Sef downed his mouthwash with all the smug satisfaction of a man truly secure in any success he found. No matter how small, it was all success. Shivering past the spearmint bite, he tossed the container hard enough through the darkness ahead to ensure he was truly alone. It clattered. He waited. The streetlights buzzed and the night yawned before him. Silence. He grinned, all huckleberry razor sharp, kicking out his legs as he continued on his way, thumbing through his cash. Forty… eighty… one twenty… one eighty….
He swam his tongue over his gum line. Best to ensure the alcohol burned the last couple hours of grease free until he could find a toothbrush back home. Sef’s livelihood lay in his mouth. What good was it for if not for manipulating the world to his pleasure or exercising in the dirty conceit transacting upon something intimate in the bedroom could be worth more than an honest day’s work in the office. What good would he be if he could not sample the world and tease out the ripe parts. Sure, I’ll do you tomorrow. I’ll do you Tuesday too. I’ll do every last drop out of you and, when we’re through, ear to ear. I’ll do you a favour and squeeze out the rest on a nice white tarp, wrap it up, and sell it downtown for two hundred a pint. Maybe ten kay for the kidneys, twenty for the liver, maybe heart for asking price who knows the rates’re all over the place since last year.
Not bad. The boy would be pleased if he knew. Sef’s fragmented entrepreneurism had them skimming the edges of poverty and his partner’s freelancing bore its fruit slowly. He caught himself halfway into a G O T P A I D text before sliding over the backspace. He’d get a call. A verbal twist of the arm to do the lofty business of paying towards a loan or buying groceries. He got it. Expired cereal, dumpster cookies, onions, potatoes. He got it. Not that appetizing after this many weeks and, sure, a little meat on something adult like wheat bread sounded good. Within reach. Accessible even. But, until the market improved, anything would have to be fine because it was the money that mattered. Sustaining themselves on the potential inherent in a wad of cash should be enough.
The sidewalk ended in a concrete desert splitting with grasses. He could just make out the porch light guttering at the lee of their water-damaged apartment complex. Closer and closer, he saw him there. Sef grinned a voyeur’s grin. The boy ate through the sides of his mouth, shearing his food. No matter how often he had to be told it was embarrassing, impolite, inhuman, he sheared it like an animal, bearing down on with the force of his back teeth and choking on it as if it were truly finite and he’d never eat again. Another old thread of instinct from his impoverished childhood when he was truly a boy as opposed to. To. Sef turned it over. Something, I guess. Some truly precious thing that hid and ate alone, hiding by the abandoned first floor. Not even by the dumpsters. Just kind of there, squatting on his knees to court the conceit he could be comfortable in his own skin at twenty-four. Sef watched him come forward, catching, manipulating with his fingers until the object sidled better between his teeth. Pulled a little. Then pulled it out. Put it back. Chewing. A curious amount of chewing at which time the boy leaned back to stare at the stars with all the grace of a person who could, possibly, be happy.
He twitched then, almost imperceptibly, and paused. “Hey.”
“I’ll bite,” Sef said. “What’ve y’got there, Thane.”
The boy waited with his cheeks full until Sef bridged the distance between them just enough to notice the body. The smell struck him first. Not the sweet decay he expected but a kind of laconic gaminess like a heat rising straight into the darkness. Not wholly foreign but distant in his own memory because when he had his own bodies to play with, to split them open and peel apart, harvest, repurpose, he never tore this far or this deeply. Here, the body hadn’t bloated. It was maybe hours old without a fly or rat to share it with.
Thane’s hand resting on the chest and he followed it down to the torso blooming like National Geographic carrion and steaming still and couldn’t figure out what he was seeing. Sef met Thane’s eyes, questioning, and a thing budded from his lips wet and rough, a tongue at first, then too long to be and Sef thinking all this time how none of these things fit together unless, unless whatever, and the thing with its clear tongue shape crooked and chewed and now clearly a real tongue continued to slid from between the boy’s lips until it passed his chin and slurped back in again to be broken into pieces with his teeth. Sef looked for where the body’s face should be and noted the hole, once a mouth, carved and gaping.
“I’m eating him,” the boy said, now with half the tongue in hand. And in reply to silence, “Thought it’d be worse. He’s just soft all over except this part. I scare you?”
“You cook it?”
Thane shrugged. So no. What was he expecting to feel. Sef’s doubt stirred as he watched the rest of the tongue disappear.
“Don’t worry. I won’t eat you.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“I could,” he said, now showing his teeth set firm in his mouth like the tools they were and turning back to the pleasure of tearing the thing at their feet. He violated the structures of skin and sinew and muscle with his hands then his jaws. All ripping with peculiar ease. Sef ran his tongue over the buttery surface of his own teeth. He squinted up as if to make out the stars under the night’s refuse haze. He bounced on his heels, feeling his skin stretch around him tight, wondering about the bones in there.
“Whaddy’think I taste like?”
“Sixty two kilos of stale Dunkaroos.”
Sef punted him.
“Good thing I don’t like cookies.”
“They’re not cookies. They’re Dunkaroos. You dunk ‘em in icing.” He paused. “It’s cool.”
“I don’t wanna eat that all the time.”
“Then buy your own food.”
“I got food.”
“No, yeah, I see it. You got food.”
“Couldn’t you, y’know, just buy…I mean, yeah, I got all those boxes for cheap and we got cereal and the. Potatoes, y’know, with the eyes so. I dunno.”
“I don’t wanna eat cereal and potatoes and cookies all the time.”
“You coulda just bought groceries.”
“I paid utilities this month remember.” Thane worried a finger off the hand, down into it until they heard the crack, and spat. “A leg is twenny pounds free food and we don’t need money for that.”
The boy drove an arm between the body’s open viscera to peel up a layer of wet fat. He seized it between his hands and, as if to stifle an impulse, began to worry off the arterial webs between a thumb and forefinger. Sef chewed the inside of his cheek.
“C’mon, though. What is this. What’re y’doing. Are you even human.”
“’Course I am. I feel human.”
Thane scoffed, “That doesn’t mean anything.”
“My blood is red.”
“People don’t eat. People.”
“People don’t put dead bodies in their bathtub and wear their shoes either.”
Sef’s ears burned. “I mean, then, did I do something wrong?”
“Was I…” he let the thought drift. Am I responsible. “It’s gross.”
“You want me to stop until I’m full then bring it upstairs maybe?”
“I don’t know.”
“What d’you want me to do.”
“Stop squatting in the dirt like a dog. Stand up at least.”
“I don’t think this is good. It’s weird as shit.”
“Why is this different. Why can you do what you do and this is different.”
“Because it is.”
“Because it’s ‘weird as shit’?”
“Is it? This from the guy who trolls around, slits someone’s throat ‘n’ pulls out all that meat and wastes it. The guy who puts some other guy’s cock in his mouth? You’re halfway there all you have to do is bite down.”
Sef kicked again and Thane thrust his hand out to catch it, overturning him into the dirt. You couldn’t hurt him if you wanted to. Not that he did. Not really, I guess. Maybe. I dunno. He drew his arms about his knees. The leavings of brown fat and blood soaked through to his underwear. Its smell all the more rich this much closer to it, down on the ground with the boy.
“God, what should I do with you.”
“You don’t have to do anything,” he croaked, ugly. “I’m full.”
“So. What about his clothes.”
“They’re too big for you.”
“Shoes?” He knit his fingers. They could still pull the kidneys. Maybe the gallbladder, the scalp, some bones for marrow.
“They might be your size.”
Thane rose, an outline against the poor light and the stench of trash and the odour of the split open corpse with facial hair bristling and his hot rotten breath waning into the stillness. Sef thought of what it meant to be exposed wide with everything he had curling in the summer heat. He thought of the parts of him rolling between the boy’s teeth, under the palate and away, until every corporeal inch of him was gone. Committed to memory by taste forever. Sef thought of it and his throat seized, strangled with this beauty. This success.
Leah Eburne is an ER scribe working towards admission into medical school. When she isn’t playing with her doberman, Penelope, she is finding ridiculous ways to both indulge and challenge herself. Leah has been published in the inaugural edition of Jar of Teeth, Close to the Bone, Massacre Magazine, and currently co-writes the webcomic, Modus Operandi.