The Pieces

E. Christopher Clark

I know that I’m trying too hard to make the pieces fit, but I keep forcing it anyway. You probably don’t remember this, but I was standing there that day on the train—feet planted, hands in my pockets, surfing the waves of the Red Line the way I always did. And there you were, across the way. But it couldn’t have been you. You were smiling—happy again—even though your you-know-whats were gone. And you were with him, which made no sense. Like none. And I tried to imagine each of you was someone else, but you weren’t.

 

It was the keys you twirled around your finger that got me started. That, and your knee pressed against my old dentist’s thigh. My old dentist. Like: really fucking old. He was wiggling a tooth in his mouth to explain a dream he’d had, and you were listening to him. You sat still, still but for the gentle movement of your chewing mouth, and you listened.

 

In my mind, I saw the two of you in bed together, your young body wrapped around his withered one. I could see the moment you fell in love with him, the moment he ended your week-long pain by uprooting a rotten tooth in one determined yank.

 

And then I saw myself, in sweats, reflected in the darkened window of the train’s closed doors. I bared my teeth, feigned a scream to complete the image, and read the words on my old dentist’s chapped lips:

 

Mentally emaciated, he said.

 

Mentally emaciated.

 

I’m mentally emaciated just thinking about this.

 

The train stopped, and I followed an elderly couple out onto the platform, all the while daydreaming. I dreamt of your fingers plugged into holes where my teeth should have been, of a village without pavement from one of the books the dentist kept in his waiting room, and of the tunnels you used to dream of. Back when you were the dreamer, and I was the one who listened.

 

I watched the train leave. And here’s thing: it was empty, and I wondered where the two of you went. I wondered, suddenly, if you were ever there at all.

Originally published in slightly different form in 2010 in Device as part of their “Chasing Porcelain” exquisite corpse project

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