Harris climbed out of bed and onto the cold wood floor with none of the enthusiasm of the well-rested. He had lain awake for most of the darkest hours of the evening, and even after a fitful burst of sleep between three and five, he knew the night had been a wasted effort. His body moved independently of his mind, miming the actions of his routine with practiced familiarity, but without any conscious forbearance. He stood under a much too hot shower for seven minutes, scrubbing a certain spot on his chest until his bar of soap began collecting plucked hairs. Then, he brushed his teeth until his gums bled and the bristles of his brush bowed in each direction, neatly parted as if with a comb. He stood naked and steaming in front of a fogged mirror and ran his tongue across his teeth, tasting iron. A singular thought occupied his mind; Harris wanted to do something abhorrent.
While his reflection slowly appeared in front of him, he toyed with this compulsion, adding horror upon horror and subtracting the guilt he felt with each passing moment. Initially, the motivation was innocent – artistic even. He dug in each ear with a cotton swab, and briefly considered eating it. But gastronomy was a shallow imitation of the revulsion he wished to accomplish. He threw the swabs in the direction of the trashcan in the corner, but they stuck to the wall above the rim like filthy little darts. He was disgusted. He was thrilled.
Harris let this wave wash over him, mentally noting those ideas which held particular merit. His mind began to separate the mundane from the truly stimulating. While he pulled on long pants and wool socks, he decided to desecrate graves. And not just graves, but tombs, and catacombs, and temples too. By the time he was fully addressed, his mind raced and his heart beat faster in his chest.
He would take a pickax and shovel to the neatly manicured grass of famous resting places around the world and toil away under the sun until he struck mahogany or walnut or steel. He wanted to pry back the lid of an ornate coffin and stare without blushing at the sunken and hollow corpse at his feet. He would travel from one monument to another, with the tools of destruction in his checked luggage. He would smash open the marble fortifications of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin and look through the holes where their spines once attached, in search of any remaining drop of natural genius. He would drag the stone from atop Shakespeare and lie down among his bones, letting loose ribs and exposed vertebrae poke and prod his fleshy back. He would slide the lid from Napoleon’s sarcophagus and fill it to the brim with beef stock, and light a great fire underneath until the broth boiled and the Great Emperor’s bones bobbed like carrots and stalks of celery. Here, Harris stopped himself. His stomach had derailed his thinking.
He walked to the kitchen and dropped matching slices of bread in the toaster. He warmed a skillet and cracked three eggs into a puddle of rich butter. They began to bubble and a yolk burst. Reaching for a spatula, he flattened the other two and began a scramble.
His fascination with celebrity troubled him. Perhaps his time would be better served in the graves of the commoner? Surely the flesh of the working man had as much to teach as any would-be philosopher or king. He could walk himself to the nearest cemetery and start that very day. There would be no need for brute force or an international passport. He would simply seek out the places where dirt had been overturned and no grass had yet taken root. Here, he would sink himself in the soft dirt until his hands found rotting mess and exposed silver fillings and he would know for certain that she had once been beautiful, even if now she was monstrous. He would look at the brown-black stains on her interment dress which had been pristine weeks before. Then, with steady pressure and the utmost understanding of his actions, Harris would plant a foot in her chest and pull at where her ears had once been until the withered tendons and pitted flesh tore free from her neck and her gray head came loose into the air once again. How glorious this reunion will be, for she will once again be a creature of the light! Yes – and how thankful she would be for his work and for the way he looks directly into her empty eyes when he says, “You lived! You did, and you worked, and you loved, and you raised children! And all of that was kept here, in this rotten thing. And somewhere inside here, you called yourself Martha, and your mouth told others to do the same. I am so glad to see you, Martha!”
His eggs had browned at the edges by the time he scooped them onto the toast and assembled a sandwich of some form. He took a bite before his stomach could resume its distraction.
And why stop with the graveyard? He and Martha would then go the mortuary to reach into the cold lungs of a teenage overdose, pushing against his ribs until his chest rises and falls again, and he can wheeze his thanks to them both, though Harris had done the manual work while Martha only watched. From there, he would leave the two – unlikely lovers, but a suitable pair in death – and go on to commit other atrocities. He would shred paintings to tatters and pound sculpture into infinite dust. He would laugh loudly during movies when the dog dies, and leave his car double parked for hours on end, his hazard lights blinking shamelessly.
Harris finished his sandwich and the possibilities unfolded before him. He would leave his Christmas lights hung until June, and not just hung but lit too, gloriously lit. He would take seconds without asking, and order Baked Alaska at lunchtime. He would have pizza delivered two nights in a row – cheese pizza even – and not tip the driver on either occasion. When baseball season started, he would assemble a collection of televisions and stack them as high as the ceiling and the length of his apartment. And with them, he would record every game without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball, taking special care to reproduce, retransmit, and disseminate every pitch. He would fetch Martha and the Junkie Boy every weekend, and they would drive in the carpool lane. He would violate, agitate, immolate, aggravate, alienate, and copulate in every city-state. Because life is passing Harris by, and anything is preferable to being a footnote in his own story.
But instead, he makes another sandwich, wraps it in a paper towel, and walks out the door. Behind him, a waxy swab falls into the garbage, leaving no stain on the drywall.