Brain Oysters, Carapace Lungs
by Caleb Bethea, 31st October 2022

The shadow is terrible. He moves languidly against the wall at the back of the club, waving his arms tentacle-like. Laughing, still sober. They’d done it again, bought him a 40 for each hand and taped it to the right and the left. The only way to free your hands is to finish the 40s. He’s done this before, his cheekbones swelling up against his eyes with a smile. But for him, it isn’t finishing the bottles. He’s been doing that sort of thing since he was 14 years old. And it isn’t the secondary questions either. What to do when you have to take a piss? He’s at the Disco. Plenty of hands to unzip his pants so he can waddle into an alleyway outside. No, for him, it’s just the feeling of being stuck. The tape feeling organic around his knuckles and wrists, pulling the glass into his arm and sealing it all into one piece.


He appreciates the separation of things. One thing begins and another ends. Where that thing ends, another starts to take its form. He understands that life necessitates the blurring of these lines. But he relishes in the utility of dividing the objects of his attention. He cut his money into neat decisions according to his budget. His commute is just as regimented as his shift schedule. His meals are just as reliable, the same grocery list every month.


The last time he agreed to something like this, he vomited at the edge of the dance floor. He was crouched down with his useless hands slung behind him like an ape dragging its knuckles. Perfectly still, hurling acid and burger onto the purple-lit floor. In the hurling, he felt like a part of it all. Swallowed up and vomited out of himself, emerging from between the tiles.


In that moment he was an accident, as accidental as the vodka that he had no choice but to guzzle. As accidental as the vomit that had raised up above his shoes. He didn’t want to feel that way tonight.


A good sport, he finishes his dance moves and comes back to his friends at the table. He makes some inquiries into the rules for getting something into his stomach. After some satisfying answers, he says please and gets one of them to lift a half-shell to his lips, so he can slurp oyster meat into the bile of his stomach. The butter sauce is cilantro-driven and it makes the sides of his tongue become suddenly aware of themselves.


Yes, this night was going to be different. He takes a swig from each hand and says please for a bite of crab legs. The cheap plastic sound of cracking opens up the spiny exoskeleton to juicy white red leg meat. He grabs it with his teeth, gentle but firm, and brings it into a dipping bowl, with a dog-like flourish, swirls it around the butter sauce before finally slurping the meat into his mouth. His stomach folds over on the seafood, mashes it into one piece, marinating with the smooth bite of vodka.


The newness of the feeling starts to settle deep in his torso, the sensation of breaking past something old and catching something new at a hundred miles an hour, mouth open, catching endorphins between his teeth. He’s becoming the same as everything else. The separations between him, the parts of him, and the objects and the people around him start to feel arbitrary, that there is nothing really holding him back from being these things, from drinking it all in, as it drinks him into its own mouth, his mouth.


His teeth shine as he asks his friends the difference between their atoms and his–nuzzling his face up next to theirs, asking what the difference is now, answering for them that there’s really no distinction. He’s a good sport and so are they. They humor him, give some consideration to his musings.


When it’s finally time for a piss, he b-lines for the crowd, shouting about the chance to earn a quarter. One faithful friend stops him, pulls him back by the shoulders and stabilizes him on the way to the bathroom.

The taped one breaks free, kicks himself up off a urinal and sticks the landing, only spilling a few drops from his 40 bottles. His friend tells him to fucking stay still. The taped one giggles.


Fucking stay still.


And that’s when it hits him. Why is it remarkable in any way for his friend to unzip his pants? For anyone on the floor to earn twenty-five cents? They’re all the same atoms, aren’t they? Are the protons in his hands any different from the protons in his pants?


Finally free, the taped one brings both hands down on the head and back of his friend, breaking the glass across his skin, across his own skin, cutting into the skin. Swirling. The blood is the same as the screaming. The vodka burning up the underside of the flesh, the same as eyes, lung tissue. In his head, he knows it’s all the same, but to the eye, some things still hold their difference. There’s separation between their ankles. The ceiling tile and the rib bones. More swirling. Swirling until the eyes can’t tell the difference between things. Little bits come off, some cling on, like particles sticking faithfully to their nucleus orbit. Swirling, swirling. Screaming both of them, all of them. All of them until they’re the same as the piss on the floor. No vodka left. Only the fluorescent light that tastes like vodka.


But there’s another coming in, a suit of skin still separate, brazen, not even feigning the appearance of unity. Not knowing where to grab, the new one only slides fingertips against the blood. Trying to help, poor guy. The skin isn’t easy to grab. Eyes are screams in this bathroom. When another opens the door, the music is piss too. A couple comes in on a trip, the unity on the floor nothing but recreation, hallucinations. But, maybe they understand it, not like the last one to enter, now part of the skin too. The piss tells them to join.


Trusting their trip, they step into the glass shard teeth of the tile floor. The homogeneity hurts at first, the blood in their mouth pissing out music, light, more teeth, a reconstructed bottle of vodka, the skin, closing like a zipper, adhesive to seal them all in place, the crab meat too, brain oysters, carapace lungs, a couple just trying to fuck in the bathroom, a constant birth of them all.