Keller had tasted dirt in her lettuce before, but this time she blamed Roberts. Two weeks before saying that he would stay with his wife, he had turned her vegan. She rinsed her mouth, pocketed a scalpel, and began knocking at every door on her floor. Only Tawada answered.
“Can I have some meat?” Keller said.
“Meat?” Tawada said.
“Please. I’m dying here.”
“I have pastrami, I think.”
He should have lied. He needed to prepare for his performance review, scheduled for the morning. Moreover, he had once postponed washing his clothes because he had seen Keller—off-duty, but still in her nurse’s scrubs, still flecked with at least one patient’s surgery blood—in the laundry room, carving her initials into a dryer’s door. He nonetheless led her to the fridge and handed her a Ziploc bag full of pastrami. She ate hand to mouth, straight from the bag, back against the stove.
“I didn’t expect you to have good deli,” she said, “but this is A-plus.”
“Do you have any cheese?”
“No, no cheese.”
“Deli’s always better with cheese.”
“I wish I had some.”
“It’s okay. Things could always be better. I got dumped today.”
“You know 5B?”
“Yeah. Do you know Roberts? He lives in 5B.”
“But that’s not where he dumped me. He dumped me in front of the vending machine. The Cheez-its were in line with his head. My head was in line with the vanilla cookies. You know them?”
“He bought me a pack. Dumped me with a pack of vanilla cookies.”
“Hm. I’m sorry.”
“What do you advise?”
“You have advice, right? Japanese, mystical advice? That’s what I need. Something Shinto.”
“Shinto?” Tawada had no religion. He knew no one with religion. He had never been to Japan and had never studied its culture in any depth.
“Shinto has wisdom, spirit. I need it.”
“Give it to me.” She kneed him in the crotch and, when he doubled over, tackled him. Then she carved out his left eye. Blood came like shaving cream from a canister. Tawada passed out on the kitchen floor. The eye turned dry and brown in Keller’s hand. It vibrated like an egg about to hatch. Then it calmed. Keller had seen many extracted organs in many operating rooms. None of them had acted this way. She had never been so drawn to an eye.
Soon, in the parking garage, assorted detritus—bugs, pebbles, receipts, cigar and cigarette stubs, hard candy and cough drop wrappers, dental crowns and fillings—were drawn to the eye. They disappeared into the eye. When Keller heard two cats breeding between a pair of pick-ups, she squatted and aimed. The top cat came loose but managed to scratch its way back onto its mount. She admired its determination. She put the eye in her pocket and, between chews of pastrami and shrieks of cats, told it what she wished she had told Roberts in front of the vending machine.
“This isn’t even the worst thing you did. The worst thing was you telling me vegan shrimp tasted like shrimp shrimp … Why did you tell me? … After what I told you about Barry … Am I supposed to live on spinach now? … Your children? Your children aren’t that bright. They will probably never even learn to spell a word more complex than ‘spinach’ … I don’t want cookies … I won’t eat cookies … I will eat your children … with barbecue sauce … Don’t you remember that day in the park with the ducks marching in a line to the pond and you holding me to your chest and both of us smiling and the old woman asking why we weren’t married yet, and you saying, ‘Soon, ma’am’? … Did you really hear her? … Did you listen? … Were you listening when I said that the councilman touched me at the hotel? … That Jerusalem was a state of mind? … That the animals in my dreams were made of glass? … Were you listening about Barry? … He ate shrimp and grits every morning … Touched every hole in the hospital, but the man ate shrimp … I know one thing. I am eating from a cow tonight … Living things will be eaten … Listen.”
The top cat had finished and gone. The bottom cat remained prone, dark as a fluid stain. Keller had witnessed murder, not love. She blamed her misperception on the light. Although the lot’s bulbs were screwed, as usual, into the fixtures overhead, actual light struck the garage from an increasingly acute angle. A sourceless sunset was patiently darkening the lot. She fed both empty Ziploc bag and bottom cat to the eye.
“This eye,” she said, “solves problems.”
Tawada went up and down the hall, clutching the wainscoting for support, calling, “My eye! My eye!”
The sleeping widow in 9D did not stir.
The pilled-out dancer in 9C looked through her peephole. “Whoa,” she said.
No one had lived in 9B since its bathroom mirror turned into a giant slice of Havarti cheese.
The transgender woman in 9F did not hear because her date had beaten her unconscious, raped her, and was—when Tawada knocked—about to pour a saucepan of boiling water over her face. Her date screamed through the door: “We’re busy!”
The woman in 9G cracked her door open and turned to her husband. “I am now ready,” she said, “to leave the city.”
Her husband turned into a giant slice of Havarti cheese. He folded into a rainbow shape, then collapsed. The woman shut the door.
Tawada declined to plead with his neighbors on any of the building’s other floors.
After Roberts had taken Keller to the vending machine, bought her a bag of vanilla cookies, and said he loved his wife and children, he drove those children to the local pet store and purchased a goldfish. By the time they returned home, he had become so unnerved by their toddler-tantrum screams that he forgot to lock his SUV.
Now Keller entered the SUV on the passenger side. The grass and paperclips and glass mouse on the floor disappeared into the eye. The glass mouse was no larger than a phalanx of a toddler’s finger. It squealed its way into the eye. Keller waved the eye over the backseat, vacuuming the toddlers’ littered Cheerios, several more glass mice, several hundred of their crystal droppings, a plastic bag that the mice had eaten through, the water that had spilled from the bag, and a goldfish that the mice had nearly finished eating through. Roberts had forgotten the goldfish, too.
Keller buckled in and set the eye on the dashboard. The SUV rattled and shimmied. Several of its control knobs and buttons—as well as her blouse’s top button—were ripped free and sucked into the eye. The driver’s seatbelt and the car seats’ loose straps behind her shook like a clique of eels dancing through a night’s worth of cocaine. Discarded newspapers sheeted the windows. Loose charms, chicken bones, cough drops, and rocks popped against the glass till it broke into a chaos of asterisks. The eye, with more appetite than vision, grew larger than Keller’s fist. She marveled at its taste for everything.
Tawada was crawling across the garage, hoping to reach his car. No driver stopped to wonder about him. Loose rocks filled his eye socket. His innards turned to rocks. They spilled from his mouth when he tried to speak. Numberless kinds of waste—though he was most sensitive to the produce, to the apple cores, citrus peels, berry calyxes, rotten peppers, and moldy squash—pelted him on their flight to the SUV trembling at the lot’s far end. His rocks flew in the same direction. He could see himself rockless within the hour. He thought it unlikely that he would be on time for his performance review. He nonetheless rehearsed.
“My commitment to the sustainable growth of the company is unmatched. Over the past year, I have met with potential clients throughout the state and have recruited three new clients with standing, four-figure, monthly orders. I have attended every supplementary training session. I have worked before and after official closing times, and through multiple holidays. I have mentored new colleagues, and, when my assistant’s mother died, I sent flowers, purchased out of pocket. I once discovered, late on a Friday afternoon, a small child’s severed hand caught in the wheels of the copier. I removed and bagged the hand; cleaned the wheels with a spray, purchased out of pocket; and left it on Nixon’s doorstep. You will be so kind as to remember Nixon, who resigned in disgrace after failing to meet his July quota. At the end of each business day, I leave zero unanswered emails in my inbox. I keep a neat and orderly desk. My bathroom habits are also orderly: no gastrointestinal issue has crimped my productivity. Neither has a lover. In response to your recommendation after last year’s performance review, I began taking testosterone-reducing drugs, purchased out of pocket. The effects have been salutary. In short, I am devoted to my work. I believe I merit a rating of ‘Above Satisfactory.’ Thank you.”
He didn’t care that he sounded like a human cracker being crumbled in hand. He rehearsed again.
Roberts and his family were cuddling on the couch, bathing in TV light, making domestic memories. He did not think his wife suspected him of adultery. She, however, had discovered one of Keller’s socks in the SUV, so she had begun poisoning the family’s Bassett hound. Each of the last three mornings, she had stirred a drop of arsenic into its breakfast.
Whenever she considered her husband’s adultery, including right then, while he cuddled her and their children on the couch, and they bathed together in TV light, she repeated a mantra she’d learned from a talk show: “A glorious woman is a stone cold bitch.”
Whenever Roberts considered his decision to stay with his family, including right then, while he cuddled his wife and children on the couch, and they bathed together in TV light, he said, “I’m happy.”
Three young women were burglarizing Keller’s apartment. These women, who lived in 6F, had never loved anything or anyone as much as they loved drugs. Their love had ended their college careers. On average, they each consumed more than 500 pills and 1,800 grams of heroin per year. Their brains looked like green plastic bags that had been eaten through.
They were stealing, among other things, Keller’s dead grandmother’s Seder plate.
The first woman said, “What the fuck is this?”
The second woman said, “It’s Jewish. See the letters? It’s written in Jewish.”
The third woman said, “Hm.”
The first woman said, “You sure? Looks Japanese to me. Chinese, maybe.”
The second woman said, “It’s not English. I know that.”
The first woman said, “Everyone knows that. That’s fuck clear.”
The third woman said, “Hm.”
The first woman said, “It’s pretty. It’s real fuck pretty. What is it? Copper?”
The second woman said, “Looks copper. Feel the engravings.”
The first woman said, “Yeah, it’s fuck nice. It’s not just pictures. It’s engraving. I’m thinking it’s Chinese.”
The second woman said, “Chinese, Jewish. It’s something. Someone’s going to like it.”
The first woman said, “I like it. I’m going to keep it. It’ll look fuck nice on the table.”
The third woman said, “Hm.”
If Keller had been in her apartment, and if she had been conscious, she could have explained that both the plate and her grandmother had been smuggled to America from a shtetl on the Polish-Lithuanian border during the Second World War. Keller had never loved anything or anyone as much as she had loved, in her childhood, helping her grandmother set the ritual foods on the Seder plate on the first night of Passover. But, perhaps because a family of glass mice had eaten through key parts of her brain, she had not thought of her grandmother since the day she moved into her apartment, when she set the Seder plate beside several crumpled receipts on a bookshelf in the dining room. She could, in fact, no longer remember any specific thing her grandmother had told her. She could remember her grandmother’s throaty rasp, but she did not want to. She did not want to remember anything. If Keller had known that the first woman was presently stuffing the Seder plate into a brown paper bag, she would have shrugged.
On the dashboard, the eye had grown as large as an ostrich’s egg. Neighboring cars and trucks were being drawn closer, inch by inch. Soon they would sandwich the SUV. Keller floated two inches above the passenger seat. Her seatbelt cut into her neck. The buttons of her blouse had been torn away. Her lip-skin fluttered like loose shingles in a storm. Her fillings had been drawn free. Her teeth and nails would soon follow. Glass shards, matchsticks, cigars, cigarettes, empty bottles, flattened cans, both glass and fleshy mice, chain links, charm bracelets, high heels, sneakers, loose coins, clothing discards, bunches of bananas, wedges of cheese, heads of lettuce, fast food wrappers, unfinished hamburgers, upended umbrellas, walking sticks, assorted cookies, and rocks upon rocks struck her as they flew past and into the eye.
Then a dove crashed through the rear windshield. It fought both eye and oncoming debris till it went, half- shredded, away. She would have smiled, if she had been conscious, when Tawada’s empty bag of a body was drawn onto the SUV’s rear. She would have been pleased to learn the names of all that would join her soon.
In 2011, Marcus Pactor won the Subito Press Prize for his first short story collection, Vs. Death Noises. His work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Heavy Feather Review, X-R-A-Y, and Bending Genres. Image: Self-Portrait During Eye Disease II, Edvard Munch, 1930