Smelgor Goes to the City


Smelgor went to the city. The traffic was bad and confused him. It snarled the connectome of neurons already tangled in his brain. He sat down on a park bench. An old man came near, eyeing him warily. “You went to the moon!” he declaimed.

Smelgor slunk away. He went inside a sandwich shop, looking for a bathroom. The bathroom was for customers only. He bought a salami sandwich on German rye. He ate it, sitting at the counter.

A woman came in and sat down beside him. She was beautiful. She had curly hair. She wore colorful stones in wire settings around her neck. Just under her right eye, protruding nail up, there grew a human toe. Now and then it would spasm, like someone kicking fitfully before they fell asleep.

Smelgor tried not to stare, but she caught him. “Have you heard about the dictator?” she said.

Smelgor shifted nervously. He’d been on the bus since late last night. He didn’t know a thing. “No,” he said, sandwich in hand, bread drooping like a mouth. “What did he do this time?”

“Nothing,” the woman said. “The dictator is dead.”

“Dead?” Smelgor could not believe it.

“Dead. His cabinet finally got sick of him. They put him up against the wall in the East Room and the Secretary of Labor shot him through the eye.”

“I don’t believe it,” Smelgor said.

“It’s true,” the woman told him. “We have a new dictator now.”

“A new dictator?”

“She used to be the Secretary of Transportation.”

Smelgor shook his head

“You seem surprised,” the woman said.

He had to think a minute. “You’d guess someone from a more important position would take over,” he said. “A top general maybe. Or the Secretary of State. Or perhaps the head of the senate.”

“Transportation is very important,” the woman said. “It’s how we get where we’re going.”

“That’s true,” Smelgor agreed, thinking of the bus, the comforting sensation of the road spooling out beneath him.

“My name is Smelgor,” Smelgor said.

“My name is Anna,” the woman said. “I have a toe under my eye.”

“I see that,” Smelgor admitted, hesitantly.

“It’s ok,” Anna said. “I find it best to acknowledge right away. It’s the first thing anyone sees. So why pretend?”

“Yes.” Smelgor said. “It makes a lot of sense.”

“The new dictator has a foot coming out of her anus.”

Smelgor blinked in surprise.

“A whole foot. It makes it hard for her to sit down.”

He sat, thoughtfully chewing his sandwich. “She must have strong legs,” he finally said.

“Yes,” Anna said. “She has very strong legs. You see, I read a cover story about her in Vanity Fair.”

Smelgor nodded. “The last dictator had very small hands, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” Anna said. “Very small. Like a child’s hands. Like an infant’s. When he signed bills into law, the vice president had to help him hold the pen.”

“But he’s dead now,” Smelgor said.

“He’s gone,” Anna confirmed. Smelgor looked at her. Besides the toe, she was perfect. Perfect in every way. He wondered why she’d never had it amputated. She must be a strange person. A strange and brave and interesting person. Or maybe it was connected to some kind of artery that might rupture.

“Do you have any mutations?” Anna asked. The deli man behind the counter brought her sandwich.

“Yes,” Smelgor said. Sighing, he put a hand to his chest. “I have two hearts,” he told her.

“That sounds useful,” Anna said. “That sounds like a good adaptation.”

Smelgor shook his head. “It might be, but they are at war with each other. You see, one is my heart, and the other is the heart of my jealous twin. They are connected but opposites. When one heart falls in love, the other breaks.”

“That must be nice,” Anna said. “You are never alone.”

Smelgor frowned. “I’m also never fully happy.”

“You’re also never fully sad.” Anna ate her sandwich. She wolfed it down. It was wondrous to watch. Three bites of her tiny snapping teeth and it was gone.

Rising, Anna left money on the counter. “You need to get a better attitude,” she told him. “Our brains are the most complicated things in the universe. Think about that. Billions of neurons. Trillions and trillions of connections. Always firing. We don’t truly know how we work. We don’t even truly know what we are.”

Smelgor looked at Anna. He allowed himself for the first time to stare directly at the toe coming out of her face. He saw she had painted the nail a delicate pink.

“I think you’re beautiful,” Smelgor said.

Anna stopped, looking at him, her purse slung over her shoulder. “When you break up with someone, does your broken heart feel happy?”

“Yes.”

“Never mind,” Anna said. “It must be terrible to be you. Some mutations are a benefit, but some of us are truly mistakes.”  

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