Friday, March 24, 2006

Accident Prone pt 1 - Reprinted from The Black Warrior Review

This is Bill’s indigestible life. He chews, and chews, and swallows, and he never feels full. He chokes down mornings at his computer. He gnaws tirelessly on empty handfuls of hours. He swallows another day in his cube. It passes painfully through his system, the sharp corners poking at his insides until it exits looking just as it did before he ate it, and ready for him to dine on tomorrow. This is Bill’s liver flavored life, his asparagus flavored depression.


Bill leaves the building because the clock says it’s okay. But the clock is fickle, and Bill knows that by tomorrow it will call him back. His work is not finished, but this is not particularly important. His work is never finished. No one is waiting for his work, but everyone is upset when Bill is not working. Bill leaves the building and steps into the leftovers of the day.

Bill checks his watch as he leaves the parking lot. His program starts soon. He can miss it, but this complicates things. His life is more digestible when it’s broken into tiny bites, organized into known quantities. Bill keeps things very orderly, in the hopes that when everything around him is in its place, he’ll find his own. Bill lives in a file cabinet. Just keep chewing, he tells himself. Chew and chew, and then swallow. Bill is thinking this, concentrating on how he will digest the next few hours of his life when he pulls into the intersection. His light is red. The semi’s light is green. Everything goes black.


Bill does not wake up for several days. Nearly a week passes through his system before Bill can open his eyes. When his lids part a nurse is looking down on him.

You’re a lucky man, Bill, she says with a smile. Her teeth are whiter than Bill remembers teeth ever being before. Bill is powered by her grin. The moment tastes like chocolate.

Chocolate, Bill says, discovering the sound of his own voice to be a song he could never grow tired of.

Not today, hon. I’ll bring you something sweet tomorrow.

She smiles again and Bill dines on every tooth, her peppermint canines, her wintergreen molars.


When Bill is released his senses are overwhelmed. The day is a banana split so beautiful it makes him cry. His house embraces him with colors he does not remember, smells that force him to smile, and a taste he hopes never to forget. He checks the address to be sure. 1088 Waverwood. This is Bill’s house, his file cabinet, right where it’s always been, just like he’s always left it, but he feels certain this is the first time he’s ever been here. He is not just home, but glad to be so.


Bill wakes to fresh squeezed sunshine. He makes himself some toast, two slices, light butter, his morning meal for the last twenty years. The first bite knocks him out of his chair.

This toast is fucking amazing! says Bill to the empty room. Bill does not curse. He has never cursed. Even when the office paper shredder tried to take part of his finger, Bill did not curse. Fucking amazing, he repeats because it happens to be true. He takes another bite and begins to sob with joy. His tears drip down into his OJ and he eats his toast and drinks his juice, a healthy dose of vitamin C and salty drops of his uncontrollable pleasure.

Monday is a brownie sundae. Tuesday is fine wine. Wednesday is a hearty filet. Since leaving the hospital each day is selected from his new menu, and every item is five star. The limp spinach hours of processing reports, the bland noodle nights at home, these are memories, dishes served to characters in history books. Now work is a loaded baked potato, melting with butter, overflowing with sour cream. Nights are good steaks, each cut more succulent than the last. Every moment is a feast for the senses. His palette, once dulled and gray, is now aware, is now happy, is now so totally alive.


Bill gorges on his life for six months, feeling full and contented, healthy and well fed. His unceasing grin confuses his co-workers, stumps his neighbors. His life looks exactly the same. No one can see how amazing it tastes.

He’s come back too fast, they say as Bill bounces around behind his smile.

Something’s not right, they decide, noticing Bill’s giddy glee while laboring over the very tasks that used to make him numb.

Why don’t you take a vacation, someone finally suggests. You don’t seem like yourself.

No need, says Bill with a genuine smile, then reaches up and dishes himself another helping of reports.


Bill’s job centers around reports. He processes reports, he files reports, and occasionally he writes reports about the reports that he processes and the reports that he files. This last part of his job was always the most loathsome, the dish he could never stomach, the meal so foul he could not keep it down. But when Mr. Phillips stops by, Bill is not disturbed. And when he requests the annual report on the reports, Bill isn’t apprehensive in the least. His diet is fresh, he reminds himself, his tastes have changed. This, like everything else since the accident, will be a task to savor, a treat to die for.

No problem, sir. I’ll get on it right away.

Bill brings his work home and lays it out on the table like dinner. He opens a folder and happily digs in. It’s only moments later that Bill begins to sense something unpleasant, something forgotten but familiar. He takes a break and drinks some water, hoping the sensation will pass before he presses on.

But as he works his way through the reports the feeling gains strength and clarity, a bile flavored dread creeping up from his stomach. By the time he’s exhausted himself for the evening his mouth is pasty and dry while his stomach rolls and churns like a dryer with shoes in it.

I must be coming down with something, Bill tells himself as he heads to bed. I’ll be better in the morning.


Morning comes in neutral colors. It’s as flavorless as water.

Must be stopped up, thinks Bill as he waits on his toast. He spreads his butter, he pours his OJ and he takes a seat, pushing the reports aside so he can enjoy his new favorite meal. He takes a bite and prepares for what has become his daily taste of delight. He chews, and chews, and swallows, but feels nothing more than the wad of crumpled toast drifting south to his stomach. He takes another bite, then stares at the bread as he swallows. He waits, questioning his tongue, demanding a report.

This is not fucking amazing toast. This toast just tastes like toast, Bill says with fear in his voice.

He rushes to the bathroom and takes two of every medicine he can find.

Bill medicates himself for two days despite being healthy as a horse. His nose is clear, his head is free, his eyes are shiny, and his ears are not clogged. But something is terribly wrong and Bill wants desperately to believe he is ill. He wants his problem to be a bug, an infection, a sickness he can cure, and cure quickly, because it’s been two days and his toast still tastes like toast, and his morning is like mud in his mouth.

Bill’s back, he hears his co-workers whisper as he stares blankly at his computer. Their smiles return just as Bill’s goes missing.

He swallows mouthfuls of air, rubs them on his taste buds hoping for something, anything, sugary nitrogen, malty oxygen, the spice of carbon dioxide. Nothing. The air is just air and somehow he knows the pills will never change this.

Bill, says Mr. Phillips suddenly standing in the opening of Bill’s cube. How’s the report on the reports coming?

Fine, sir, Bill says unconvincingly. I think I’ve been sick.

Okay then. Well, let’s get that report on my desk. We’ll need to get it processed, and then we’ll need to get it filed.

Yes, sir.

Bill looks at the work before him, but can’t bring himself to take another bite. He gets up and shuffles toward the breakroom, all evidence of spring gone from his step.

Good to have you back, says a neighbor as he ambles past her cube.

Bill pulls a soda from the machine and pops the top with a prayer. He pours the liquid and feels it dribble through his insides, rushing past the sharp corners of his morning. The soda is just soda, not special or exciting, and Bill is sure that it’s gone. Whatever it was, wherever it came from, the flavor that made his life briefly edible has been cooked away. What’s left is tough and dry, and Bill shudders at the idea of ingesting another piece.

He thinks longingly back to the accident, the moment he woke up to a new life, to the intense colors and unprecedented flavors, and the days so delicious he hungered for them in his sleep. He stares at the soda machine and gets a crazy idea. It’s so crazy he shakes his head and waves his hand to bat it away like a bug. He heads for the door, leaving the idea behind when he remembers what’s waiting at his desk. Reports to process, reports to file, reports to write. He knows this will be an eggplant afternoon. The idea catches him again and seems more reasonable in the face of his alternatives.

It’s worth a try, Bill says, and he walks to the giant soda machine and tips it over on himself. The metal creaks as it goes, but Bill never hears the crash. Everything is black.


The chocolate nurse with peppermint teeth returns and Bill grins even as he notices his body covered in casts.

How are you feeling, sugar?

Bill is aware there is pain in his limbs, but as he squints into her brilliantly white teeth, he realizes it does not bother him. Much better, he says. I think I’m going to be fine.

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