The Body

Aurealis #147

My short story ‘The Body’ was just published in Australian science fiction/fantasy magazine Aurealis. Buy a copy here.

EXCERPT: Max hates every part of the Body except the legs. When he looks down, purple toes poke above the horizon of his stretched T-shirt. The toenails are jagged, some blackened, like shards of rock pushed into putty. It’s been ages since he could reach down to clip them. But between his swollen ankles and his ugly knees is an area that looks almost normal. His calves and shins haven’t packed on kilos like the rest of him. It’s as if wax has been poured over his head, settling on the face, neck, arms and torso, while only a trickle has flowed down to reach his lower limbs.

For years these legs have carried the bulk above without a twinge of complaint.

Now, waking up from a dream, Max feels a sensation like ants crawling across his left calf, but it’s trumped by the more urgent desire to pee. He rolls onto his side and grips the bedside table. The Body hauls itself up and his feet find the slippers by the side of the bed, burrowing inside. He shuffles past the stacks of sci-fi novels on the floor, around the washing basket filled with dirty clothes, over the power cords feeding his VR console, and through the cluttered corridor to the toilet. Only after the Body has relieved itself does he acknowledge the tickling is still there. Max retraces his steps, lowers himself back into bed and turns on the bedside light. Lying flat with his left leg out to the side, he twists his head to take a look, but can’t see past the white hills of his hips. Maybe a mosquito bite? He hopes it’s not a bed sore. Fatigue dulls the pain and he feels the Body slowly drift off to sleep.

***

Maybe he carried dodgy genes, whispered instructions to keep eating and storing energy, or maybe the boys in town were right and he was just a lazy shit. Other kids would strip down and jump off the big pier in summer, or wake up early in winter and crack the frosty grass with their footy boots, but he’d stay in bed most weekends, immersed in worlds far away. Books were a refuge from the taunts. He tried to join them one Saturday morning, rocking up in new cricket whites for the C-grade comp at the reserve oval, the one near the roundabout. He was tremendously tall and the cricket bat was like a toy in his hands. The boys snickered but let him play, even putting him third in the batting order, which should have been a warning sign. Once at the crease the onslaught began, his own teammates howling with laughter from the boundary line. The opposition had a great time, bowling bouncers at such a big, soft target. The Body absorbed each red-leather punch and Max learned to distance himself from this ugly thing that carried around his Mind.

Now thirty-four, Max thinks of the Body mainly as a means of transportation. Sometimes he is the Driver, steering it towards a destination, careful to make sure each foot is stable before transferring weight to that leg. Sometimes he is the Passenger, watching the Body’s fingers reach down and scoop up a pile of hot potato chips and then deliver them to the waiting mouth. At these times his thoughts are calm, riding the Body’s sensations, a gentle rocking that he could interrupt but prefers to let continue. None of these actions are him, none of them are Max, the person. It is just the Body, feeding and drinking and sleeping and shitting and wanking, while Max watches from an increasing distance.

He has been detached from the Body for years, but this itching on his calf has pulled him back, reconnected him with his flesh. Sitting on the couch in the doctor’s waiting room, he reaches down to scratch through the material of his pants. One side of his left calf has bloomed into an angry rash. He still can’t see the sore, but he can feel something there.

Buy the full story in Aurealis #147 here