J.A. Tyler

of nails

And when it had been long enough of the dark nights and the cold days, all of this past the orange leaves and the red leaves and the yellow leaves, he took to making of himself a man of nails, the image in his head of a pincushion, the reality of bristling.

On his arms he set long rows of nails, the points indicating every direction that was away from his body, the sharpness of him angled and defined. He made rows too of his legs, across his abdomen, over his shoulders and down his back. His spine like a triceratops, the heaviness of blades.

Her ribs were hurting again. Her head was hurting again. Her mouth was dry and her nose was running and her eyes they rocked too far back, bouncing off of the walls, the insides, making a ricochet behind the retinas. She pulled tissues from boxes and he pulled the heads of nails through and then out his chest, until they wavered from his body when he breathed, folding and unfolding with his steady rhythms, fighting to look all mean and man.

Remember when we cuddled on a beach and there was a wedge of lime I squeezed into your beer and you looked at me and smiled but he doesn't end it like a question because he knows that she would remember if her head wasn't full of flu trembles.

Under his fingernails he faces out pin nails, the smallest he can find, so when he drags his hands down the small of her building, the brick and the windows, there is a screeching that makes the cats wail, and they sit on the walls and wail until she turns on her light and screams down to them shut the fuck up and it is the first words he has heard from her in he doesn't know how long.

He smiles knowing she is broken, is breaking. He smiles.

The equivalent of seeing one snow flake float in a spin of rain, if you are the one waiting for winter.

And birds collect on his body, flying into him at speeds he is afraid of, gluing to his nailed body, until he is feathered and looks more chicken than metal.

This is what you have done to me he says and feels like that is something he has said before, maybe each day or every day until it was that days stopped being days or happening at all.

A dove careens into him. A blackbird. A pigeon. A finch.

He is a spotted egg. He is dappled beaks. He is a line of dead bodies.

Dead man walking he says and she sneezes and he says Bless You and feels a pain in his rib, like where she was supposed to have been taken from. But now he has this extra rib and there is nothing to do about it but try to avoid breathing deeply or laughing hard or saying long words that require any extra breath.

Her room it spins, the ceiling spiral art, and him below on the street wearing coats of fresh birds and the white of their last shitting and all the blood. She is listening for cats and doesn't know why. She is thinking of a beach where there were limes and he squeezed a lime into her beer and she smiled at him. She sneezes and hears something that sounds like pans rattling. She sneezes and a bird's wings stop fluttering somewhere below her. She sneezes and fills the room with a germ mist.

These nails are to protect me he screams to her, hearing the waver of the bed as she rolls from one side to the next, the medicine not yet kicking in and the night going long, stretching. Because I remember how easily I let you under my skin he says and hopes that even as the alcohol and antihistamines hit her system she still feels how prickly his body has become.

I am protecting myself he tells her again, just to be sure it is something he has said.

For Halloween the time he wrapped up in tin foil and called himself a baked potato. She said You look like an idiot. And the holiday that instead of a gift he made her apricot jam and it fell apart in the baking and it was too late for anything else so he changed it into pancake syrup and she said Jesus Christ and then sat on of their high-back chairs and read a magazine with pictures of beautiful women and shirtless men and jeans with perfect tears in each knee.

You are beautiful he says and means it genuinely and then puts his arms up and reminds her window of all his nails and how strong he has become. But she is asleep now in her bed, a brain full of bugs and coughing, a sore throat that never wants to talk to him again.

You are not all bad he says and means it, taking his leg and making metal music on her street.

And then he thinks of the time that she said I love you more than all of these worlds put together and You are full of the most wonderful things and This is how it is going to be. Those were all moments when he didn't need nails or pricking tools of any kind. Those were times when the sun seemed to come up right and there was a microphone for every voice he had.

And snow comes down on him, small flakes melting on all his armor. Nails no protection against the fall mix of rain and snow. The birds weighing him down, heavier now with wetness.

She sleeps and he carries birds attached to his face and hands and arms and legs. She sleeps and he thinks about how she is a compilation of all things good and bad. She sleeps and he knows that nails won't stop her from creeping back in, his thoughts already turning, the birds and the nails sloughing to the ground.

Snowflakes, rain, all the wadded up tissues on the floor by her bed, a soft snoring and residual grey cloud light. Nails with useless sharp points.

I am sorry he says and feels better, finally having said something true.


J. A. Tyler is the author of the novel(la)s INCONCEIVABLE WILSON (scrambler books, 2009), SOMEONE, Somewhere (ghost road press, 2009) & IN LOVE WITH A GHOST (willows wept press, 2010) & has had recent work with Sleepingfish, Caketrain, Hotel St. George, elimae, & Action, Yes. He is also founding editor of mud luscious / ml press. For more details, visit: www.aboutjatyler.com.