The Body

Aurealis #147

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

EXCERPT: 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 to their undies 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. Max 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 looked like a toy in his hands. The boys snickered but put 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. He watched as the Body absorbed each red-leather punch, learning to sever 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 scoop up a pile of hot potato chips and 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 thoughts and flesh. It started three weeks ago and is now impossible to ignore.
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 can’t see the sore, but he can feel something there.

In front of him, a very old woman with a square walking frame has paused at the entrance to the waiting area. Her grey hair is tied in a bun, forehead crinkled in concentration. Max follows her gaze. She has stopped at the point where the tiles meet the carpet, trembling like it’s the edge of a cliff. His eyes go misty. He understands how a Body can turn a set of stairs into a mountain. This frail woman could be just one fall from a broken hip, from death. He starts preparing himself to get up but overhears some women to his left, facing the other way.
‘God, I’d love to eat dessert all the time,’ says one. Max sees her blonde hair bob up and down.
The woman listening says, ‘Oh yes!’
‘But I stop myself because I know I’d pile on the kilos. Self-restraint. That’s what these people are missing.’
The old woman is just in front of them, but they don’t appear to have seen her. In order to help, Max would have to step into their line of sight, into their conversation.
He sinks back into his chair and the Body’s cheeks go red, but they are not his cheeks.
‘Max Bonner,’ yells the receptionist. ‘The doctor will see you now.’
The Body drags itself up, past the tracking eyes of the two women and towards the privacy of the doctor’s examination room.

Buy the full story in Aurealis #147 here