was grey, rotted, and limp.
It’s all shot through, said the man. It won’t work. What will I replace it with?
She shook her head and crossed her arms. He repeated himself.
She stood and walked to the table, under which were her discarded limbs. Atop it, her supplies. With her good hand, she fumbled a head with its face rubbed off. Pushed down on with her palm a few times, the clay became a lumpy mess. Stuffed up under her shirt and into her chest cavity, it fell out on to the floor as soon as she took her hand away. Next, a tangle of fishing wire with beads all knotted through it. It floated to the floor. Then, floral foam carved in to the most intricate reproduction of an anatomical model of a heart either of them had ever seen. It left an imprint of green dust where it fell and bounced under the table for posterity. Sunlight, silent, spilled over both their darkened faces.
I am so sorry, the man said. I had someone do the same to me.
She whimpered and threw her hands in the air, mouthed: why?
Because it’s just the way I am, he said. Because I love you.
Then he left.
Missing the panic of earlier, more aware now than ever that she would not feel her heart ever again, she went to the black belly of a kiln in the back of her studio and turned it on with her good hand. Nowadays, she was a half a leg, a heart, an arm, and an eye. If her art and her body were the same thing and he was going to say it was all for him, then she would destroy the gifts he had stolen. The great iron chimney was ridged like a spine and echoed deathbed groans. How long had she been standing, supported by the curved iron bulge? It dripped heat in sheets off its skin. She crawled inside and fell impossibly far into the fiery depths of what she once loved.
She burned like paper. Amongst the low howl and hellfire glow all her skin and bone and art supplies withered away until there was nothing left but what could not be destroyed and she was just a crystal weeping blood, but it was her blood pumping from her heart and her heart was not just a muscle but a something-else beating and burning amongst all the fire around. Shedding ash, she climbed and cooked and crawled, a salamander, up the wall of the furnace dungeon out, out, into the cool air, the one truth of thermodynamics burned in to every square inch of her flaking and raw flesh, brand new and already falling apart.
This truth dictates that you grow cold in winter weather because your body attempts to heat the whole universe. There will always be more taking than what you have to give. This is a thought often had while marching towards a door. So she stopped, her hand on the knob, and the perfect ash fingerprints she left there went forever undisturbed.
Mark Foster is a writer and teacher from Halifax, Nova Scotia. This is his first deathmatch and he is so terrified he’s begun to type in third person.