What Disappearing Tastes Like
by Andy Bailey
No cars out this late.
Ron crossed Fairview without looking and lengthened his stride for the last mile. His shirt was soaked through and clung to his chest as he ran under the jaundiced glow of the streetlights, the large houses and their manicured lawns like darkened movie sets on either side. Some nights a breeze shot through the tunnel of trees that canopied the street, making the leaves rustle above him like applause. Not tonight. He focused on a tiny red dot in the distance, the brake light of someone he'd never catch, as a drop of sweat curled around his lip into the corner of his mouth. A fleeting, salty tang danced on his tongue: this is what disappearing tastes like.
His belly hung loose like an empty fanny pack and it flopped with each thud of his foot against the pavement. Where did those fifty pounds go? If no matter truly disappears, as a chemistry teacher once told him, then particles of himself must still exist. He was absorbed into the atmosphere, strewn over the earth. He was in the wind, the dirt, the rain. The more he jogged, the more he gave himself to the world, disappearing, literally, into thin air.
He cut through a yard as he rounded Cole and BOOM, he opened up, a spike of adrenaline flushing his system as his breath quickened and the air sharpened around him, prickly over his skin. The cool release of running outside was much better than the treadmills in the gym, crowded with the other rodentia in that tiny cardio room, inhaling each other's sweat; whenever he left he felt violated and heavy, the residue of dozens of strangers swimming around inside him.
A car turned out about two hundred yards in front of him, a small sedan, lights low to the ground, music thumping, headed his direction. Ron kept pumping straight ahead in the middle of the street; if he slowed down now, he wouldn't be able to start again, not tonight. The sedan kept coming, dead on, and flashed its headlights. Ron wasn't stopping, nor was he going to confine himself to the sidewalk. The street was freedom, and the street was his. At his speed he'd rip the fucker in half if they collided.
The car revved and sped on and Ron kept pushing and here they came for a gigantic fiery evaporation and Ron was ready and he smiled but the car swerved and honked and almost veered into the curb. The driver was out and yelling, but Ron faded around a corner and was gone.
Just momentum carrying him now. Front Street, his finish line, sat one block ahead, and as the smog-heavy breaths shredded his lungs each individual cilia stood on end, struggling to touch the meager scraps of untainted oxygen. He felt the shriek of his legs as though through layers of insulation, no more attached to his body than if he were controlling it with buttons in a video game. Sweat slicked over his skin and he could feel himself disappearing, could feel his particles swimming up and out and melding with the great glob of universe, his body clenching and eyes tearing and mind go go go as he seeped out into the sky.
He burst across Front Street, taking stiff strides to slow down. His pulse throbbed through his head in time to the red streaks flashing across his vision. He made it to the sidewalk with his hands up on his head before the cramps hit. Calmly, very calmly, he walked five feet down the sidewalk, fighting through the gelatinous, underwater heaviness in his legs, to the large bush that protruded from the front yard of a red brick house. The lights from the house were off, like always, and he crept around behind the bush before the first surge.
He vomited silently. Light spasms, just a little itch in his stomach that he forced up and out, a few weak brown streams spattering against the ground. He took deep breaths, regaining control of the tumult inside as he stared at the slick streaks threaded through the grass. What did the people who lived in this house think when they found clumps of dried puke in their lawn some mornings? He'd never seen them, but he wanted to imagine their names were Stacey and Jake, and that they were the type of healthy, happy couple who still did their own yard work together on Saturday mornings.
He slept through Saturday mornings now. Had since the Saturday morning he came across Sandy.
He'd imagined the old Asian lady's name was Sandy, even after he'd found out it was Mei-Lin. Sandy, like the color of her Cadillac as it had lain upside-down on the scrubby grass on the wrong side of the guardrail, wheels still spinning like the frantic legs of a flipped-over turtle. Flames ate away at the trunk with ugly crunching noises as he crouched and looked through the jagged gap where the passenger window used to be. Sandy slumped against the steering wheel, her neck in a painful-looking twist, twin rivulets of blood snaking from her nostrils. She spoke in a flowing, urgent language that sounded like singing as she worked to get her leg free from between the steering column and the floor, which was now the ceiling.
The door was stuck and Ron crawled in through the window and reached, pushing himself forward until his stomach caught on the frame and squeezed out his breath. He sucked in and stretched and grazed her extended hand as she kept singing and wrenching her leg back and forth. The heat singed his face and sweat dripped into his mouth, but he hadn't yet learned to appreciate the taste. The lock dug into his gut and he couldn't breathe, but he was close, so close, and then a backwards tug on his legs and some idiot was dragging him away and Ron kept screaming that she was still inside, go get her, go get her. He tried to break free and run back, but an explosion ripped from the car and hit him full-on like a hot heavy uppercut.
After he'd woken up and spoken to the paramedics and the firemen and the police, he'd wanted to tell Sandy he was sorry. Sorry he couldn't fit, sorry that the only reason she wasn't still alive was that he had too much jiggly subcutaneous fat packed around his stomach. But she'd disappeared into a smoldering mound of ash and steel.
He'd wanted to disappear, too. Then he realized: he could.
Heaved over, close to the ground, Ron noticed brown splotches seared into the yard around the bush. Dead grass, where he'd puked before. He wiped the phlegmy string dangling from his mouth and smiled. Since he'd started running, he'd become a vegetarian, so this, essentially, was cannibalism. Plants consuming plants.
He dug his foot into the wet grass in front of him, grinding in his vomit, disappearing just a little more.
About the author:
Originally from Boise, Idaho, Andy Bailey now teaches English in Los Angeles.