This is a short story I wrote back in 2009. If you want to know where the phrase “two pieces of eight” comes from, check out this link: WiseGeek.com – What Are Pieces of Eight?
I was peering through the layers of neon light which were splashing around like children in one of those phony plastic pools when she interrupted me.
“Care for a dose?” she said.
She was standing beside me and my barstool, dressed in a full-bodied mechanics uniform. The nametag said Mel. She held a tray with an array of miniature baby bottles, each filled with black liquid.
“I’m not into that sort of thing, Mel,” I said.
“Mel’s not my real name.”
“I did not mean to imply that it was. I was just being polite.”
Her hair was long and red and very curly. She was not incredibly attractive, but she had a button nose. Not that a button nose has ever had any particular impression on me, whether positive or negative.
“What are you doing there?” she asked. Her voice had a slight accent, one of those small-town-accents, and I may have been able to place it if I’d ever paid attention to such things.
“Where are you from?” I asked her.
She told me and I let what she said roll right out of my head. Then I said, “I thought this was a strip club. Not that it matters.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” she said.
She seemed short, but I wasn’t sure how high my barstool was. Maybe she was tall.
“Which question?” I asked.
“The only one you haven’t answered.”
“I’m… how shall I say it? I’m de-rusting quarters.”
I turned to the bar in front of me where I had a row of five pint glasses, each filled with a unique, clear concoction which I am under contract not to name, and a shiny quarter standing on edge at the bottom of each glass. Floating atop the liquid in each glass was a thin layer of dark brown flakes of rust.
“Actually, they’ve been in there much too long,” I said.
“Sorry to distract you.”
I ignored her, since I’ve never much liked people who apologize when it is not needed, and I picked up the thin metal spatula that I had lying on a towel. I scooped the layer of rust off the top of each glass and tapped all the dark flakes onto a napkin, making a small black mound. Then I took my tongs and plucked out each quarter in turn, shaking the drops off and then placing them into the left pocket of my long coat. Then with my hand I took out five dirty, rust-encrusted quarters out of my right pocket and plopped one into each glass.
“Why do you feel the need to do that?” asked the girl who was not Mel.
I’d honestly forgotten that she was there. “I thought this was a strip club,” I said, trying to change the subject. “Not that it matters.”
“You keep saying that. Are you sure it doesn’t matter?”
I took a moment to peer around the neon-lit bar. “There are women on stages dancing around poles. They’re all wearing many layers of clothing, and all look rather plain. What’s this place referred to as?”
“What’s with you and names?”
“Maybe I like names. Categories. Organization.”
I shrugged. “Not really.”
“Should I leave you alone?”
“No. But maybe.”
“You don’t like people, do you?”
“I don’t. But I’m also afraid of being alone.”
I couldn’t believe I’d just said such a thing. Never do I give away such measures of my life, and certainly not to strangers, which includes everyone. I wished to collect my quarters and leave, but the coins were in the midst of their de-rustification and I couldn’t bring myself to disturb them. I could just leave, I thought. Cut my losses and go. My body heard these thoughts and wrapped its feet around the legs of the barstool. Because this was not about me, it never was, and my body knew that more than anyone else. My body was never one to stray from a path it had started upon. Stupid and noble, like a dog. I never liked dogs much, but I don’t mind my body most of the time.
She touched my shoulder. The back of her hand was smeared with grease and oil.
“I could fix you,” she said.
Her thighs pressed up against my leg and the heavy pocket full of quarters swung to and fro below us like the pendulum of so many grandfather clocks. “I said I could… fix… you.” And when she said the word fix her teeth scraped so slowly over her bottom lip that I had no choice but to imagine those white soldiers of bone raking across my own jaw, my chin, my cheek bones. I wobbled in my seat as my chest began to lose its footing underneath my shirt.
“I can do that,” she added, setting the tray of bottles on the bar.
“I – I thought – thought this was a strip club,” I said. Shit-shit-shit! Why’d I come here? What is this place? The quarters and the pint glasses swam around in the corner of my vision. I was getting light-headed and losing circulation in my feet which were latched on to the rungs of the barstool, anchoring me with such passion to a completely unanchored object.
Then her hand was on my forehead, like a mother checking a child for a fever.
“Don’t do that,” I said. “You mustn’t.”
Her mouth opened wide like a snake’s and my forehead unhinged and swung open underneath her hand, leaving my head’s inner parts naked and unprotected. From the darkness between her lips emerged a gleaming metal arm which was actually more like an oversized wrench with an elbow, slick with dripping saliva as it reached up to that unknown territory above my eyes.
Then my hands were on her face, trying to push her from me, my barstool rocking beneath me up onto two legs, my feet still anchoring me to it. I pulled my head away from the metallic extension, dodging this way and that as sticky saliva and grease drooled onto my face. Realizing that my fate and the fate of the operation were fused with the events of the next several seconds, I reached through the cloud of morality and conscience that I keep as a wall around my person and grabbed at her chest, half-blinded I was by the excessive amounts of saliva running through my eyes. I had closed the small gap between us by doing this, and the wrench-hand slipped into the opening in my forehead, gripping on tight to the things inside, but not before I grabbed the nametag on her uniform and ripped it off.
She began choking and coughing, each spasm traveling across the metal arm and severely loosening the things in the top-most section of my head. I struggled to pull the cursed thing out of me, but every moment found me weaker than the last. My feet unhooked from the barstool and in a last-ditch effort I and my body teamed up, putting a foot on her chest and shoving with every drop of strength we had left. I pulled free of her and she slouched sideways onto the bar, and the end of the wrench-arm was holding a fist-sized motor with broken wires dangling from it. Before my eyes the motor began to darken with rust – layer after layer it corroded until it was completely unrecognizable. The brown decay spread like liquid over the wrench-hand and down the length of the arm. I did not see what became of the girl who was not Mel, for I had lost feeling throughout most of my body and was tipping backwards in my barstool, and as I fell I felt my body let go of such ideas as solidity and force and consumption. It had to do this, of course, sacrificing itself so that the whole of the job was not lost, so that not all of my efforts were in vain. I would have done the same thing if I were in its shoes.
It is a strange feeling to have your body break up into so many small, near-identical coins – to go from being one to being hundreds in a mere second. Before I hit the ground, it was done. The transformation was complete. It was not supposed to end this way, but I could no longer care. For, when I hit the ground as many, the sound that arose was so profoundly pleasant to me that I at once released from me all other lingering emotions. I cannot say if I would have found the sound so pleasing if somebody else had fallen to the ground as hundreds of quarters, and the feeling arising inside of me was not unlike being deep in the forest and hearing thousands of crickets erupt into chorus. Perhaps I felt this way because I was hearing myself as something new, something fresh. But the one thing that rang out through my consciousness, soft as a whisper and as unobtrusive as a speck of dust dancing in the barely-stirring air, was that, Now I am multiple, now I am not alone, and never shall I be again.
Writing and Photo Copyright 2012 by Andy Reynolds