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Fiction by
Stefani Nellen
Music by Paul A. Toth
'Dead'  2008 X-8
'Dead' by X-8

Snail Shells

Sven collected snails. Every evening, he stepped into his backyard and listened to the concert of snails nibbling at the bushes.

When the snails were done he plucked them off the braches one by one and placed them into a basket. At first, the snails hid in their shells, like pebbles on the basket's grass padding Sven found the sight unsettling. He could never be so locked in with himself, stuffed into his own folds like a pillow.

After a while, the shells jerked, and translucent antennae peeked out, dragging after them the snail's bodies, which soon slid across the green in a somnambulic rush. Antennae stretched farther, small dot-eyes at the tip, and stroked the spirals of their companions' shells in a moment of contact before balling up and bouncing back like a drop of gel.

Sven picked up clover petals and rubbed them between his fingers. Flower snow rained on the snails.

As a boy, camping with his parents in the South of France, Sven used to pile the snails onto each other and keep them in empty marmalade glasses. He'd watch them crawl up inside the glass, and when they were about to breach the opening he picked them up with a smack and
dropped them back in until his parents forced him to stop.

The sun disappeared behind the houses surrounding Sven's backyard. In the dark the snail shells paled into seashells swept onto the beach, sticking in algae nests or drying in the sun. They made him think of the dream in which he woke up as a skeleton, quite clean.

He sat up in his bed and polished his bones with a rough towel and baking soda when he noticed the heap of tissue next to his bed. Veins pulsed underneath the transparent skin, bright red arteries branched deeper down; the thing contracted and shifted liquid around in chambers, an organ perhaps, a mysterious factory. A muscular hose sprouted from its top and snaked its way up his leg-bone, into his ribcage. In the dream, Sven wasn't put off by the tissue package, but surprised that such a fat appendix, so obviously strong and purposeful, should be his.

After watching the snails, Sven put on his jacket and went to eat at the Turkish place at the corner.

The owner, Hakan, scraped strips off a giant chunk of meat rotating on a spit. Sven sat down at the window and observed the few people walking by, many dragging along a dog or two. He spooned sambal onto the meat, the hottest kind, the kind in the crusty bottle which no one but Sven ever opened, and tore into the doener. The sambal ran down his tongue, too hot to taste of anything but pain. He swallowed, snot running out of his nose. At the second bite his stomach shook itself like a dog coming out of the water.

He ate on, swallowing his own snot and more pain, knowing that later at home he would quickly purge himself of the dinner. When he was done, he dabbed his throbbing lips with a paper napkin and got up to leave.

In the corner of the restaurant, Hakan and his son took down the ravaged chunk of meat, which looked gray without the spit's orange glow. Hakan lowered the top while his son clutched the bottom, and slowly they made their way to the kitchen. Even shredded and worn
meat cylinder was formidable. It lumbered back and forth between the two men, built momentum, and finally slid from their plastic-gloved hands and landed on the tiles with a wet smack, like a snail coming loose from hot glass, wriggling in the fingers of a boy who looked at
it through a magnifying lens and later let the sun look as well.

The Turkish men cursed. The door shut behind Sven with a lilting bells melody. He walked on into the night, back to his empty house, stomach churning.

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last update: February 29, 2008