~ Erica Sage
Every day was dinner for Janice Godspeed.
Every damn day.
“John,” she called.
“Mary,” she called.
And the children raced to the table, insatiable.
The plates lay ready at their places. Her husband, fork poised in the air, waited at his seat.
The children grabbed their forks, hands in fists, prongs to the ceiling. All eyes were on Janice, heads tipped back and ready. Their eyes big and ready. Lips moist and ready. Tip of the tongue, ready.
Janice went to the garage for the tool box. She carried it to the dining room and set it on the floor next to the table.
“How was school today?” she asked as she lay her napkin across her lap.
“Stupid,” John said.
“Boring,” Mary said.
The children leaned toward their mother, eager for dinner.
“And how was work?” Janice asked her husband Gary.
“Marty said he’ll stop by,” he answered instead. Janice’s brother always stopped by for dinner.
Janice leaned down to the toolbox next to her chair, unclicked the hinged, and took out the heavy sheers. She held her hair taut with her left hand, and positioned the sheers against her scalp with her right hand. The blades cut through in one effort. She placed the chunk of hair on John’s plate. His fork dove in, lifted the strands, and he spun the strands around the prongs. He didn’t wait for his sister before he took it into his mouth. Janice did the same with the hair on the right side of her head. This went to Mary. The hair at the back, which she held taut above her head in order to reach it with the sheers, went to her husband.
Dinner was a bit later tonight. Her family was famished. They shoved strands into their mouths.
“You need to chew your food,” Janice said.
The children looked up.
“Oh, gawd,” they said, disgusted.
This got her husband’s attention. “Jan, baby. It makes it really hard to eat when we’ve got to look at you.”
She’d heard this before. She set the sheers on the table, went to the closet, and grabbed a scarf to put over her nearly bald scalp.
Scarf tied under her chin, she picked up the sheers. She used them to cut her fingernails, and she put the nails in three teacups. She added her toenails too. She gave them each a cup.
“That’s not so bad,” her husband said, looking at the nails, not her hands.
The doorbell rang.
The door opened before she had a chance to stand.
Marty. He nodded brusquely and shut the door behind him. He dragged a chair from the kitchen, took a place between the children.
“Uncle Marty!” they cheered.
Janice sighed. She leaned over the tool box, replacing the sheers. She took out a butcher knife.
She leaned back in her chair and placed her foot in front of her brother. He was too busy sneaking her nails out of the children’s teacups to notice.
“Can you help at least?” Janice said.
Marty took the knife. “Can you hold still at least?”
“I haven’t moved an inch.”
Marty lifted his arm up above his head and came down hard. Her foot rolled on its side and fell off the table.
“Gawd, mom,” the children said.
“Do you have to do that at the table?” her husband asked, mouth open in disgust, a fingernail stuck in the gap between his front teeth.
“There isn’t any silverware,” Marty said.
Janice stood. She hopped on her one foot toward the kitchen, lost her balance, grabbed hold of the wall. She hopped again, rested on the back of a couch. Hopped again toward the silverware drawer, caught herself on the counter.
“Mom!” John called.
“Mom!” Mary called.
Of course they were still hungry. Janice knew that hair and nails would never be enough. “One moment, please.”
The telephone rang.
Janice hopped toward the phone, silverware in hand.
The phone rang again.
“Jeezus Christ,” her husband said. “I’ll get it.” He shoved his chair back, stood, and snatched the phone off the receiver. “Hello?” he barked. “Oh. Hey, Sherry,” said Gary, ever so sweet.
Janice, finally returned to the table, handed the silverware and napkin to her brother.
Her husband continued, “Yeah. Always. Of course.” He placed the phone on the receiver. “Your mom is on her way.”
“Grandma!” The children cheered.
“You better get something on the table before she gets here,” Marty said, as he used his steak knife to cut off the big toe.
“Is my father coming?” Janice asked Gary.
“She didn’t mention it, but you know he always shows up sooner or later.”
That was true.
Janice stood and made her ungainly way back to the kitchen for more silverware and plates.
“Kids, help your mom,” Gary said.
But no one moved. They nibbled at the nails and watched Uncle Marty cut each toe off and pop them into his mouth. Janice brought the silverware in one trip, the plates in a second.
“Can you just give me one piece, Uncle Marty?” John asked. “You never share.”
That was also true. So, by the time Janice fell back into her seat at the table, the kids were glaring at her.
She kept the butcher knife on the table. She’d need it later, and probably Marty would too when he had eaten all the toes.
Janice took out the bone saw. She lifted her dress to her hips and tucked it under her rump. She positioned the saw at a diagonal below her pubic bone. She started sawing. The blade dragged across the skin, pulled at the tendons. The bone was unyielding. She adjusted her angle. She was sweating with the effort. Perhaps the blade wasn’t sharp enough.
Her husband coughed. “You’re gonna need the electric saw,” he said, not looking at her, but at one of her hairs he’d pulled out of his throat.
She placed her one foot on the floor, away from the blood that would no doubt send her slipping to the floor, and braced herself against the table. Once up, she hopped back to the kitchen, using the same route as before. Her leg, not fully attached now, swung awkwardly with each bounce. Finally in the garage, she found the electric saw. She was slow returning to the table. Though, with mouths full for the moment, her family hadn’t seemed to notice her absence.
Janice plugged the saw into the outlet nearest her chair. She clicked the switch, and it roared to life. The kids started and plugged their ears.
“Do you have to be so loud?” they shouted at her.
Janice put the saw in the wound, pressed it against the bone. It shifted and bounced. “I think the blade is pinched,” she said. The family shook their heads at her. “I think it’s pinched!” she shouted.
Her husband shrugged and leaned back, picking at his teeth. With her left hand, she pushed on her knee to bend back the bone, to give the blade some room to cut through. Her leg, finally loose, lobbed to its side and hit the floor with a thud.
A spatter of blood hit her daughter’s shoe. Indignant, Mary gaped at her mother. Her brother handed her a napkin.
Janice bent down and picked up the leg, set it on the table. She stood, leaned against the table with her right hip, and positioned the saw just above the knee. As the saw whirred, she pushed until the leg fell in two large parts. She lay the thigh on her son’s plate, her calf on her daughter’s.
“I don’t want the part by her butt,” John said.
“I don’t want the part by her foot,” Mary said.
The doorbell rang, and the door opened. Her mother came in. “You didn’t bother to wait?” she said to her daughter.
“I’ll get you a chair, Ma,” Marty offered, his mouth full of meat, Janice’s heal in his hand.
“I’d appreciate that,” she said, glaring at Janice.
Janice picked up the butcher knife. She placed her left hand, palm flat on the table where her plate should be. She chopped off her left hand, and set it on Mary’s plate. She moved her calf to her mother.
“I’ll share this with your father when he gets here,” her mother said, reaching for a knife and fork.
The doorbell rang again.
Gary looked to Janice.
Janice shrugged. She simply couldn’t get up at this point.
Gary resigned to opening the door himself. But it wasn’t Janice’s father, as expected. It was their neighbor, Mrs. Greely, who lost her husband the year before to cancer.
“I don’t mean to be a bother, but I saw you were hosting others, so I just thought I’d stop by for a family meal.”
Janice steadied her elbow on the table and chopped her left arm just below the joint. She wrapped the freshly bleeding nub in a paper towel, and handed it to Mrs. Greely. The elderly woman took a bite without hesitation, wiping the blood off her mouth with the back of her hand.
“There’s a lot of blood on that one,” John said.
“Gross,” Mary said.
The front door opened, no doorbell or knock, and Janice’s father came in. He didn’t shut the door behind him. He carried a chair from the kitchen and sat down next to his wife. Janice eyed her mother’s plate. She had in fact not saved anything for her father. Janice cut her arm off at the shoulder, picked it up off the floor where it had landed, and passed it to her father, who took it in two hands. Her father looked around for a larger plate and sighed when there wasn’t one to be found.
Janice leaned back in her seat for a moment, wiping her one hand on her dress.
Everyone at the table chewed their meat, smiled at each other, shared bites of the sweet parts, traded favorites for favorites.
Footsteps coming up the porch caught Janice’s attention. Her father hadn’t shut the door, and she’d forgotten to do it (even if she could). She needed to remember to shut it. Really, to lock it.
A man stood at the threshold. Janice recognized him as the homeless man that lingered at the gas station. Behind him came Marty’s ex-wife. Behind her was John’s best friend’s mother. The three walked in, and no one shut the door behind them.
Gary chewed his food, unconcerned about the door.
Janice cut off her right foot.
The conversation at the table was lively. Where was the homeless man from originally? Marty’s ex-wife had gotten a new job. John’s best friend’s mother was reading a delightful book for her book club.
She started the saw, and she couldn’t hear if the discussion continued.
Janice’s right leg rolled to the floor. She sawed it at the knee, and put the hunks on the table. Gary stood and carved the leg chunks into smaller pieces, serving each of them in kind. John held the thigh to his mouth, plenty of meat left, so held up his hand when his dad offered him a slice of calf.
The pastor of their church knocked on the door frame as he made his way in and to the table. “You have some of that to go, I imagine.”
A woman had followed him in and now stood by his side.
Noticing her, he said, “Welcome, I’m Pastor Hayden.” He reached out his hand.
“Crystal,” the woman said, politely enough, keeping her own hands on her purse strap. She turned to Janice. “Truly, you’re the most selfish woman I know. Here I am again, and you’ve got nothing left.” She swept her hands through the air. “Nothing.”
Janice looked down at her pelvis, legs gone. Left arm gone.
“Jan,” Gary said, mouth full. “You gonna say something to this broad?”
Janice only had her right hand and arm. She needed those to serve dinner.
“You always have an excuse,” Crystal continued. “No one can count on you.”
Janice eyed her family. They didn’t nod or agree, but neither did they protest. They just ate.
Janice opened the toolbox drawer and took out the filet knife her husband used to clean the trout. Both of her ears came off in one slice each.
Her friend snagged an ear from Janice and marched out of the house. The pastor watched her go, then turned back to wait for Janice, his hands on his hips.
Janice put the second ear on the table and used the sheers for her tongue. She scooped out her left eye with a spoon.
Gary took the tongue and eye, picked up the ear, and put them on a paper towel. He grabbed the three left-over toes from the homeless man’s plate for good measure. He balled up the paper towel and handed it to the pastor. The pastor walked out the door and down the porch steps, brushing by another man.
“Knock, knock,” the man said. “Should I leave this here?” He held out a package.
“What’s that?” Gary asked, marching toward the door. “Do I need to sign for this or something?”
“You wanna stay for dinner?” Gary asked.
Janice tried to catch his eye. There wasn’t enough of her to go around as it was. But thankfully, the delivery man said, “I see you’ve got a house full. Thanks though.” He waved to the guests around the table and headed down the porch steps.
“I wonder what the hell this is,” Gary said as he returned to the table. He grabbed his steak knife and stabbed through the packaging tape, slicing it cleanly from one side of the box to the next. “I don’t remember ordering anything.” He ripped open the cardboard flaps and peered inside. “Well, I’ll be damned, I’d forgotten about this.” He laughed and pulled out a small, white box. He tossed it across the table to Janice. “I got it for your birthday!” He laughed again.
Her birthday had been nine weeks ago.
“What’d you get, Mom?” John asked.
“Yeah, what’d we get you?” Mary asked.
Her family and the other guests waited, grinning.
Janice passed around her gift with the blue print. Scalpels. Disposable, Sterile. #10.
Gary stood up and held the package on his lap wide open for everyone to see. “And I got you ten of ‘em.”
Indeed, Janice saw nine more boxes. One hundred disposable scalpels.
She opened her mouth to speak, but then remembered. She’d already cut out her tongue.
Erica Sage is the author of young adult novel Jacked Up, published by Sky Pony Press. Her adult short stories have been published by Underland Press and Indie It Press. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with her family, hiking, and gardening.