This is a short story by someone very near and dear to my heart. It is strange, it is creepy, and I hope you enjoy it! It was previously published on Chiaroscuro, an online magazine, which is still around. I just recently came across the story again and wanted to share it with all of you… Hugs, Red Velvet
He pulled his wife’s red hair from his teeth. He grabbed a can of soda to wash away the abrasion her hair made on his lips. Just before he pulled the tab, he found a coiled group of hairs around the pull tab. The hairs wound around the rim of the can to bisect the eye of the tab, like thread bisects a needle. He felt sure that he saw the hairs undulate, curl and spasm. They shivered together and bound themselves tighter. He threw the can into the stainless steel sink and the resulting clamor echoed in the empty kitchen.
Later that evening, he took all of his wife’s brushes and combs and piled them into the center of the bathroom. He sat on the edge of the tub. He thought about how much of their lives together could be observed in this pile of sundries. The stages of their lives could be gleaned from this mound of plastic, nylon, wood and bristle, from her short hair days when they first met and their bodies were new and strange, to when she let her hair grow long, to the center of her back, and they fit each other like comfortable shoes. Compulsively, he pulled all the hair he could from the brushes and combs. He scraped his fingernails bloody. He separated brushes from combs, and then separated the cheap, drug-store stuff from the salon-bought luxury items. From the basement, he retrieved four old shoeboxes. He packed the boxes full of products, and then taped them with heavy-duty electrician’s tape. He stacked them in the hall, stepped back, and decided to stack the boxes out on the street, on the corner between the coffee shop and grocery. Maybe, he thought, someone would take them away.
Standing in the hallway, he considered the mound of his wife’s hair in the bathroom. He thought about simply closing the upstairs bathroom, never to use it again. He could use the toilet downstairs. Light defined the outside edges of the bathroom door, and left shadows in the hall. Even in these shadows he picked out the shapes—wires, twists, bends, and the jagged, schizophrenic edges of light and shadow—that insinuated what awaited him on the other side of the door. It was clear the shapes were multiplying in the room. He opened the door.
The pile of ratted hair did not move or make sounds. It simply laid there, a mass of lines and angles. It looked like the nest of an exotic animal. He remembered walking into a coyote den as a child and seeing the mounds of fleece and fur, caked in dust and not at all signifying horror, but rather comfort and rest. This nest, this detritus of his wife’s body, magenta in strong light, muted auburn in a weak glow, seemed the same to him now. He felt he could sleep here, beneath her wool. Maybe he could use this hair for down, fill a pillow or a comforter, and smell her as he slipped into sleep. He decided to sleep here tonight. The hard, white tile braced his back, and the blanket of hair kept him warm.
The bathroom was good to him: clean and white, brightly lit and the smell of her never faded. He brought a radio to listen to hockey games, or news, or the hateful rants of hosts, as a link back in case he ever needed it. He tried to eat occasionally, but not very diligently. Mostly, he lay on his side and ran his fingers through the mound, separating and braiding, twisting and winding, and the music, or voices, or screaming from the air around him made an irrelevant but welcome distraction. At one point, he grew so hungry that he ran downstairs as fast as he was able, to snatch a candy bar from a cabinet above the stove.
Squatting in the center of the kitchen, by the large window that overlooked an adjoining liquor store, he ripped open the wrapping and devoured the chocolate, until the final two bites when he felt a scratching down the bottom of his esophagus. He wrenched a braided red cord from his throat, but unlike last time, this cord originated deep among his organs. He gingerly pulled and a tug started in his belly, above his groin. He pulled more and the thick wet strands were coated with viscous substances. He pulled for minutes straight, until his arm grew tired. He wrapped the hair around a doorknob, knotted it tight then flung himself backwards. He wiped the blood from his cheek and turned to go back to the bathroom. He took five steps, hesitated, then clutched the blood splattered pile from the kitchen to his chest, and carried it into the upstairs bathroom.
After this, he decided to shave his head, and then decided to shave his entire body: chest, belly and crotch. He slept mostly in the bathroom, drinking from the sink. Occasionally, he stumbled to his bed to collapse among the rumpled covers. He refused to leave the house and stopped answering the telephone. He found piles, clusters and braids of her hair everywhere, in groups of dreamcatcher wheels, figure-eights, Celtic knots and various arabesques– a monochrome, geometric texture that fascinated him. He pulled on a sweater to find the wrinkled front specked with her red strands. He found a mound in a tennis shoe. Wrapped around a bedpost, a braid of her hair fluttered in the breeze from an open window. He walked over a thick pile of it, always, and it clung to the bottoms of his feet.
For hours, he sat in the slough of her life, the leftover things: flakes of dead skin, nail clippings, stray lashes, snatched pubic hair. He considered how much a body sheds in these cast-off and abandoned products and how they constituted an identity, a person. These things in dust and dirt constituted his wife. They made her body, its peculiar, particular scent that made him want to hold her, kiss her, touch her. He felt her presence now as strongly as he did when she lived.
A week later, the first suggestion of stubble appeared on his head and body. He saw that it was scarlet red and an idea formed that he could not contain or eliminate. He walked downstairs and found a paring knife in the sink, still filthy with bits of canned corned beef hash. He flicked on the television and laid the knife in his lap. The red stubble matched the color of his wife’s hair, the same color of hair that filled his house. He had an idea from which he could not distract himself. Had the hair so fully infiltrated his body? Would it fill him?
His incision traced the underside of his collarbone. He cut slowly, precisely and very straight. The edges of the wound peeled away from the blade and he saw what he thought he might see. He cut again on his belly, a longer incision, from the bellybutton down nearly to the paleness of his hip. No blood flowed from the wound, no pain. Like a sliced teddy bear, red stuffing welled from inside the lips of the cut. He dropped the knife to the floor and pried open the wound with all ten fingers. He separated the layers of skin, muscle and fat to reveal the strata of her hair, his wife’s red hair, curling, twisting and twining among his bones and tendons. He grabbed a handful of hair and held it to the light. It murmured and shimmered, whispered and coiled. It moved beneath his fingers, in the palm of his hands.
He wondered if he should ventilate his body further. He wondered if he should tear it all out, every strand and sliver. He placed his hands at his sides and considered the questions. Could he live hollow but for her hair? Could he continue to breathe with lungs of dry straw; and his heart, could it pump red stuffing? Could he survive as a bag of essential emptiness? On the other hand, if he did nothing, and let it grow in his skin, would his wife return? Would she be born again from his organs and blood? Would her dead matter congeal to form her, all of her, as if she had never left? He closed the incision as best he could. He pinched the edges tight, as if his flesh was clay, or dough, but his skin failed to adhere to itself.
He dragged his body off the sofa. He moved out the front door. The street sounds on the walk downstairs to the garage roared through his head like rushing water. He rifled through damp cardboard boxes in the garage. He found what he needed at the bottom of a box of books from college and a rusted, chipped tool box. He brought the book and the epoxy into the bathroom.
He began with the skeletal structure first. He consulted Gray’s Anatomyfor the finer points; the fingers and toes, a complex of blunt metacarpals, easily the most difficult of the bone projects. Through the open wound on his belly, he grabbed handfuls of hair. He started the vascular system next, then the lymphatic system, and the handling of such thin strands of hair, plus the desiccating actions of the epoxy against his skin, caused his fingers to dry and crack.
Molding the organs, for him, constituted the most interesting aspect of the project. Gray’s Anatomywas tremendously helpful at this point, as if the text had been designed for his purpose. He rolled the hair and the epoxy, sculpted the resulting masses, making here a bulbous curve, there a soft, rounded angle. He fitted each organ into its proper place before connecting the thin wires of blood and nerves.
Brain and skull baffled him. How to build the brain inside its box of bone? Or did he build the brain first, and only then sculpt out the skull? He settled for building the facial bones, maxillae, mandible, the back of the skull, and then pressing hair and epoxy into the sinuous curves and clumps of brain. He fitted the skull’s dome over the brain and hoped he had approximated the circulation into the cerebellum, both hemispheres.
For the next part, he consulted photographs. He tried to get the right mixture of bone structure and subcutaneous fat to precisely delineate his wife’s features, the high zygomatic bones, long forehead, her curving hips and flat stomach, the dimples behind her knees. At first, it surprised him that no matter how many times he sank his fists into his stomach, he grasped handfuls of hair. But not for long; he realized that so much of his life for the past twelve years, even the way he breathed and ingested nutrition, revolved around his relationship with his wife. His system was tied to hers by just such strong, resilient networks of feeling and need.
He felt her heart beat now, felt the blood surge through her throat, saw the twitches of her closed eyes like that in dreaming sleep. He grew tired. His vision seemed to fade and fire: at some points, he could barely see his fingers trace his wife’s skin, trying to remember crow’s feet and laugh lines by touch; at others, the white-tiled room was infused with lavender light, and he could see right through the walls, right through the three-storey Victorians adjacent to his house, all the way to the blue bay water twelve miles from home.
As she opened her eyes, he wondered about color. How did he manage to craft such a complex association of green and hazel as he saw now in her irises, when all he had to work with was red and brown, the auburn hairs bunched and slicked with transparent epoxy? But there they were, her eyes, and in them only a sort of faint surprise, as if she had just found a stray hair in her meal.
There was nothing left of him. As if precisely calibrated, his abdomen sunk. His skin rustled like an empty plastic grocery bag, and he knew he could blow away now. A breeze, one of those from the cold ocean, could lift his body into the air and whirl him about, until he snagged on some pine tree or chain link fence. His vision tunneled and he fell to his knees, and then dropped to his belly. The last thing he noticed in the streetlights filtering through his Venetian blinds was her hair, spreading across his eyes, as his wife leaned over him with such concern on her face.
Copyright © Eric Pape, 2004.
All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of the authors.