The Hanged Man's Regret
The crrrssshhhhhhh-shhhh of static from a snowy television set purring like a tiger, its throat slit and gushing, gurgling. A white radiance shining from the screen like a strobe light, and it ached, ached and sat in shock, and all that ran through its mind was the crrrssshhhhhhh-shhhh of the tiger static. A brain with no reception, gurgling, gushing. Throat slit. Tiger…
The silence of the couch springs, no longer hissing like coiled snakes. A pair of white thighs sprawled chaotically on the cushions. Unmarred, snowy fields without the pockmarks of age, of bruising, or lacerations. No scars. A little too thick, but their strong calves made up for it. The sinews and tendons had gone limp. They could still run, if left alone, but the snakes were dormant under the cushions, under the snowy fields, hibernating from the cold.
The Y-shaped incision, stretching from the pubic area to the collar bone, marked the area where the juices and gears were. Gears like a clock, one of the big grandfathers, with a swinging pendulum marking the passage of time in a soft arc. Tick, tock, tick.
But there were no more juices, no more gears, no more vital inner workings to make the cuckoo come out and chirp on the hour. The bird would not come out of her mouth, shrieking, sobbing struggling after every sixty minutes when one more gear was removed.
Tick. Tick. Tock.
The rib-spreader snickering on her stomach, jaws strained with her tainted tiger blood, gurgling, gushing, blushing. The deformation of her torso where her ribs had reached their limits and now lay cracked, broken, and tusk-like—glowing in the crrrssshhhhhhh-shhhh of the television set and the snowy fields.
He straddled her on the couch and the snakes woke, hissing, rattling. He ran his hands into the gap between her ribs and felt nothing but slick and sponge, blood and flesh. He spread the incision wider and moved his hands delicately, slowly down the inside. Sticky, slicky blood and spongy flesh, like newly baked banana bread. He put his face into the absence of her stomach and intestines and inhaled—could almost smell that banana bread baking.
She had smelled horribly when first opened up, and the first few hours had been hell. She’d smelled of burning sulfur and a mechanic’s shop. Oil, exhaust, transmission fluid, and brimstone. She had been disgusting before now.
He moved his face up to hers. A shattered clock with no more cuckoo. With the rib-spreader, he opened her jaws, cracking teeth and snapping her maxilla. Her hinges screeched like nails on a chalkboard and popped like a bottle of warm champagne. He loved that sound.
Then he looked inside, past her missing tongue and tonsils and some of her gums. He wanted to know where the cuckoo had gone.
He stared down that bleak void where he’d managed to pull some of her frontal lobe and intestines from. Up one way, down the other, all roads leading to Rome—leading to out, out, out. She had been alive and awake for that tiny bit of brain, for the icepick in her eye socket. Her intestines had come a little later, when she had stopped moving and the cuckoo stopped choking.
It made him sad. He had wanted her to choke on them.
Her mouth was left in its impossible scream like a snake struck dead just as it prepared to swallow a rat, a pig, a goat. He retracted the rib-spreader, leaned his elbows on her shoulders, and stared at her face. He would have kissed her, if he had left her lips intact. Her right eye was swollen, purple, tinged with red—the icepick had been unkind to her. Shame on it.
He pulled her eye open with his thumb and smiled at the fireworks of burst blood vessels underneath. He liked fireworks. He liked her. She had been so much fun to spend time with, and it had taken her a long time to go away. Was that because she liked him, too?
Three, maybe four days. It hadn’t all been about removing organs. At first, it had been about opening veins and letting her watch as she bled out. Sometimes she’d get dizzy and vomit. He’d put a rag between her bound feet and made her clean it up.
He liked her, but he had no sympathy. She lived, she suffered, she died. It was all very natural, like labor. One brought life, the other death. In and out. All roads lead to…
A sudden, violent rupture bubbled in her open cavity, frothing the corners of her mouth and gurgling, gushing outward. A scream ripped the silence of the snakes in two and cracked the television down the middle—a crack shaped like fireworks, like the broken blood vessels in her eye. Then the scream stopped and she wheezed, breathing putrid air onto his face. He could feel her lungs moving as if he hadn’t removed them (he had).
Her one, open eye stared at him accusingly—“you were my death!”—and her lipless mouth moved with her rasping breath, and the incision opened up like a pit to Hell, and her snowy fields began to bloat and swell, and without a warning she pulled him into her mouth where she bit off his face with the shards of teeth he had made for her. The terrible width of her maw slit his throat, and he rolled to the floor, staring up at the perfectly normal, mutilated body, with no life or wheezing, with no color but the livid pallor of death, with no swollen thighs, and with no discrepancy but one: a mouth twisted into a smile.
Gushing, gurgling, a brain with no reception. Throat slit. Tiger…