There was glass in his cereal, so his wife wrote a letter and won them a settlement, enough feed for the debtors and moderate respite. One morning after, they woke to find the floor covered in shale. She reported it to the police but they were dubious and unhelpful, though tested the couple for substances at her insistence. His results were negative, hers were complicated. When her water broke nine months later they rushed to the hospital. After a length of agony and effort, all that she could produce was an occluded amniotic sack filled with nails and sand.


I take the thing from my pocket and place it in Sebastian’s hand. It squirms a little there, mildly galvanised ferrofluid. ‘Heavier than it looks,’ he says, what everyone says. Shy, slender tendrils probe out into the trenches of his palm, an apprehensive chiromantic inquisition, and Seb’s face drops into pallid reticence. ‘Is it supposed to hurt?’ Only when you know it’s there, I tell him. ‘And you always carry it around?’ For a moment I consider running, the horizon, and the lightness of a life without. It’s always there, I tell him, even when I wish it wasn’t.


Dylan reads a lot of popularist literature and spends time culling an intellectual mandate from the internet. It’s easier for him to learn who he is through other people’s interests. ‘They call it chemsex,’ he says, ‘but it’s just fucking on drugs, not something new or whatever.’ Perverse curiosity crinkles his brow and he looks at my feet. ‘You ever done it?’ Only if anti-depressants count, I say. The mixture of depersonalisation and impossible to culminate erections were certainly something. I could go for hours and feel nothing, not even remorse. ‘Most people like smoking crack,’ he says.


The minute I meet her eye, I can tell she’s gonna let something out. There’s crazy wafting off her like cartoon stink lines. ‘Poisonous being,’ she yells. The elocution is sharp despite being parsed through the hanky clasped to her face. I shouldn’t be mad but she’s pressed her prejudices into an open wound and the sting makes me yell. Fuck you, cunt. Under the self-induced surprise, it feels good to vocalise. ‘No,’ she barks back. ‘Fuck you, poisoning the earth.’ I give her the finger with futile juvenility and walk away, my body still vibrating with rage.


Carter slips his palm into the small of my back and leads me in with unnecessarily chivalrous flair. I can feel his greed in the pressing of his fingers, the probing, eager electricity working its way into my spine and consuming my sense of security. ‘It’s right this way,’ he says. I don’t want to be wanted, by him or anybody else, but I bear it under the burden of politeness. I try to find ways to extricate myself from the mores around me, to bring my scarring to the surface and scare off my pursuers. I never succeed.


If you opened Pandora’s box just the littlest bit, I imagine it would sound like one of Jonah’s sighs. When he squeezes my hand gently and lets one escape, like demon vapours, I don’t say anything, but squeeze back and wait. ‘Sometimes I worry about breathing spider eggs in by accident,’ he says. ‘What if they hatched in my lungs and I didn’t realise.’ Jo doesn’t need placation, he just needs to be heard, to be witnessed. I fasten my fingers through his and look forward. You’d know, I say, you would know if something was wrong with you.


I watch the amputee kid playing soccer with his folks for like an hour, something about his happiness heckling my wellbeing. He’s got one of those shiny carbon fiber looking prosthetics, like a real athlete. Running around and giggling and celebrating, they all look so well adjusted. Kid can’t even be ten, got his whole life ahead of him and he’s already grappled with horror most people never contemplate. Everything must be easier from there, like growing flowers in manure, beauty born from shit. I envy his tragedy, the worst of my life will always be waiting for me.


I found her vibrator when I was putting the laundry away, tucked in a sock amongst the innocent pairs. Sadly, we had less sex per year than anniversaries total, and the gap only ever got bigger. Its presence inflamed something seething beneath my skin. Why would she need it if she didn’t need me? Passively furious, I stapled the sock shut. Maybe I thought it would lead to resolution or a healthy conversation. Probably I just wanted leverage for my anger. Wrapped up in myself, I waited to explode. It never occurred to me that she had other avenues.


It was his favourite armchair, the one he’d inherited from his dad, but when he came home from work it was different. The upholstery was wrong. He asked his wife about it, she said it had always been that way. He wasn’t convinced, though, and dug out some old photos from the study, but she was right. Slowly things began to change, furniture, knick knacks, colours and shapes, basic things, one at a time. He came down to breakfast one day and sombrely watched his wife cooking pancakes. Almost to himself, he asked, ‘Have you always been a blonde?’


I am not ok. I don’t know if I ever have been, which means when people ask me how I am, I have to say I’m ok, because not being that way is normal for me and that needs to be alright. On a good day I am nominally as normal as anyone. On a bad day I believe I don’t deserve to be here, though even that is tricky since I hurt myself by thinking in that direction anyway. These things are hard to talk about because they’re socially irrelevant and personally isolating, but I guess that’s ok.


Julie has a tendency to talk past me and her punctuation comes out in diffuse appointment. ‘You don’t take the pills,’ she says. They make me feel like a wrong-thing, I tell her. She doesn’t say anything in an expository way, compelling explanation. Sometimes you burn your tongue and can’t taste anything. If your tastebuds don’t work, flavour has no value. Eventually you only eat because it sustains you, but there’s no pleasure in it, and you think, why should I eat at all? Her face contracts into an exclamatory moue, a useless apostrophe. ‘Your appetite is miserable.’


Every label has been scratched into an indecipherable state, a side effect maybe. I rattle a few to check for volume and put them back on the counter, satisfied but unsettled. ‘What’s going on, man?’ Mikey refills his tumbler with straight Sailor Jerry and shrugs himself into it. I was going to have a nap, he says, mouth moist and lax. ‘You must be pretty fucking tired.’ I rinse a glass in the sink and take it over to the couch where he’s still holding the bottle, clink my glass against it suggestively, and wait for him to share.


I was born underground. Every day I dig up to street level and pretend I’m not filthy. Most people don’t look or do but don’t see. It’s fine, I tell the curious few, and pluck at my skin like an orchestral string. I can witness safely for a while but over time I will always ferment. What present sweetness I carry turns sickly and certainly heralds some odorous signal of abandon. A thing the lizard brain knows. Isolation is a protectorate and I often carry some with me. Though it bears a fascistic weight, it never fails to comfort.


Sonja tisks singularly and nods at the clock, it’s not overly loud but its tock’s stick out in the hush. ‘How do you stand it,’ she says, ‘I won’t even wear a watch.’ I offer to let her smash it, but she doesn’t engage in destruction and won’t even decline. ‘It’s so present,’ she says, ‘don’t you ever feel as though it’s counting you down?’ I tell her time doesn’t know me well enough for it to be personal and offer to smash it for her. ‘Relentless,’ she says, ‘little deaths that reek of precognition.’ The sound of inevitability.


Except for some loose ends stuffed in a duffel and buckled in back, most of the boy’s bits are locked in the boot. It’s too early for them to smell but the air is thick with unpleasantness anyway. I roll down my window and let the wind render my face, feeling for my self in the spaces it’s not. It moves fast enough to call it coursing but lacks abrasive impact, in fact it’s almost soft, it doesn’t press upon me but moves with chilling grace. I wish I could be part of it and flow with unimpeded purpose.