Anthony Cordello is a social worker living in Boston. E-mail him at email@example.com.
I was twenty-five years old when my brain turned into a crab and broke out of my skull. I was living in a small triangle room of a Boston basement apartment on a narrow one way street that emptied into the drab, gnarled Commonwealth Avenue. It cost me exactly six hundred and seventy dollars a month. I was working around thirty-two hours, eleven dollars an hour, a week at Horseshoe Tavern down in Allston. My boss said I was the dishroom supervisor but I was the only other person in the dishroom. I was regretting my humanities degree and thinking about moving to Japan or the Philippines.
It happened on February nineteenth, a Sunday night during the fourth blizzard of the year. Twenty inches of snow until early Tuesday morning on top of the seventy inches of snow that had hit Boston so far. My window was completely covered. I had been having a recurring dream that it was a porthole to a spaceship descending through the snowball core of a planet I made up. I had been smoking a lot recently but I was not high when it happened but I was thinking about buying a gram because I was going to be stuck in the storm.
I was in bed with my girlfriend but she was ignoring me because I made a menstruation joke she did not like even after I explained that I had heard it from a woman comedian. She was on her phone with her headphones in. I heard a faint drumbeat developing from the center of her head. I stared at the R etched into her right headphone then followed the white cord down along her jaw and neck right to the jack on her phone. She was texting someone named Brian. I could see his name at the top of the screen but I did not look down at the actual texts because she had a right to her phone as I had a right to my phone.
Then my phone rang just as I was thinking about it. Someone was calling me but I only recognized the area code. Nine seven three belonged to the northeast section of Bergen County, New Jersey, where I grew up. Ridgewood, Hackensack, Mahwah, all nine seven three. I could not remember the last time I had received a nine seven three number. Usually I let unknown numbers go straight to voicemail but I was getting too old for that so I answered it.
“Hello is this Sid?”
It was a woman. I could barely understand her. She had a very strange accent, vowels were just raw noise between consonants, bursts of unshaped sound as if he she did not have a tongue.
“Who is this?”
“Is this Sid?”
“OK. Sid my name is Meesha, listen to me, your father is at Hackensack Hospital. He had a henna raw chick stroke. He’s in intensive care unit. The doctors might have to do surgery but they’re not sure yet.”
“Hemma raw chick?”
“No, listen Sid, listen to me, a blood vessel, it popped, ruptured in his brain.”
“Are you still there?” she asked.
“Do you understand what I just said?”
“Is he going to die?”
“All I know is they might have to do surgery.”
“Listen your mother doesn’t know.”
“You should tell her.”
“Who are you again?”
“My name is Me Shell.”
“How do you know my father?”
“I was with him when it happened.”
“Wait what’s your name?”
“Michelle. Listen I have to call my sister. I will call you back in a few minutes.”
I stared at the sleep light on my computer as it pulsed through an empty soda bottle, Honey Mart Raspberry Soda, a raspberry dressed in a tuxedo and a top hat skipped across the label.
My father had a stroke. I did not know anything about strokes. I knew I needed to go to New Jersey that night. I needed to drive four and a half hours with three inches of snow falling an hour. I needed gas. The closet gas station was five minutes away on Chestnut Hill Drive. Two dollars and thirty two cents a gallon last time I checked. My phone was in my hand but I still felt it against my ear. I put it in my pocket and stood up.
I collected my wallet and my phone. I put on my boots and kneeled to tie them. I put on a green sweatshirt I had left hanging over the side of my hamper. I put on my winter coat, zipped it up to my chin. My girlfriend had not even noticed that I had stopped us. She still had her back to me and she still had her headphones in. The music had gotten louder so I assumed she heard my phone ring and turned up the volume so she did not have to hear it. I called her selfish once and she did not like it but I was right. I thought about saying something to her but a pincer rose out of my throat and snipped off my tongue. I left my room closing my door gently behind me. In less than a minute I was out of my apartment and crunching through the snow to my car parked across the street.
I brushed the snow off the windshield, knocked the snow from my boots against the tire, got in the driver’s seat, turned on the car, blasted the heat, sat there breathing against the current streaming out of the vents, unfocused on the green dawn of the dashboard, thought about how easy it was for me to leave her and how easy it would be for me to stay away from her and from that apartment and from Boston.
I checked my phone but Michelle had not called me back yet. I looked through my texts and read the last conversation I had with my dad. I cried. I put my hands on the wheel. Two and ten.
Commonwealth Avenue was a fresh white field. I was fine as long as I stayed under twenty-five. I was even able to stop exactly on the line at the red light. I drifted into the red light, the honeycombed LED array, the red glow of my father’s cigarette during a blackout in the Ridgewood house, the blood filling his skull like a copper pool, noses coming out of noses, a bird living in a hollowed out moon, dark coarse hair growing on doorknobs. I looked down and saw my shirt tent, once, twice.
There was a crab trying to escape out of my chest. I could hear the washboard sound of its pincers skimming along the inside of the ribcage. I could feel the legs paddling along through my intestines.
I stomped down on the pedal and ran the light. The red speedometer needle shot up to forty to fifty to sixty then wavered between sixty-five and seventy. The tires sailed over the double yellow line and straight into the path of a pickup truck. Headlights filled the windshield and then there was nothing but snow.
Our license plates smudged together. My legs were crushed by the collapsing instrument panel. My jaw cracked against the steering wheel. The hood of the pick up truck sliced through my neck. My head flew out of the sun roof and landed on the curb facing the crash, the two cars unfolded in the street, the mosaic of metal and glass and rubber soon to be blanketed under another twelve inches of snow. Snow was already frosting the half shattered window of a crunched car. Snow clung to my hair and piled up behind my ears.
The top of my head tented once, twice, three times, then a purple serrated pincer broke out of my scalp. A second, smaller pincer poked out of my right ear and snapped blindly at the falling snow.
A bloodshot, lidless eye, stuck on the end of a thin pale antenna, shot out of my left ear to bob violently against the wind. Another eye squeezed out of my nose and dipped low past my chin, out of the wind, revolved in a tight orbit. The pupil constricting and contracting as it surveyed the word.
The rest of my head crumbled apart and my brain, propped on six ping segmented legs, scuttled away right over the top of the fresh snow, towards downtown Boston. It passed by the Right Sock Laundromat and the North Beacon bus stop and the vegan juice bar that used to be a hookah lounge. It cut to Harvard Street through the alley behind Horseshoe Tavern and skittered down the center of the bike lane leaving behind narrow forked footprints that were soon covered up. The buried cars parked along the curb looked like eggs about to hatch.
A shape developed out of the storm. A German Shepherd carrying its own leash. Both animals froze and studied each other. Snowflakes swirling between them. My brain moved first, swiping at the closest paw. The dog jumped up and stomped down leaving dents in the gray matter. It got the smaller pincer in its jaws and tore it off with one big pull but my brain was able to get the other pincer between its legs and unzip its stomach. The dog collapsed and my brain dug deeper into the hole it made, not stopping until its pincer clinked against the spine. The warm blood melted the snow into slush. And the top of the dog’s head began to tent.