Fiction | Short Story

The Rusting Screws

The waiter informed me that I was bothering the other diners with my weeping.

1) The waiter informed me that I was bothering the other diners with my weeping. I told him that this was the only way I could eat eggs. I held up my plate, showing him the omelette, damp with my tears, the hashbrowns and sausage pooled on the edge. He said fine, fine, just finish your breakdown and get out of here. I was very grateful for his kindness.

I weeped. My chest heaved, and my heart made me want to hurl. Then I ate my omelette, the hashbrowns, and the sausage and left. I would like to believe I gave a decent tip. I would like to believe I am a decent person. Then, I made my way to the gallery.

2) A friend of a friend of a friend was at a party I was hosting in my apartment and somehow made their way into my room of repudiated junk. Inside were all the things I had owned that I hadn’t had the resolve to throw away. In the corner of the room was a shoebox half-filled with the gifts of ex-lovers, but most of the space was occupied by my various failed inventions. Each and every one was built with the intent of fixing something wrong in my life, and each and every one had failed, failed, failed. Warped, misshapen metal. The wasted timber, the aimless screws. They were testaments to my incompetence.

The friend of a friend of a friend saw my great failures and laughed. I wanted to approach him after he had stopped his laughter but it didn’t cease. Several songs played in my living room and still he didn’t stop. He grew red and then purple in the face, and his laughter became heaving sounds, and as he held his sides the veins in his hands popped out, as if he were holding on for dear life, as if his ribs were about strain and splinter and break his skin.

3) After the laughter, he offered me a sizable amount of money to display them in his art gallery. I wanted to say no. No would have been the prouder answer. But then, the disability money was starting to run out. I hadn’t been out in forever. I was growing tired of eating sardines out of the can, and he could smell the desire on me, so we shook on it. Soon after I found myself in a roomful of people laughing at my various mental incompetencies, my variegated failings of imagination. It is a strange feeling. My heart pumps more blood, and all the work it’s doing makes it feel weirdly lighter when it should feel heavier.

4) The centerpiece of the exhibit was the Love Tester. A couple would each grip a handle on the machine which would measure their hormone output around each other, and the extent of the literal sparks between them. Instead, it messed around with the balance of testosterone/estrogen in the body. When I had you use the machine with your lover, you complained about an increased sexual drive, the rapid hair growth, the mood swings you experienced for weeks after. And your lover, your lover would call me in the middle of the night and I wished that it was to tell me that they were in love with me so that I could say proudly and nobly say no, no, how could you do this? and somehow you’d see that and see me as selfless, as dependable, as sex.

It was just to fuck with your sleep cycles, your lover would tell me later. This was a fuck-up of an invention, the lover said. Excited museum-goers disagreed with that assessment. It was the main draw of the exhibit. Couples on first dates would grab the handles and become so aroused that they’d leap into empty wings of the museum to consummate. The stalls of the bathrooms were stuffed with couples, desperately horny, going at it like rabbits. Many of them would later say that first night of sheer passion directed them into loving, fulfilling marriages, with relationships they couldn’t imagine their lives without.

5) More people came to the gallery. I made much more money, far too much money. I paid people to gas me, stuff me into boxes, and ship me off into various lands of varying exoticism, places that I had never visited before. Do not open the box until the sun rises, I told them. Each and every time I awoke from the box, drowsy and jet-lagged, I’d watch the sunset somewhere and still feel the same. The oceans, the mountains, the forests, the same, the same, the same.

6) Despite my becoming the cultural laughingstock, I still wanted to invent. I still wanted to create. Hundreds of my robots wandered around my mansion, tumbling over the staircases, over the furniture, eventually into the pools where they would short circuit. Their mechanical failings sounded like groans and reminded me of my mother. I would watch them fall into the pool from my balcony and soon the pile of robots towered over the roof of my house. They were reaching for the moon.

7) One day in the gallery, after a certain point, I had grown very, very tired. I had never known how to end things. I had never taught myself how to leave shitty situations. I boarded my flying machine and pulled the ripcord. It rose up, trying to amble towards the ceiling until eventually it tipped over, the rotor blades knocking down the spread of food and drinks. Mason jars of alcohol fell to the floor. I hit the floor hard. I crawled out of the wreckage of my machine and I went down on my hands and knees to lap up the spilt alochol, to try to save face.