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Fatherstein

God decides all and God is a man. A father actually. And when my father died, I believed he burst into shrapnel, scattering throughout the world, becoming the bodies of all different kinds of men, all with the commonality of liking women. Of course, liking is used loosely; you don’t have to like someone you’re attracted to, or be attracted to someone you love, or like that you love the person you’re attracted to.


I started collecting body parts as soon as he died. I took a good few things from my first boyfriend that he didn’t even notice: a kidney, both tonsils, and his appendix. I hated him. I hate everyone I love. After all, love is the slow march to hate, as I’m all too aware. You look at a person one day, maybe you’ve seen them plenty of times before, maybe you knew them, maybe you were even friends, but now, whatever light they found, whatever angle, whatever activity they’re doing in that moment, you fall in love. For me, it’s like a layer of them which folds over and reveals a part of themselves that I’ve been missing. It can be something small, like a thumb, or a mole, a scaphoid, an ulnocarpal joint, that screams Perfect! Just what I’ve been looking for! The length of these relationships is relative to the size and importance of the part. Just a few dates, if it’s something really small like a molar, and longer for things like a femur, or a pair of oblique muscles. For example, with this one guy I dated, his whole rib cage was fit for purpose. That was exciting. I was with him for a year. We talked about moving in together.


I like girls too much to love them. It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve found that they hate themselves enough, so they don’t need my help. Plus, they cry when you cut them open. There’s no fight, they’ve been through it before. Each incision is followed by an ‘I know, I know!’ They look at you while you do it, caress your hair as if to tell you they understand, that they care. They see your pain and nod along to its rhythm. Their mouth crumples when yours crumples, their breath catches when yours does. It’s no fun shattering a mirror, so I have stuck to men since.


Recently, on some ordinary day, I got a big catch. You always do when you least expect it. They write whole movies about these things. I sat at the café, which I felt was built under the ruins of a primordial cave, with a book. I knew how sophisticated I appeared. I could hardly concentrate with the glee of being admired by old ladies with their smartphones, and the waitress creeping up to me, guilty to interrupt my reading. He saw me first, which caught me off-guard. Men like to think you’re unaware of their stalk, the unsheathing of their claws, padding carefully to where you sit. A tiger never wants you to see it crouch. And usually, I am watching every step of the process; you have to be an active participant to act passive. But this time, as I was so engrossed with being loved by the women of the café, he just came over and sat across from me. I let out a little yelp when I saw him. He enjoyed that. I was pissed, but then when he told me how rare it was to see a girl reading these days, I saw the first flutter. His was the heart I had been looking for. I started dating him immediately.


And though he had hurt me so much during the two years we dated (through men’s usual methods of torture, too boring to mention), it still hurt me to hurt him back. It hurt to see him hurt. It hurt me to divide him into parts, tear open his stomach and inspect his insides. Most people don’t know this, but men and women’s hearts greatly differ. Men’s are bigger – if you can believe it – the texture more coarse like pimply meat, the veins are thicker, like thick ivy encasing a home, and the arteries, its chimneys, pump more slowly than the woman’s own. This man’s heart was perfect; meaning it was cold and almost blue with lack of blood.


After him was the boy who had the eyes. Ah the eyes, the windows. I knew they were the real deal before I even got a proper look at them. No glasses to frame them, no heavy brow to obscure them. He had long, thick lashes. I wanted to pluck them out and put them on myself, but I knew to never take a male part for my own. Instead, I focused on his eyeballs, like glass condensed with breath. He was a man constantly at war with his environment, which I loved. He had little wrinkles under his eyes, unlike my father, whose creases were carved deep into his skin as if he had never been a soft-skinned boy. This man had none of these yet, but I knew it would grow with time. He was too young yet to squint at the sun or scowl at the wind.


It was a few months of what he saw as ‘just hooking up’ before I got my prize. They popped out so easily. I had asked him why he didn’t see me as beautiful. He did, he said, it’s just that the world was filled with so much other beauty, and we had so little time on earth that he had to stop, stare, sniff, touch. I asked him if that was why they give brides flowers? So they know how the husband sees them? A briefly beautiful thing that will soon wither now that it’s cut from the roots? It’s rude to pull something from the stem, I told him, and I reached my small hands into his sockets and hauled the optic nerve like it was rope connected to an anchor.


After him, I looked over my carnal collection. The perfect man was nearly ready, just one more part left. You don’t realise how important the lungs are until you are staring at an unanimated corpse lying on a table. What harmless creatures they are when they cannot breathe. I had to find the perfect lungs, the ones that only inhaled, inhaled, inhaled, and never let it out. You had to get a certain tinge of red to the skin, a tension to the muscles, tight fists that never released. In my giddiness, I went to the club to find them.


I didn’t like how long I had to wait for a pair of lungs to approach me. I wondered if I smelled of men’s blood. I had to pay for all my drinks that night. It’s a fine balance to reach drunk enough to be coherent and aware of all your angles, yet loose enough to forget your disgust with every sweaty man on the dancefloor. It was past midnight by the time a pair of lungs finally talked to me. The music had gotten to my ears, and I was so sick of being upright that I was nearly ready to go home before he came over. He asked if I wanted some air. It was unfortunate that he was a smoker, since that meant he had the ability to relax a little bit, but he held the cigarette like it was a tiny neck and crushed its remains under his foot for at least a minute each time. I was enamoured. I took him back to my place instead of his, for convenience's sake.


When the lungs were taken out of their cavity, they felt dry, like a beached whale. It was spotted with black from the smoking. The bronchial tube, the xylophone, was fun to play with, along with the apple, which I picked out from under the cartilage, examined under the light, and placed back in again. The bronchioles were trunks that turned from trees to branches and grew from one tip to the next. It was scary to see infinity stretched out like that on the table. I looked away and quickly put it back in the corpse.


Now, the body was complete. When he rose, creaking with the bones previously owned by a farmer boy, the muscles of an office worker, and the second-hand elbows of a gambler, his mouth twisted in a way physics wouldn’t normally allow. He turned his head to me, gauging how flexible his spine was, and stared a little past me. He pointed at my ears. These? I asked. I thought you wouldn’t want these, I said, and clutched them. He pushed himself off the table and held his weight against the wheeled tray where I kept my scalpels. He stretched one hand out in front of him, trying desperately to unfold the fingers, or at least let them relax into floppy curls. He couldn’t. He settled himself on his feet and let go of all support. He extended his arms towards me. I grabbed a scalpel and held it out in front of me. He took one step, then another, with only a little give from the knees. I stepped away from him each time until my back hit the wall. I was scared in that familiar way I liked. I let the scalpel fall, as I knew I couldn’t kill something already dead, and readied myself for violence. I could only hope that it was of the erotic kind as his shadow fell across my body. Instead, he took me in his arms and hugged me. His fist rested on the back of my head, softening the edge of the door frame against my skull. I stood motionless. He didn’t let go, though I felt I could leave his hold at any time. I reached my hand to the top of his scalp where it felt soft and could be punctured easily with the slight force of my finger. What was this gentleness?


It was in his embrace, a gesture which he hadn’t been taught, where I realised that my father wasn’t just my father. He was my mother’s father and her grandmother’s father and his father’s son and his grandfather’s son. He was the reincarnation of the same man since the beginning of time. Nothing comes from nothing, so what had I created? He held me back from him to look me in the eyes. What dead eyes he had, though they watered as if with real tears. Why did you create me? He asked me, knowing none of these parts fit together. I didn’t know how to answer that. Only that I didn’t think I had a choice in what men I created.

 

Emily Linehan

Emily, a Tipperary native, has shown a great interest in all things literature from a young age. She has been published in the anthology Cork Words 2, Motley Magazine, thecurrent.ie, and is a 2021 runner-up in UCC's Eoin Murray Scholarship. After completing her M.Phil in Creative Writing with Trinity, she is currently teaching with Fighting Words, and working on her novel.

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