Dawn folds itself over the sheets. Her fingernails on my chest, finding the rise and fall of my contours, reading the thin words of my flesh.
“This one?” she asks. Her index plumbs an indentation in my belly.
“Seventeen,” I answer. A fish boning knife. She traces the shape of a soldered worm on my side, vestige of a razor.
“And this one?” she asks again.
“Four,” I say. She nods. Like she understands.
“How many more until you finish your list?”
I sigh and shrug, keep my eyes on the oil lamp. Count the slow flickers as it chokes.
The brief summer love now stretching her shirt had him asking questions of himself. Counting the options on his fingers. Am I a provider? Am I capable of unconditional love? Will biology fail them like it has failed me? He turned the weight from one palm to another. Considered the matter objectively.
He broke the action and filed his choice away. As one palm grew lighter, so did his conscience. This course of his had the least amount of pain, in the grand scheme of things. Despite the heat, the metal still felt cold. The hammer clicking back like relief.
The fellow sits in the car, his bare feet on the dashboard. The same position all night. Waiting for something to snap. Waiting for the woman from the nearby convenience store to make her way home. Then he will cover the speaker on his smartphone, steal images known to none but himself. They will be pulled out after, in silence, to grease his palm. She looks back at him the way one regards caged hyenas. With curiosity. Fear.
He will take more later. Of mannequin poses to compare with the ones he admires online. This just another exercise in reconnaissance.
His hands grasped for memories about the space beneath the bed. Out came a wooden chest more ancient than the room around him, model aeroplanes still tethered to the ceiling on cotton strings.
He unmasked his sacred haul. An identity parade of conquests, his penchant for redheads. He leafed through the driver’s licences. Yet something felt off. Everything was not in its place. Not in the order he’d left them. His mother, stretched by the years, lived alone in this dilapidating townhouse home. The boredom since he’d moved out. It felt such a nuisance to have to take measures now.
He went to work with the lump hammer and chisel. A condiment of dust filtered down to the floor, collected in piles about his boots. He saved time by making every stone in advance.
A woman who came in today needed one for her husband. Cancer, the poor fellow. He started work on hers too. The increased stress of burying him would be the end of her.
He formed the designs she would ask for, hydrangeas and lilies, but put his tools away before names or dates. Too early would seem beyond coincidence. Too prophetic. An advertisement for witch hunters.
The writer hung his hand over the submission button, his face lit by monitor glare. He had procrastinated unshaven over the better course of a day. Considering whether he should do it or not.
He loved the art of his craft and would not be giving it up, yet if he wanted to reach a wider audience, it would be necessary to make more submissions to journals, magazines. He read the announcement he typed once more. That daily updates would cease. Wondered if he would come to regret this choice. After all, he had only ever started writing for himself.