Sunday, September 26, 2010

Beside Himself

by Joe Nazare

Forget that heals-all-wounds nonsense--time for him to expedite matters. He can't bear any longer to just let such grotesquerie be.

So, thrumming with impatience, he extends his right index, and with his left hand picks up the smallest of the tools lying atop the butcher block. He clamps the tweezers to his blueberry-shaded nail, the concentrated bruising of his fingertip making him think of a well-fed tick squashed under a microscope slide. In its protracted death throes, the nail has pinched inward into the shape of a miniature seashell, but naturally he has no intention of holding the thing up to his ear afterward.

Plugging the tip of his tongue into his gums, he tugs at his blighted digit. The fingernail pulls forward slightly before rebounding into place. He tries again, and again, but on the third try the tweezers slip off, etching a hairline white scratch on the nail. Frustration rattles in the base of his throat as he tosses aside the useless tool.

So close. The taunting words echo in his head. He grabs the pair of slip-joint pliers and applies them to the task at hand. Like the lips of the most unyielding pistachio, the fingernail offers only a few millimeters of airspace between itself and flesh, but the pliers' bulkier pincers nonetheless manage to find a grip.

He steels himself with a quick series of snorts, then jerks the pliers back hard as he can. A dull ache radiates down his finger and seemingly right into his forearm. The nail feels like it has grown tendrils, and for a moment he wonders if in tearing free it will yank a trail of ligaments out through his fingertip--the physical equivalent of some magician's handkerchief trick. He pulls on the nail regardless, relentless, and after several tormenting seconds finally succeeds in the extraction. The nail un-suctions itself from his fingertip and drops clattering to the butcher block.

He pays scant attention to the pearly nub of new growth on his right index, focusing instead on the brittle relic just removed. Slit-eyed, he picks up and turns over the unfastened nail. The blue-black grue caked to its underbelly looks like what you might find inside an old tin of shoe polish.

Another moment of intrigued scrutiny, and then he pivots and limps across the basement, into the corner occupied by the cyanotic clay effigy. This inert reflection of himself, painstakingly dusted with his own dead skin. It stands grinning at him through an imperfectly aligned set of grayed teeth. He splits his sunken mouth into a smile as he presses the fingernail into place at the tip of a crooked index. The transplant accomplished, he turns and scurries back to the butcher block.

So close, he tells himself again. Spurred by the sudden, unmistakable crack of knuckles off to his left, he seizes and raises his trusty ball-peen hammer.

And gets started on his right thumb.


Joe Nazare holds a Ph.D. in English from New York University; his academic work focuses on the genres of science fiction and horror. He has sold stories and poems to such magazines and anthologies as Shroud, Pseudopod, Harvest Hill, Damnation Books, Champagne Shivers, Death in Common, and Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes.


Michael Stone said...

This is quite possibly my fave stitch this year. Excellent writing coupled with a starling premise that isn't too far from what could be achieved by someone determined (and crazed) enough to try...

(Note to the Tailor: the title of this stitch has been misspelled.)

Joe Nazare said...

Thanks for the kind words, Michael.

If you're curious about the painfully true story that led to the creation of "Beside Himself," you can check out yesterday's post on my blog, Macabre Republic (

Alan W. Davidson said...

Painfully detailed writing. I found myself actually gritting my teeth while reading that account of him removing his finger nail. And the saga continues...gastly and enjoyable.

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