We know you're busy clearing your calendar for the publication of Gutshot on April 14. Same here. As a reward for all of those "sick days" and cancelled dinners here's a prepub teaser like only Amelia Gray can deliver...so pull up a chair, settle in and be sure to stay for dessert because things are about to get Gray-eat.
The woman and man are on a date. It is a date! The woman rubs a lipstick print off her water glass. The man turns his butter knife over and over and over and over and over. Everyone has to pee. What’s the deal with dates! The man excuses himself. At the table, the woman scratches her forearm a little too hard and a slice of skin peels up with her fingernail. She tries to smooth it back but it doesn’t go even when she presses her palm to it. It curls around itself like a pencil shaving. The woman is dismayed.
She holds her hands on her lap when the man returns from the bathroom. He pulls back his chair and sits heavily. When the woman sees him, she covers her mouth to stop her laughter. The man must have washed his face too hard in the sink, because his left eye and cheekbone are stretching apart. Bits of paper towel are stuck to his cheek. He has wiped off his face! He observes her mirth with a skewed sullen glare until she shows him the skin of her forearm; then, he laughs with her. He uses his butter knife to scrape up a portion of his own arm to match hers. She plucks at her cheekbone until it forms a sharp point. He grasps his thumb and twists it hard. It pops into his palm and he overhands it into the kitchen. The woman bares her breasts and flicks her nipples off her body like flies on a summer day. They land on the floor and a waiter catches one under his heel and slips across the tile.
The other patrons have been watching this central pair. Underneath the couple’s skin a clear paneling emerges: a carapace, a subcutaneous shell. Their bodies are mannequins carrying skin and clothing and color.
A wild look enters all eyes. Individuals wipe flesh off one another with napkins soaked in wine. A mother gnaws her child in its booster seat. One man lifts his ruddy toupee to reveal a few pathetic strands of glue-coated hair, blond in color, which he swipes off in one motion and stuffs down his shirtfront. Another man flicks open his button fly. His pubic hair scatters like dandelion florets. The man howls and a woman rips his dick off and drops it into a bowl of soup. What’s the deal with soup!
Tablecloths are pulled from tables and the tables themselves are scrubbed of their color. A waiter dumps a tray of meat onto the floor, shines the tray on his ass, and wears it as a breastplate to go into battle with the cook, a stout man with a blistered face. The cook uses the dishwasher’s rags to wipe himself clean, revealing a featureless figure dripping with rage and shame. He tips a boiling pot of pasta water onto the waiter, who himself is freed from ears, hair, dermis, and his white waiter’s gloves, a pair he had once bleached every night and which now gunk up the kitchen drain along with a holiday ham and a full set of teeth.
The room contracts. A woman screams until someone slips a dessert spoon under a muscle in her neck and flings her larynx to the floor, at which point the woman grasps both breasts, rips them from her body, and applies them to her throat. The breasts produce twinned howling wails that consume a grown man whole. Flesh is siphoned into a bowl and poured without discrimination into a free-standing grandfather clock that is set on fire and rolled into the street.
There rises a rallying cry of mutual recognition. This is no blind agony. It is a celebration! Every piece of internal armor on each individual is so thick with shine that even light from the recent past and future finds a way to burst forth, shattering across shattering glass, covering all in a blinding healing bleeding screaming LIGHT because that’s what LIFE is, you assholes! That’s what it means to be alive!
Amelia Gray grew up in Tucson, Arizona. Her first collection of stories, AM/PM, was published in 2009. Her second collection, Museum of the Weird, was awarded the Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize. THREATS is her first novel and it was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. She lives in Los Angeles.