“Head” by Zac Smith

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I woke up, and my body crawled out of bed, and it left my head behind on the pillow.

I thought that maybe I was dreaming, so I bit my lip, which is one of the few things that just a head can do on its own. It hurt, so I wasn’t dreaming. I really was just a head on a pillow.

I heard my body pissing in the bathroom. It had left the door open. Then I heard my body wash its hands, and it sounded like it did a better job than I usually do. Lots of warm water, plenty of soap, and a thorough drying-off with the hand towel. I felt a little embarrassed. It was doing a great job without my head telling it what to do.

Then my body came back in and started rifling through my closet. I stared at it from the corner of my eye because I couldn’t really move. I was just a head.

I kept hoping it would look at me, maybe acknowledge that it had left my head in the bed, but I was just being an idiot. My body couldn’t look at me, because it didn’t have any eyes, because it didn’t have a head. So it just ignored me.

“Hey,” I said to my body. My mouth was dry and goopy from sleeping. “Hey,” I said again. No response, because it couldn’t hear me. It didn’t have any ears.

 

My body shuffled around my apartment while my head lay on the pillow. It finished getting dressed, put on shoes, did some stretches. But most importantly, it ignored me. It didn’t come anywhere near the bed. It just turned off the lights and left.

 

 

I got pretty anxious after a while. I kept thinking about how I couldn’t move. I wasn’t hungry, but what if I got hungry? What if my forehead itched? What if a spider crawled into my eye? I worried about stuff like that for a while. I almost worked myself up into a panic attack. For maybe twenty minutes, I was convinced that someone would knock on the door, but I wouldn’t be able to answer or let them in. But no one ever knocked on my door, I told myself, so it wasn’t something to worry about.

 

My body didn’t come back until the evening.

 

“Where did you go?” I asked it. I felt angry, demanding answers about trivial things like a friend who felt jilted by some perceived slight. But my body couldn’t hear me. It also couldn’t talk, since I had the mouth. It just used the bathroom and put on some workout clothes and went into the other room and did some jumping jacks for a while, then took a shower, and went to sleep on the couch.

After a couple days, we had a routine down. Every morning, I would shit-talk my body while it puttered around the house. I’d call my body fat, and disgusting, and stupid-looking. I’d complain loudly about the clothes it picked out and how poorly they matched. I would regale it with embarrassing stories from our childhood, things that I thought might be more embarrassing for my body than for me – inopportune erections, bed-wetting, stubbed toes, ingrown hairs.

I knew my body couldn’t hear me, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Then my body would leave, usually for the whole day. I would just lay on the pillow and stare out the window until my eyes got tired, then I would stare at the dresser on the other side of the room. I would sleep, sometimes, just waiting for my body to come home so I could yell at it some more.

Then my body would come home and take a shower. It would only come into the bedroom to towel off and get clean clothes.

I’d shit-talk through the night. My body exclusively slept on the couch in the living room, I guess to stay away from me, to not have to deal with me mumbling and whispering and shouting all night – I knew it couldn’t hear me, but I’m sure on some level it knew what I was doing. Or maybe it just didn’t want to be near me.

“Your chest looks like a fat baby’s ass,” I shouted down the hall. “And your nipples are huge. They’re embarrassing,” I said as my body passed by to use the bathroom. “How’s that small dick treating you?” I called mockingly while my body peed in the dark. I didn’t actually think it was below average, but my body didn’t know that, I reasoned.

“It’s small,” I repeated. “And that’s your problem, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” I heard my body flush and wash its hands, then pad down the hall to the couch.

Most nights were like this, and they started to blend together. I was mad at my body for living what seemed like a normal life without me.

I tried to taunt my body with all the things it couldn’t do without a head for a few nights, just to boost my confidence a little bit. My body could do so much without me, but there would always be things it couldn’t do without sprouting another head.

“I can still eat pussy,” I called out, but my body ignored me. “I could even suck a dick if I wanted to,” I shouted. I sang a few notes and made a clicking sound with my tongue, like a clock.

I tried shouting erratically through the night to disturb its sleep. Then I tried shouting at timed intervals to the best of my ability. Sometimes I just made noises, meaningless vocalizations as loud as I could.

I just felt like yelling about something. I wanted to get a rise out of my body, elicit some kind of response. But it just lived on without me, which I think upset me the most.

 

 

Later on, I woke up to a big commotion, a cascade of heavy stomping, the front door slamming open. I heard someone shuffling around in the kitchen, rattling bottles, the fridge door slamming shut. They were dragging furniture around. But no talking, no voices. There were more bodies than just my own.

The door to the bedroom slammed open, and I saw my body carrying an armload of jackets, and out in the hallway I saw another body heading into the bathroom. My body threw all the jackets on the bed and then turned to leave.

A party. My body was throwing a party.

I heard more bottles clinking in the kitchen. They were drinking. How were they drinking? I imagined them pouring Coronas into their gaping necks, maybe one of them lightly tipping a rum and coke into their throat hole, the rim of the glasses resting lightly on the lip of skin above the Adam’s apple. I heard them slam bottles down onto my kitchen table, and onto my bookshelves in the living room.

Someone broke a glass in the kitchen and then I heard what sounded like twenty people applauding. Sarcastic applause, but made unnerving by the lack of enthusiastic woos and heys.

Headless bodies I didn’t recognize came into the bedroom to dump off their coats and purses. One of them paused at the dresser and poked at the little statue of a giraffe I had there. I saw it spin around from the poke, then topple over with a clatter.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Get out of my room!” They couldn’t hear me, of course, but it still felt good to yell. Cathartic, but otherwise pointless.

I heard knocking at the front door. More guests, more shuffling around, more furniture being shoved out of the way. Someone flushed the toilet and left the bathroom without washing their hands. More bottles clanked in the kitchen, and I heard what sounded like someone cutting vegetables or fruit on the kitchen island. Limes, someone was cutting limes for mojitos or something.

Then the music started, loud and abrupt. Stupid music that no one will ever feel nostalgic for. I couldn’t tell if they put it on just because that’s what you’re supposed to do at a party, or because they could feel the bassy vibrations. Or maybe they could hear, after all, and my skin went cold at the thought. Why else would they put on music? It felt obvious, then, that they were all just fucking with me. Had my body actually heard everything I’d said?

I decided to try to find out for sure. I thought maybe if I could figure out at least one thing about this whole situation, then the rest of it would fall into place and I would be back in control.

There were so many bodies there, surely one of them would crack if I said or shouted the right thing. I had to think of something crazy, something that would make one of them feel obligated to stop ignoring me and do something. Even a flinch, a brief hesitation would be enough. If I could confirm that they could hear me, then I would surely figure out what to do next. This was the first hurdle.

But I had no idea what to shout. All of them had left heads just like mine back at their own apartments. I was sure, between all of them, they had heard a million different, desperate attempts at communicating.

Then one came in carrying big overcoat, fleece and grey with a red, fur-lined collar, and a green tote bag. It dumped both onto the stack on the bed and turned to walk out, and right before it got to the threshold, I had an idea.

“Fire!” I shouted, trying to sound desperate and shocked. Surely they would still acknowledge that a fire in an apartment building was dangerous. “Help! Fire! Get the fire extinguisher!” I yelled. I was watching for a response. A twitch, a hesitation, something to prove that they were listening after all. Just some kind of weakness.

But nothing happened, the body just walked right out the door. I tried again, louder, screaming as hard as I could.

“Fire! Fire! Someone help!”

“They can’t hear you,” someone said from inside the bedroom with me. A woman’s voice, in my room, right there with me. I was so shocked to hear another voice that I shut up, instantly obeying like a frightened child. It was coming from the pile of coats. “You should know that, you know.” She sounded annoyed, and muffled. “They don’t have ears.”

I didn’t say anything, too shocked, I think, to make sense of anything anymore.

We have the ears,” she said, like it was obvious. Because it was obvious. Or, it should have been. It was. I was just an idiot.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just…” I didn’t know what to say next. This was the first time I’d talked with anyone for days, maybe over a week, and all I could say was pointless filler. “Upset,” I said, bleakly. It wasn’t the right word, but it would have to do. It hung in the air.

“Oh, boo hoo,” she said.

I didn’t say anything else for a while. The party raged on around us. Someone was rooting around for ice in the freezer, and someone else was opening the windows in the hallway. Innumerable footsteps and thumps rattled the floors to the beat of the music.

I listened to it all and calmed down a little.

“Where are you?” I asked, craning my eyes to look around the pile of coats.

“I’m in a green bag,” she said. The body with the tote bag, the grey coat with the red fur. That was her body, that was her coat, that was her head in the bag.

“Oh, right,” I said, trying to sound normal. She sounded so bored that I felt like trying to treat this just like any other awkward bit of small talk. Nothing special, just a shitty party we both happened to be at. “Your body dropped off a pretty cool coat.”

“I know. It used to be mine,” she said, then laughed, which surprised me, so I laughed, too. It felt good to laugh for once. “But it looks better on her than it does on me, now.” We both laughed again. She was funny.

I tried to be funny, too, in my usual dry, sardonic way I always did when I felt uncomfortable at parties.

“Because you’re just a head,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“You need a smaller coat.”

“Exactly.”

“Yeah.”

A body came in and rooted through the pockets of one of the coats.

“What’s going on?” she asked. The body pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

“Just a body getting some cigarettes,” I said. “I’m Doug, by the way.”

“Danny,” she said. “It’s weird how our bodies are at the same party, but we’ve never met before.” She had lost her sarcastic edge.

“Yeah.”

“Did you used to throw a lot of parties?” she asked.

“No, never,” I said. “You think that’s why the party’s at my place?”

She laughed a little bit. “Yeah, maybe. Like, your body is just going wild now that it’s free.” It felt weird to hear it phrased that way, like my body was free of me. I laughed uncomfortably, unsure whether she knew something I didn’t.

“I wonder who we know in common,” she said. “We must know someone, right? Otherwise why would my body come here?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s just a thing. Maybe our bodies just know where the good parties are.”

“Did you recognize anyone who came in to drop off their coat?”

“That’s a good question.” I thought back, looking over the pile of coats and purses. “No, I don’t think I recognized anyone. I mean, just based on their bodies, it’s kind of weird. I don’t know if I could,” I said.

“Yeah, I guess not.”

Some more bodies came in. They just stood in the doorway and threw their coats at the bed, turned and left, leaving the door open behind them. I saw bodies wriggling around in the hallway, carrying bottles of beer.

“Are you a student?” I asked.

“Yeah, at BU. Mechanical engineering. Are you?”

“Nice, no, I just work in Cambridge. I moved here from Albany.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah.”

The party raged on while we sat in an uncomfortable silence for a while.

 

 

Eventually, Danny started talking again. She told me that her body took her everywhere, and it seemed to be living a complex, multifaceted life without her. Her body would stick her in the green tote bag and then go off on silent errands, riding the T, walking around the Common, buying stuff. I figured my own body must be doing the same kind of shit, just without me. I asked her if she thought that her body and her were on good terms.

“I guess so. I mean, yeah, she thinks to bring me along, you know? Sometimes she’ll put a stocking cap on me and set me on a bench outside with her. I figure it must be for me, to get me outside and see some nature. It’s kind of nice.”

I was dumbstruck. My body hadn’t so much as touched me since we separated.

“I mean, sometimes my body leaves me in this bag all day. But also sometimes she puts me on the couch and turns on Netflix while she’s out doing shit.”

“That’s incredible,” said. “I’m super jealous.”

“Your body doesn’t do that for you?” she asked.

“No. I don’t think he likes me.”

“Well, hey, don’t say that,” she said. She sounded uncomfortable. “I mean, he put you on a pillow, that’s pretty nice.”

“He left me on the pillow.”

“What?”

“He left me on the pillow.”

“Oh.”

“It feels different,” I said. “Like it wasn’t intentional.”

“Shit,” she said. “Are you sure? Maybe he did it on purpose.”

I didn’t reply. I didn’t like that she was trying to make excuses for my shitty body. She didn’t know me, she didn’t know my body and my relationship with it. She couldn’t understand what it was like to be stuck in this room all day, every day, with nothing to look at, no one to talk to, no Netflix, no going outside. I felt like that should have been obvious, but it wasn’t, to her.

“My body doesn’t even come in here to sleep,” I said. “It’s like he’s avoiding me.” I was getting worked up.

Danny was quiet.

Then she said, “Maybe he is.”

“What?” I asked

“Maybe your body is avoiding you,” she said. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe he doesn’t like you.” She sounded tired, like I was annoying her. Like she didn’t like me, too.

I felt like saying something sarcastic, maybe tell her to go ice skating or something with her super fun body. Maybe go on a double date with some really intelligent guy and his super hot body or something. I felt tired, and angry, and frustrated by everything, and the music was loud and shitty and my apartment was full of a bunch of drunken bodies I had never met before and didn’t want in my apartment anymore, and now that I had someone to talk to, I felt like I couldn’t even complain without being judged for it. Like I was just bringing her down. Like, she was a head in a tote bag on a stranger’s bed, but I was bringing her down because I was being too negative for her.

I was trying to think of a way to start talking again without saying anything mean when the bedroom door slammed open.

It was my body, and he was leading in someone else by the hand. Then he turned to her and closed the door and sat down on the bed. The body he had brought in was wearing a black dress, which she started pulling off.

“Ah, shit,” I said.

“What? What’s going on?” Danny asked. My body started unbuttoning his shirt and the other body kicked off her shoes, stumbling a little.

“My body is about to fuck someone, I think,” I said, almost in a whisper.

“What? Here? Now?” she said.

“What the fuck,” I said. It looked weird, because they couldn’t kiss or anything, they just groped at each other and tried to strip down.

“On the bed?” Danny asked.

“Yeah. Fuck,” I said.

My body was reaching up and fondling the other body through her bra, and she reached her hands back to unclasp it for him. I could see my shirtless back, thin wisps of hair and pale freckles gleaming with sweat.

“I can’t believe this,” I said.

“Who is it?”

“I have no idea, I don’t recognize her at all. I mean, I might, but, without the head. . .”

“What is she wearing?”

“Uh, she had a black dress on, and a green bra, that’s all I can see.”

Danny was silent.

My body was undoing his belt while still sitting on the edge of the bed. The other body dropped her bra on the floor and her breasts shone in the semi-darkness, pale and beautiful. And then she squatted down to help my body get my pants off.

Then I realized: it was her body.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“It’s okay,” she said.

“No,” I said. “Shit. Fuck.”

My body leaned back and took of my pants, and her body hunched over mine. My hand was in her underwear and she pushed down on my shoulder with one hand, stroking my penis with her other hand. She put her knee on the edge of the bed and leaned forward, arching her back under my fingertips. I could look directly into both of our neck holes, two leering cyclops masturbating each other on the foot of my bed.

“It’s not your fault,” she said, and sniffled.

 

 

After our bodies had sex, they got dressed and returned to the party. Danny was quiet, and I couldn’t think of anything to say.

About an hour later, Danny’s body came back in. It put on her coat and swung the green tote bag with her head in it onto her shoulder. I heard Danny’s head thump against her back.

“Bye, Danny,” I said.

“See you,” she said.

But neither of us wanted to ever see each other again, I’m pretty sure.

 

 

A few days after the party, my body started acting less hostile toward me. I noticed that it would spend more time in the bedroom than usual when putting on clothes – before, it would just throw on some clothes near the closet and then carry my socks and belt out into the other room, but now my body would sit on the bed to put my socks on and lace up my shoes. It also spent more time cleaning in the bedroom, swept out under the bed, put clean clothes away after doing laundry.

I was still mad about the party, about what my body had done with Danny’s body, about being neglected for so long. And I was still mad about everything else, being left on the pillow, being ignored for so long. I didn’t want to see my body put on socks or wipe down the windows. But I wasn’t sure what I did want – my body and I had grown so distant, it felt, that I wondered how it would feel if we were ever to be reunited. We had spent so much time apart that I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to be part of my body again.

Then, one morning, my body opened the windows. It was hot, almost as if it were summer again, sunny and breezeless. I considered shouting out into the world beyond the windows, but thought better of it. There was no one to yell for, no one would help. So I just berated my body some more, out of habit.

“I hate you,” I said. “You walk stupidly, and you’re clumsy.” I was trying to think of things I hadn’t insulted my body for yet, but couldn’t think of anything really great. “You’re lucky that I have the nose, because you smell.” I had always had smelly feet. But this wasn’t my problem anymore, except for when my body didn’t do laundry for too long. “You’re a piece of shit,” I said. It was a classic line, comforting to say.

My body left the bedroom and came back with a plastic bag and walked right up to the edge of the bed. This was the closest I had been to my body since we separated almost three weeks ago. It seemed to be looking down right at me, although I couldn’t be sure. My body just stood there as I craned my eyes to try to see what it was doing. I could see that it seemed thinner than I remembered, maybe a little better defined. My shirt buttons didn’t seem to be straining against my stomach as much, there was no more embarrassing rounded pull of the fabric against my gut.

And then it picked me up. I almost went dizzy – it was the first time I had moved in weeks, the first time I felt moving air on my face, the first time I had a different vantage point of the room. But then my body put my head in the plastic bag. It was unbearably loud, and hot. I panicked about suffocating for an instant before realizing that I didn’t need to breathe. This wasn’t my body trying to kill me, I didn’t think. But I didn’t know what else was going on.

My body carried me out of the apartment, and we went down the two flights of stairs and out into the sun. I was disoriented, and couldn’t really see much through the thin white bag, and the swinging made me nauseous. I considered yelling for help out of reflex, but again calmed myself down. There was nothing I could do. Maybe my body was going to throw me in the trash, and if that was it, I’d just have to live with it. Maybe it would be for the best.

But he didn’t throw me away, he just walked down the street. Cars drove by, and I heard other bodies walking around, groups of them at times, and each time I considered yelling from my plastic cocoon for help. But there was no talking, no radios playing in the cars, no shouting children. Even if they were carrying their own heads around like me, there would be no reason to call out to them. So I just bounced around silently in my plastic bag.

Eventually, after what felt like half an hour, it sounded like my body was walking on grass. I felt more shadows on the bag, my sweaty face cooling off in the humid plastic, and then my body stopped walking and set my head down on the grass. He sat down next to me and unwrapped me, then stuffed the bag into my shorts pocket. We were on a grassy hill overlooking the river. There were sailboats out, bobbing around as if nothing had changed, and across the river I saw the city, its skyscrapers, the bridge covered in cars, the fiery treetops just on the verge of losing all their leaves.

It was beautiful.

My body sat cross-legged, hands in my lap. I just stared, drinking in as much as I could. We sat that way for an hour, maybe.

“I still hate you,” I said. “This won’t make up for anything.”

My body just sat there, stretching my arms a little bit.

“I think you’re selfish,” I continued. “And vindictive. These are bad traits to have. And honestly, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t want to ever be reattached to you.” I knew he couldn’t hear me, but I was mad, and I meant it. “I never liked you,” I said. “I’m glad this has happened. You can leave me here. I don’t want to go back to our apartment. Your apartment.”

I watched the bodies in the sailboats dip and weave in sharp twists, each time looking like they were about to tip over for good, but they never did, they just kept going in sharp little arcs along the water.

My body reached over and patted me on the head, like a dog.

“I hate you,” I said, and my body ruffled my hair. Two sailboats almost collided, then skirted away at the last second, like they were birds, or small, white moths.

“I hate you so much,” I said.

 

Zac Smith lives in Boston, where he likes to walk his dogs. His twitter is @ZacTheLinguist.

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