Gene fumbled in the dark trying to find his head. He tripped over a pile of clothes causing him to fall forward, landing on his hands and knees. He pulled himself up, feeling the walls for a light switch. When he found it he felt accomplished, a small victory. Flipping the switch he heard the familiar buzz of fluorescent lighting. He found his head sitting where he’d left it, on his dresser, eyes covered by a sleeping mask.
When he removed the mask the harsh lighting in his low-income apartment felt blinding. His eyes twitched, watering a little before adjusting. He tucked his separated head firmly under his right arm, and left the room.
His separation was one of the first. The public was intrigued by the idea, many openly supporting it. The technology needed to perform such an act was fairly new at the time, so the doctors weren’t sure if it would work. On a warm summer day he had been led to a stage and made an example.
Gene sat his head in the middle of the dining room table and fixed a bowl of cereal. Much like a mother bird chews food for its young, Gene blended his food into a fine paste and dumped it down his throat. Some of the blended goo fell from his spoon and landed on his shirt. He slammed his fists against the wooden table. Living like this made him feel like an animal.
While walking to work he would see others who had committed various crimes. Some held their right arm with their left, using both only when they needed to pick up something out of reach. Others walked on stubs, holding their right and left feet in their respective hands. One woman carried her head by a knot tied in her long blonde hair, swinging it back and forth like a purse. Something once held high now reduced to cheap accessory.
On an aging bench near the back of his favorite park there was an old man who had committed a crime like his. He sat alone most days, feeding ducks and watching people. Some would stop and pet his separated head, a condescending act encouraged by the state.
Gene would sit with him and pass notes back and forth. Through a series of encounters he had concluded that the old man had once been a politician. A senator who didn’t fit the mold instituted by the Neo-Frank Government.
The old man once wrote, “I was told minutes before my separation that crimes of the mind are the most egregious of all.”
Approaching the bench, where his friend was once found, he discovered a note taped to the back rest. On a worn half piece of notebook paper the old man had scribbled, “I feel I must justify my being alive.”
Gene wanted to cry, but separation limited his ability to do so. He folded the note and left the park. He was running late, dreading his ten-hour work day.
The bank Gene worked for allowed him to use a computer system that had three built-in responses. A robotic voice that sounded nothing like him would thank people for deposits, apologize when a fee wasn’t refundable, and tell people to have a nice day. Always a nice day, never a good day, or a pleasant day…. a nice day. Never his voice, never his words.
Gene thought of one day smashing his computer. He dreamed of hearing that robotic voice gurgle its final ‘nice day’ while he stood over it smiling. He would stand up on the desk he was forced to work behind and hold up the mangled piece of technology like an ancient warrior would the head of an enemy. His prize would be a symbol of his liberation.
After work he walked to the Hillcrest Memorial Bridge and watched the river flow. Hillcrest was a community for handicapped children where Gene used to teach. It was demolished to make way for an eight-lane highway that allowed better access to shopping plazas. The children Gene loved were shipped to a new home where no one would be burdened by the sight of them. In the river irradiated fish swam in schools, glowing translucent purple, pink, green, and orange.
“We aren’t going to be eating any nasty old fish out of the river, so let’s make them pretty, let’s spruce things up a bit, people!” the high priestess Candy once said on her weekly radio show.
Her father, Groper Cane, was the man responsible for separation as a form of punishment, the feared and revered leader of the Neo-Franks. His little girl took pride in separations, often doing them in public. She would pick up the severed body parts and kiss them, leaving a neon red lipstick reminder of who’s in charge.
Leaving the bridge Gene walked passed a row of aging storefronts. He stopped when he saw a flashing television that showed a scene from earlier the same day. Someone had cut the head off of a statue of Groper Cane and placed it at his feet. The words “Egregious Crimes” were painted in red on his chest.
Gene made his way home, being careful to make it there before the curfew bell. Opening his door he saw a folded note lying on the floor of the entry way. Opening it he recognized the hand writing. The old man must have followed him home. “Our voices will be heard” was written in pencil.
That night Gene dreamed he was in front of his students; he could hear his voice echo with the words of Faulkner, Frost, and Whitman. The most beautiful words he’d ever heard. He dreamed that he was in the middle of the Hillcrest Memorial Bridge, and Candy stood in front of him. He kissed her cheek, then pushed her over to swim with her fishes.
Matthew King currently lives in West Virginia where he is an undergraduate student at Fairmont State University. When not writing, he produces short films with his company Hillside Films.