The conflagration left long spider cracks across the walls, a camouflage that disguised them from everyone but me, the only one who did not believe that the city had fallen brick by brick from the sky like Tetris pieces to become a monument not to eternity but to the perpetual betterment of the status quo.
That night J. had lips the iron taste of blood and hair brittle as ashes. The newly cracked ceiling above us was a map of lost continents, hidden countries. I realized that despite our love of clichés I would never jump and J. would never push.
That's when I began to interrogate my insides. I had become bottled, contained within the floor to ceiling windows of a grey office building, trapped in store displays of perfection and narrow forms, coupled with a fleshless mannequin, arranged by powdered hands into the universal features of a cartoon happy face, propped between lithe female figures in evening dresses and hollow men in tuxedos.
As I left J., sprawled in dissolution, I began to feel cavernous - carnivorous - myself.
It didn't hurt as much as I thought, removing a piece of my kidney. I just took it out and put it on the tray with the drink. It rattled.
I dead-bolted the door behind me, with a whine, a click. On the spiral staircase I lifted the tray above the surging masses like an experienced waiter.
As people passed (no one slowed or stopped) I gave them an insouciant glance, as if to say, "I am here, still," but I was not in the least defiant. Everyone acted as if they'd seen it all before, and they were probably right. Besides, once it was out in the air, it could be anyone else's.
During my descent, I started taking out other pieces: a slice of bone marrow, a section of a lung, the tip of my liver. Two pundits turned in wonder, scribbled in a notepad, then shouted at me from a few loops above, but my sense of self-awareness had become so acute that I considered each of their explanations and discarded them all.
They said the process is cathartic, but I felt no better. Just a little lighter, duller perhaps. I was amazed to discover that I could get away with taking out so much. They said it was a desperate plea for help, but it was little more than a show-and-tell. They said it is an act of rebellion against society, but this explanation was irrelevant in our reflexive age.
Now I realize that the whole of me was just one big appendix. It had never been anything but a vestigial part that I'd outgrown or out-evolved.
Logic dictates that before I reach bottom, I will collapse, or more likely, evaporate. The black hole of every mirrored screen will be blank; I will have no reflection and no shadow. Yet the objects feeding into me will last a while longer: the lemon slices in my drink will wheel to a halt, the ice will gradually implode, and my headphones will fall to the street, chattering unheeded.
If I were to meet J. again I would apologize and say, "I'm empty now, my insides have disappeared - I am ready to come for you, my beloved."