Head in a Handbasket

Fiction
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Published in The Griffin, 2004

The police came by yesterday. They found my husband’s head in the park. The only thing left of him is his head. Don’t worry. He’s not dead. I didn’t kill him. I didn’t chop him into pieces, leaving his head as a souvenir (though I was never totally opposed to that option). He’s very much alive. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know. No one does. All I can say is be careful what you wish for.

It all started around 2am on a Friday six months ago. Jeff woke me for one of what I call his midnight profundities – thoughts he feels compelled to share at any hour of the day or night. Most of the time they were just inane observations that I forgot by the morning. But sometimes they were interesting. Once, early in our relationship, we stayed up for hours debating the impossibility of a universe that is both infinite and expanding.

When we first started sleeping together, I considered these awakenings endearing eccentricities mistakenly thinking Jeff felt compelled to share his thoughts with me. But once I realized that he viewed the listener as little more than a witness to his genius it became just an annoying habit.

On that Friday morning, he shook me awake saying, “Men have no need for bodies.” He often generalizes his thoughts to the whole human race – another annoying habit. When I didn’t respond he continued, “Our dependence on and obsession with our bodies limits the capacity of our minds. We must evolve beyond bodies.”

I didn’t immediately challenge the problems of this particular revelation because only the day before I’d decided to stop reacting to Jeff’s nocturnal tidbits in an attempt to curb their frequency. But in my mind I saw a world populated with feeble-bodied men weighed down by gigantic heads that they had to hold up with their hands. I stifled a giggle then went back to sleep.

I was at the breakfast table the next morning sipping tea, flipping through unopened mail when I realized that I hadn’t seen or heard Jeff. It wasn’t that unusual for us to pass only once or twice in the hall while getting ready for work so it wasn’t as if I missed him. In fact, it took me a few minutes to notice that things were different – no shower running, no coffee brewing, no open Capt’n Crunch box left on the counter. It took another few minutes for me to pinpoint that these absences meant that Jeff – usually an annoyingly perky early-riser – wasn’t up.

I heard a muffled voice from the bedroom. It sounded like “D-bra, D-bra” and for a moment I thought he was playing some strange lovers’ game. Very unJeff-like. But when I got to the door, I realized he was under the covers calling my name, “Deirdre, Deirdre.” So I flipped back the blanket.

I think it’s fair to say that another person in the same circumstance would have screamed. There was my husband, in two distinct and separate pieces: head and body. But I didn’t scream. I laughed. A ha-ha-now-you’ve-gotten-yours laugh. I probably would have kept on laughing if Jeff hadn’t started talking. “Isn’t this fantastic! I’m a scientific wonder. I’ll be famous. I’ll be rich.” He rattled on and on about books and TV shows so I tossed the blanket back over him and went to work.

It was surprisingly easy to work given that my husband’s head and body had spontaneously divided. Hours went by where I didn’t think of him at all. Not that unusual on a normal day but obviously this was no normal day. I did think about calling once but then I wasn’t sure how or if he’d be able to answer the phone so I didn’t. Then I forgot about him until the drive home.

The freeway was slow because of an accident and as I inched along I started to feel guilty. How had Jeff and I gotten to a point where such a dramatic event didn’t evoke a bit of sympathy in me? Where had the love that we’d pledged to “tend so it might grow” in our wedding vows gone to? An ambulance whizzed by and I wondered about the victim of the crash up ahead. Did they have a partner? How would that partner react when they learned of the accident? I’m sure they wouldn’t laugh. I promised to be nicer to Jeff.

When I got home, some – but not by any means all – of his enthusiasm had dissipated. I took this as a good sign. I guess being trapped for ten hours by a light-weight fleece blanket had given him some time to contemplate the drawbacks of his condition. It was we, we, we now instead of I, I, I. “We’re going to be famous! We’ll write a book! We’ll go on TV. We’ll be the talk of the scientific community. Honey, could you tilt me up so I can see the TV? I don’t want to miss Jeopardy.”

It should have been exciting, I guess. My husband, the medical miracle. It was completely unexpected, that’s for sure. And I really felt like Jeff needed me for the first time in our relationship. But I’m not sure I was ever thrilled about it. 

There was a lot of teeth-brushing and hair-washing. I had to tote him from place to place. I had a special carrier constructed that looked like an oversized padded lunchbox with wire mesh for him to look through. I told the craftsman it was a travel house for my show Chihuahua. So he painted it pink, decorated it with sequins, and wrote Lola on the side because that was the first thing that came to mind when he asked me the dog’s name. I made sure Jeff never saw the outside of the carrier and for weeks the most pleasurable moment of my day was enclosing him in that little pink house to take him to work. 

For the first month, I kept Jeff under my desk at the office. He’d stopped working for obvious reasons. Actually he’d started seeing himself as some kind of hero for the people and wanted to fight for his rights as a differently-abled person. But I didn’t have time for all that. Money was tight. I needed payments from the disability insurance so I quit for him. I wrote his resignation letter and popped it in the mail. It wasn’t like he could do anything about it.

It was pleasant in a strange way having this person to talk to all day, this captive audience so to speak. But being bodiless hadn’t improved Jeff’s listening skills so most of the time it was me listening to this (literally) disembodied voice emanating from under my beige workstation. Whenever someone came up I’d give the box a little kick to shut him up and pretend like I was deeply involved in the papers on my desk.

It was during that time that we wrote our first article. I say we because without Jeff there was nothing to write about but it was me typing, me looking up words in the dictionary, me sending out the finished product and all this was after a full day at the office.

After the book came out, I quit my job to ferry Jeff from talk show to talk show, science lab to science lab. We made a lot of money and Jeff’s personal expenses were way down. Obviously there were no wardrobe worries and he doesn’t eat anymore. He just has to drink water now and then like a plant. Who knows how this thing works.

But I got the feeling that we were missing something, like we’d gotten the right answer on a test but didn’t know how. I first noticed it waiting in line at the grocery store — I still eat. There we were, me with a cart load of frozen dinners and Jeff in his pink porta-house eye to eye with a life-size image of his head on the cover of People magazine and he says, “Cool! The cover of People. Now that’s something.”  I’ll be honest. It annoyed me. Here is the universe trying to deal out a little poetic justice and it’s lost on Jeff. In fact, he’s enjoying it. Thriving even. Making gourmet lemonade from rotten lemons.

A few days later we were stuck in a traffic jam and he started yelling at me, yelling at my knees really because he was in his headbox on the floor of the passenger side. He’d told me to leave earlier and I hadn’t. I think he’s forgotten how long it takes people with bodies to get ready. So the whole time he was chewing me out, I was looking at the junk along the highway. I saw an old tire and wondered how long it had been there. Then I thought, If he doesn’t shut up, I will leave him and his stupid pink box next to that tire.

That same thought in various forms crept into my head almost everyday after that. I’d be thinking, I’d wish he’d just shut up. Then I’d see a worn cardboard box behind a dumpster and think, Maybe that’s a good spot.

I can’t say what finally pushed me over the edge, broke the Chihuahua’s back so to speak. In a lot of ways, things had improved. We had money. I was sleeping better because Jeff wasn’t waking up me with his midnight ponderings. Every night I’d place him on a pillow and we lay head by head. Sometimes I’d even tuck the blankets around him and imagine that the rest of him (long ago donated to science) was still there and that he might put his arm around me and pull me close. Very unJeff-like actually, not touching was closer to the real thing. I’d turn off the lights, put in earplugs, and let him gab away. He never realized I couldn’t hear him and it didn’t seem to matter.

            One of the strangest benefits of Jeff’s condition was that I was in terrific physical shape. An activist had written us a letter about how Jeff of all people should be a friend to the environment, using bikes and public transportation. He said that “Jeff, the Miracle Head” was really “Jeff, victim-of-weird-environmental-changes-brought-on-by-pollution.” Jeff went for it and so it was bikes and buses for us. In the beginning, I hated it but after a few weeks I noticed how great I looked and I was sold. 

Then about four weeks ago we were riding down Melrose, porta-house strapped to the back of my bicycle, Jeff prattling on to my butt about something and I noticed this little park. Actually I’d seen it before, but this time I noticed a cluster of bushes at the back corner and I thought, No one would find him there for days. So, without much thought, I did it. I unclipped the box, set Jeff in the bushes, and rode away. We weren’t even having a bad day. I guess I was thinking it would give me some time to myself. A few days of peace and quiet. Jeff was too stunned to say anything.

When the police came by yesterday, I was sure they were going to pick me up for murder or reckless endangerment of a head but they just wanted to return him. A homeless man found him three weeks ago, kept him for a few days and then turned him into the cops. As the officer passed the box to me he said, with a fair amount of disappointment, “He didn’t say a single word the whole time he was at the precinct.” It was as if he felt cheated, as if the whole thing was some kind of fraud. After the officer left, I waited for Jeff to explode but he didn’t. He didn’t say a single word. In fact, he hasn’t spoken at all since his return. Jeff, speechless. Very unJeff-like.

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