And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matt 5:29)
It first happened when the neighbour was doing a bit of free reading down at Exclusive Books. He had an urgent need to learn about concrete slab casting, so he found The Reader’s Digest Self-Help Manual and settled himself in a red tub chair and turned to the section on working with cement. As he was reading, the text suddenly swam in his sight and mysteriously zoomed into instant large print.
“Phrk..” he spluttered as he watched (with his left eye), how his right eyeball quickly, without notice, pain or the encumbrance of any restraining sinews, nerves or tissues, slipped from his eye socket and plopped onto the page where it rolled, rugby ball like, into the pristine fold of the book.
The neighbour was, well, dumbfounded. Perhaps he was even a little embarrassed, for in that split moment, he hoped above all things that no-one had seen it happen. It would be embarrassing if anyone saw the oddity and as to the explanations and the cooing and fussing, that would be an enormously difficult and unavoidable aggravation. Quickly, almost as an afterthought, he scooped the wayward eyeball into his fingers and attempted to slot the loose orb back into its housing. The neighbour pressed, quite hard, and felt the dull sort of ice cream headache one gets if an eye is accidentally (or otherwise) pressed too hard. Suddenly, in one soft liquid movement, he managed to press-fit the errant eyeball back into its habitual location. Gingerly, the neighbour released his hand from his face and looked straight ahead.
“Phew”, he intoned (for he was a man of measured and limited expression). 20/20 vision. Normal optical service had resumed. He slowly lowered his face, anticipating a repeat of the excitement, but nothing happened. His right eye remained firmly in its socket, though somewhat more independently because it was now asynchronous in its movement compared to its companion on the other side of his nose. The neighbour knew this only because his general view of the store appeared at once strangely pinched in the centre and somehow also extended peripherally. He similarly knew that aesthetically speaking, something was not quite right from the look of disgust he attracted from a young woman squeezed into a Hello Kitty cardigan and thigh-high black ‘pleather’ boots. She, taking in the neighbour’s anonymous khaki trench coat, long grey hair and five-day stubble interpreted his ocular acrobatics as signalling lecherous intent. She mouthed a puckering “eeuw” at him and stalked off, scrabbling for her phone in her bag, her pleather boots chaffing together furiously as she scurried off.
The neighbour, always anxious to avoid unpleasantness and attention, sank into crushed bewilderment and, clutching the copy of The Reader’s Digest Self-Help Manual, skittered off from the tub chair and plonked himself onto an ottoman. It was located in a corner of Exclusive Books that housed the Christian books, a section of the store he knew attracted few browsers, so he was able to calm himself and plan his next move. Carefully he turned The Reader’s Digest Self-Help Manual over and took in its cover price: R499. “Gulp”. That was about R497 more than he was prepared to pay, so there was nothing to it but Plan B.
From deep inside the trench coat, the neighbour extracted his Leatherman tool and without risking an errant eyeball rolling on the carpet, he sliced the security strip from its hiding place on the book’s spine and stowed the unwanted alarm trigger deep in the shelves that promised prosperity, healing and deeply satisfying sex in godly amounts. Stowing the book and Leatherman inside his trench coat’s supply of filing cabinet sized pockets, the neighbour walked right out of Exclusive Books and took himself off to the Mugg and Bean for a ginger rooibos and a chance to continue his concrete-casting education.
It happened again. This time, the neighbour felt multiple stabs of pain. He saw himself, looking up, through the amber pool of ginger rooibos. The pain was like a glowing trident stabbed into his brain. The scalding tea’s temperature and the raw grate of freshly crushed ginger combined with embarrassment almost floored him. “Gawd” he uttered, but fortunately there was no one close to him. The front-of-house staff had taken him for a derelict hobo and placed him at a single table opposite the bat-wing doors that led into the kitchen, a site conveniently distant and partially screened from the pensioners and toddler-towing yummy mummies who filled the café during office hours. Paralysed with fear and awkwardness (how he would explain this?), the neighbour tried to fish his eyeball from the cup before it boiled and the cornea became irretrievably cloudy. Two shaky scoops with the stirring spoon later, his eyeball was out of the steaming brew and he hastily patted it dry with the M&B emblazoned serviette on his table. Just as before, the eyeball returned with minimal fuss and effort to its customary location. Some gingered tears trickled out of the comer of his eyelid, but he soon patted those away. Good thing he hadn’t put milk in the brew, he reckoned. The recovery operation might have been more complex…
The neighbour tried waggling his head and nodded up and down to see if there were any warning signs of dislocation he could discern. He quickly reckoned that so long as his gaze averted no more than 30 degrees from the horizontal, then he was safe from further visionary disturbances. The neighbour felt a black eel stirring his guts, and recognising the onset of a slow boil that would eventually simmer over and bubble into a night-long panic-attack framed with tortured dreams. He knew he had to head home, give the cat its saucer of milk and lie down in the darkened room he kept ready for moments like this. He left a R2 coin on the table and shuffled out of the Mugg and Bean and limped down the escalator before the sniffy waiter (who had been ignoring him), realised that the full R22 for the ginger rooibos had not been proffered.
The neighbour hurried across the road towards the My City bus stop, knowing that it was 17 stops and 45 minutes until he could unlatch the overgrown gate at “Dun Roamin” and achieve sanctuary. That’s when things truly took him by surprise. He was feeling in his trench coat for his MyCiTi card and suddenly found he could not easily grasp it. Without thinking, he looked down at his pocket and, at that exact moment, his right eyeball sailed silently out, bounced on the gritty tarmac and rolled through a storm water grate. The stomach eel turned dervish-like and he had the momentary image of his face, minus one eye, peering through the grate. That, all in the instant before a large city sewer rat seized the succulent trophy and tail-ruddered its way along the dank cavern. All went black, but fortunately, there was no pain as the rat enjoyed its first square or, rather, oblate meal of the day.
The neighbour was bewildered. He could still see out of his well-behaved left eye, but the bus was approaching and he could not feel the card in his pocket. Risking blindness, he snapped his head down and peered into his pocket. “Thank God!” The card was there but so too was the reason why he couldn’t fish it out. His right thumb and index finger had somehow neatly severed themselves and lay bloodless amongst the crumbs, lint, bits of string, paper clips and mouldy imperial mints in his pocket. The neighbour began to see the funny side of it. Here he was, trying only to get home and learn enough to finish his concreting job and his body was abandoning his soul, bit by flimsy bit. He hoped that nothing truly important would also work its way loose, at least until he got home and could find either duct tape or glue.
On the ride home, he had a seat all to himself. Fellow passengers mistook his constant body part security checks for a prolonged self-stimulation and so threw a bus-wide cordon around him. Even so, a young woman with a small boy did get off the bus in an ill-tempered hurry and mistaking the uniform for that of a policeman, attempted to report him to a Fidelity Guardsman waiting for the 9:50 to Cape Town. Fortunately the guard ignored her and continued reading the European football scores on his smart phone.
The MyCiTi bus rolled softly to a halt at the neighbour’s stop and he scurried off, blanking the red cave on his face with his (still) whole left hand. The neighbour clumped and half-shuffled his way up Belvedere Street aware that his feet suddenly seemed too big for his shoes and that things were pressing into the soles of his feet. Toes. Yes. That (or those) must be it. His toes had all come off. All but his left big toe. The one with the pus-filled ingrown toenail. That remained firmly on duty and ready for action. Using his good left hand, he slid his boots off and tipped them up so that the toes could fall silently to the floor. He counted them: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9. Yup. A 90% podiatric failure rate. The neighbour wondered for a moment whether he should reattach them somehow. He thought about it for a moment, but discounted the task as impractical. Superglue only offered a low-tension bond and the best results would require a polyurethane adhesive that would need to be clamped and immobilised for 12 hours. Not practical and likely to be uncomfortable.
The neighbour took stock of his situation. So far his situation was inconvenient and alarming but not, he reckoned, life-threatening. He resolved that his best course of action was to put the toes somewhere where the cat wouldn’t get hold of them and possibly choke. So he gathered his toes together, placed them in a Tupperware container and for want of somewhere better, put them in the fridge. He poured himself a coke and laid a saucer of milk for the cat on the floor and that was when things went to shit in a handbag as it were…
That simple act of leaning over set off something of a deconstruction chain reaction. As his head cranked past 30 degrees, his once good left eye fell out and rolled end-over-end across the kitchen floor. The eye’s crazy rotation sent waves of nausea running through the neighbour’s stomach. He heaved and that sudden arching caused both his arms to fly backwards and unhinge from his shoulder sockets. The neighbour heard them fall and flap about on the floor until they too, lost their lividity and lay still and useless. The neighbour stood, swaying, blinded and armless.
He screamed, one long, loud howl, not enough to wake the dead, but enough to spew his teeth like spilt dry peas across the floor and, soon, in quick succession, his lower mandible clicked off and it too, fell to the floor. Crazy with fear, the neighbour stomped his feet up and down. It was the last thing he ever did for no sooner did he do that than his spinal column collapsed in on itself like a slow motion building demolition and so his entire frame sagged inward, his flesh turning to gore that flowed in equal measure through the arms and out of the bottom of the trench coat.
A large grey cat arced through an open skylight. It picked its way over The Reader’s Digest Self-Help Manual, around the steaming remains and lapped at the milk before curling up to sleep on the carpet in a single warm patch of watery, August sunlight.
Mike Hagemann is a 55-year-old refugee from the teaching profession. Currently semi-retired, he is a PhD student at UWC working on Rhodesian war poetry. He has a wild sense of humour and enjoys tasteless jokes, graphic novels, writing, viewing strange art and flying toy planes. His musical tastes range from Die Antwoord to Chopin. Service in the Rhodesian war, one-time membership of a Christian cult and teaching in a series of ever more dysfunctional schools inform his writing. He plans to abandon his pseudonym “Disgruntled of Edgemead” and write grumpy letters to the Cape Times under his own name once his PhD is done and he can claim the prefix Dr.