I trudge down the center of what used to be the interstate highway. Rusting cars sit atop mountains of chewed-up asphalt. Scrub grass and beardtongue knife through long cracks in the weathered pavement. On the side of the road, fingers of dead oaks scratch at the pink sun hanging in the gold sky.
Over the crunch and scrape of my footsteps, I hear a voice within the whirl of the wind. It speaks quickly, gives clear and logical directions, wastes no time with overwrought emotion. I smile for the first time in months because this finally confirms the truth: you are not yet gone for good. I clutch your smooth hand and follow your instructions exactly.
An hour later, I find the statue of polished marble standing in the center of the highway. The statue is smaller than I imagined, only four or five feet tall, and it is right where you said it would be. It stretches its arms to the sky in a pose of joyful worship. Staring at the statue’s rapturous face, I slide your hand into my rucksack, take out my old crowbar, and start chipping at the statue’s neck. The sharp clack of steel against stone clatters down the road. I work fast, not allowing myself to forget what will happen if God catches me destroying one of His statues. But I don’t stop. Over the past few months, I’ve come to know what this life is like without you. And that’s worse than anything He can do to me.
At sunset, the statue’s head rolls into the basket of my folded arm. With my heartbeat slamming in my ears, I wrap the statue’s head in a thick blanket and slide it into my rucksack. Then I climb the crumbling median, cross to the other side of the highway, and start the walk home.
In the water-stained gloom of our basement shelter, I place the hand and head of your new body into the bathtub, where the rest of you has waited for weeks. I fill the bathtub with lemon juice and vinegar and salt. I prick my finger and watch beads of black-red blood drip into the spotless tub. My blood plumes through the cloudy liquid. Tiny bubbles sprout from the dissolving marble. I rest my head on the edge of the tub and listen for the sound of your breath.
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner from Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found here.
image: MM Kaufman