Show and tell at school was lame. Stamps and coins. Post cards and match book covers. Fred’s squashed frog. Even Bobby’s tarantula in a plastic cube. So I set out to find something worth talking about. I decided to collect eyeballs, but when I told my brother, he thought it was too cool an idea for a kid like me, whatever that meant. He had three years and thirty pounds on me, two facts of life he took advantage of every chance he could, so I reluctantly settled for eyelids. At first we collected together, trophies from dead animals found in our neighborhood. The park. Downtown alleys.
Recalling our first find, I was overcome with excitement as I watched my brother open his pocket knife and poke the blade into the corner of the socket. With a curving motion he severed the optic nerve bundles and pried the eyeball out with his fingers.
My hands shook as he handed me the knife. The blade tip, pointed. Edge, sharp. I sliced away, the severed eyelid only an unrecognizable flap of skin. My brother wrapped his trophy in a rag. I carefully pressed mine between the folds of a two-dollar bill I carried in my wallet. We walked home in silence. He put his eye in a jelly jar filled with rubbing alcohol, and stuck it in a hidey-hole in our closet. I tucked my wallet with my prize under my pillow.
In the morning, I thought of my cousin’s butterfly collection. Beneath each specimen, Latin names and their every-day equivalents. Monarch. Tiger Swallowtail. An activity badge from her girl’s organization sewn on her sash was her recognition. I liked her style.
After drenching my prize in alcohol and spraying it with spray lubricant hoping to keep it fresh, I pinned it to a similar board. Beneath, in nine-year-old block letters, I wrote the species, location and date:
BLEVINS BACK YARD
No year. Nothing in Latin.
My brother eventually lost interest in collecting as his activities refocused on girls. But, his romances were short-lived. It was their eyes, he confessed to me one night. Friendly eyes. Romantic eyes. Eyes that took him to the jelly jar. I heard him crying in the bathroom early one morning. I cracked the door open and watched him pour his collection in the toilet and flush. His tough-guy persona had changed. I no longer feared him as a bully. He had become a wimp, worthy only of my contempt.
Undaunted, I remained committed to my growing collection. Each night I honed the edge of my box cutter blade to match the sharpness of any surgeon’s scalpel. At times I would stand at his bedside, stroking the blade against the whetstone, visually tracing the contours of his closed eyelids. Alone and free, I went prowling, looking for my next specimen. In the darkness behind Mic’s Tavern, a moaning sound and a shape next to a dumpster caught my attention — Jenkins, the town drunk. Kneeling, grabbing him by the shoulder, I gave him a shake. “Jenks. Jenks. You awake?” Guttural sounds gurgled though his throat. I slapped his face. No response. His mouth, slack-jaw open. Eyes rolled back, lids nearly closed. I pulled my box cutter and gave the blade a push. I told myself he felt nothing. My collection now numbered eight. No longer a vulture feeding on the dead, my hobby had gone from macabre to lust.
My brother died when I was thirteen. His suicide was devastating to our mother, too hysterical for a graveside service. I’d seen it coming, anticipated it for months. We left the funeral home, walking together to a friend’s car. I told them I’d meet them at home. As the car pulled away, I returned to the chapel.
I ran home. My emotions raged nearly orgasmic. Ignoring my mother receiving condolences, coffee and cake, and blah-blah-blah, I rushed upstairs to my room and pinned my new specimen to the board. No time for washing or spraying. I’d waited too long for this moment. My hand shook as I added my brother’s name.
The ringing of the doorbell disturbed my moment. An unfamiliar male voice, loud and with authority: “Where’s your son… Mutilation… Want him… Now…”
Then a shriek. “Nooooooooo!” Definitely my mother. Fuck!
I slammed my door shut and twisted the lock. I knew my collecting days were over. I picked up my pen and added a final name to the board. Without hesitation, I cradled my box cutter in one hand, looked in the mirror, and lifted up an eyelid with the other. The pain was excruciating but oh so satisfying.
The doorknob rattled against the lock. Fists pounded and voices threatened. The door frame splintered, and the door burst open. I dodged a blurry shape of someone rushing toward me and pinned my newest trophy with the others. My collection was now complete.
Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction. Some days to curb his angst. Other days to fuel it. This is his tenth story at EDF.