Rag Doll

First published in Mad Hatters’ Review, #12, 2011. Copyright 2011 by Tetman Callis.

            That man over there has a collection of rags, years’ worth, cleaned and folded and stacked in a stack about yay high on the pantry shelf to the right of his towels. He is a man of a certain age, a man with a past—and who is a man of a certain age who is not? His once tight butt has begun its sagward decension, gravity pulling him gravely down day by descending day. He is known in no circles for speaking his mind, nor even for knowing it.


            He eats lunch twice a day, once early and once late, for reasons gleaned from a glossy magazine. He has been seen at the office swallowing the bits he nibbles off, the fingernail slivers, hangnails, other small pieces of himself. What he does there at the office other than put things in his mouth and chew is hard to tell. He can’t type to save his life, that is clear from every memo he writes and the time they take.

            When he is done with the chewing and the swallowing, safely shut behind his office door he lays himself down on his back, flat on the office floor. His belly moves with his breathing, rising and falling. His left hand twitches a moment, fluttering subtly once or twice where it rests folded with his right, both riding his belly’s rising and fall. Muffled snoring can be heard by anyone standing just the other side of the office door and listening close. He works so hard, such long, long hours, days and nights of work. Proud to be the definition of tired, he looks it up in the book and there he is, there is even a line drawing, a pretty good likeness.

            He dreams of being the sharp-dressed man. Of airplanes crashing. Of a woman he once knew. Of talking to people in the desert just north of town while the sun is hot.

            Routine dreams.

            He can spin enough jargon to impress the impressionable, himself in particular.

Over the telephone, he is especially good: The problematization of the foregrounded codecs interrogates the substrate of received binary source root objectives.

            He takes a deep breath, shudders a shallow shudder. Sex can sometimes be fun. Other times it is just sex. Sometimes it isn’t even that.


            Some of the rags in the stack yay high had once been fine clothing, long-sleeved button-down shirts. Happier days then. Some had been fluffy towels buffing bodies and other objects dry. Wealthier times past. Now all are rags, equal in rank, democratic, threadbare. He can give them a woman’s name in the dark of the pantry where they lay on the shelf. He can kneel before them, make his nibbled and gnawed-at fingertips dance across them as though to bring them to life. He can press them to his face and make a sound that sounds like something stifled in the throat. He can make sure they are clean, wash them in the washer, hang them on the line to dry. They will snap in the wind, dancing, tormented.


            He will wake upon his office floor, his arms feeling like they weigh their weight. He still won’t be able to type, not to save his life nor to give it away. That will call for a nibble. A nibble always calls for a bite. The boss will call for last week’s work: Where, the boss will say, is last week’s work?


            He can’t save his life to save his life. There are patches on everything. It is too dark even to see his fingers anymore. In fewer than fifteen minutes, he will have a new scab. There will be a helpful seminar next week.

            Oh, god, not another seminar! Not another week!