Episode #31: “Parts” by Paul Lorello

January 11, 2017

Parts

by Paul Lorello

I honestly don't think anyone on Earth was ever happier than Jake was when Bobo Schmuley's index finger arrived by Special Courier on Tuesday. I was the one who got stuck signing for it and paying the non-breakability reward while Jake stood right there in the sub-cooler, jumping up and down and slapping at his sides.

I held the parcel out at him. He grabbed it hungrily and tore it open and he took out Bobo Schmuley's finger and held it up to the light and turned it around—this pallid, hairy thing, stubbier than I thought it would be. He smiled, and I'll confess now that it gave me a soft spot to see him made so happy by simple pleasures. He'd make up for it by the end of the week, but I did have that one soft spot at that moment.

 

Full transcript after the cut.

 

[Intro music plays]

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip, episode 31 for January 11, 2017. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you.

Before I get started, I'd like to let you know about a slight format change for GlitterShip. If you enjoy listening to GlitterShip via podcast or reading the fiction on our website as the stories are released, don't worry! That's not going to change. However, GlitterShip's stories will be released in 4 seasonal issues per year starting this month with Winter 2017. These issues will be available to purchase at the beginning of the season in EPUB, MOBI and PDF format and will include three months' worth of stories. If you like what we do here and would like to support GlitterShip, as well as get an electronic copy of the stories to keep, check out GlitterShip.com/buy.

Our story this week is a GlitterShip original: "Parts" by Paul Lorello.

Paul Lorello is a freelance writer from Ronkonkoma, New York. His fiction has appeared in Big Pulp's Kennedy Curse anthology, Black Chaos: Tales of the Zombie, Membrane, The Big Adios, Way Out West, and Pseudopod. In 2014, the Pseudopod podcast of Paul's story, "Growth Spurt", was chosen as the winner of the coveted Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction Short Story. Paul lives with three quadrupeds and one biped. He knows very little about everything.

 

 

Parts

by Paul Lorello

 

 

 

I honestly don't think anyone on Earth was ever happier than Jake was when Bobo Schmuley's index finger arrived by Special Courier on Tuesday. I was the one who got stuck signing for it and paying the non-breakability reward while Jake stood right there in the sub-cooler, jumping up and down and slapping at his sides.

I held the parcel out at him. He grabbed it hungrily and tore it open and he took out Bobo Schmuley's finger and held it up to the light and turned it around—this pallid, hairy thing, stubbier than I thought it would be. He smiled, and I'll confess now that it gave me a soft spot to see him made so happy by simple pleasures. He'd make up for it by the end of the week, but I did have that one soft spot at that moment.

Jake had about sixteen more bids on other parts of Bobo Schmuley. He feverishly browsed them, like watching all these little pots of water set to boil. I failed to mention that this was merely his latest acquisition. That more of Bobo Schmuley was gathered up in a stoneware bowl in Jake's room. They listed the items for auction piecemeal. Bit by bit, as it were. Whet the appetites of folks like Jake for as long as they possibly could, issuing little teasers on newstables and crawl signs, a scroll on the side of a community car—as if the community car industry hadn't already sold out—Bobo Schmuley's Uvula Coming Soon! Or something like that. The heads would turn and suddenly there would be this electric buzz in the air. And then would come sounds from the detractors, who blow these little horns that go skeeeeeet, as they shout their little slogans. I was always one with them in spirit, though I always knew enough to keep my gob stopped. Get a few detractors who'd been sniffing Sour Air and mix them up with these fervent Schmuley devotees and you've got yourself a riot, my friend. Add to that a heat index of 123 Fahrenheit and the thing becomes not so much a war as an unbearable nuisance, with a lot of screaming and fainting and throwing up and very little progress in terms of one side triumphing over the other.

I also didn't mention that this was about the time that I started conversing with Jake seriously on the subject. "This will be over sooner rather than later," I said. "Sooner or later," I said, "they'll run out of Bobo Schmuley. Then what will you do?"

He ignored me the first few times I brought it up. Then it started getting to him. He'd rub at his little frozen blue nose and then the teeth and the fists would clench and the eyes would widen and he'd start to tremble all over. I have to admit I found it amusing. He knew it. It made him angrier.

But he kept on. I couldn't understand why. It's not like he'd ever have a complete Bobo Schmuley. No one would. There was only one, and they were going to run out of him soon. Sure, there were counterfeits out there, but they were easy to spot. Easy for Jake, that is, and anyone else who was serious about collecting.

 

Here's what happened. A day or so later, Jake came in and started rummaging through the kitchen chest freezer, torso deep.

"That's not sanitary," I called to him. He ignored me.

His legs flailed around, flopping sort of, like a fish or that Sloppy Epileptic toy that people were all up in a tizzy about a couple of years ago.

It's technic, stupid hectic,

Mucho apoplectic

Sloppy Epileptic!

Whooooooo?

Sloppy Epileptic!

Batteries not included.

So I got up. "You do realize you're making an unholy irritant of yourself." And that's when I saw he had a screwdriver in his hand and was chipping away at the rime on the inside of the chest. His mouth was open and his teeth were clenched and he was breathing in gusts and tears and there was spit flying onto the fishstick boxes.

"Fuck you, Miles," he said, chipping with his syllables. "Fucking. Unit. In the. Sub. Cooler is. Fucked. Fuck. Fuck you."

And it didn’t take a brain surgeon to understand, because he kept his parts in the sub-cooler and there was going to be Holy Hell on Earth if they spoiled. I looked through the sub-cooler window and saw a thin fog forming in splashes across it. The real problem was that we spent most of our daylight hours in the sub-cooler. To hell with his parts. To hell with Bobo Schmuley. Of course I didn't say this.

Jake stabbed a coil or something because all of a sudden the room was flooded with this hammy smell of leaking coolant gas.

"Now you done it! Now you went and messed up our cooler and messed up our whole apartment with that stink!"

He dropped the screwdriver into the chest and used both of his chunky hands to gather up the shards of ice he'd managed to free, cursing the whole way because the cold was stinging his fingers. He ran into the sub-cooler and I watched him through the window. He stood before the bowl, looking panicked. Then he dropped the ice pieces next to his bowl of parts and then took off his shirt, laid it next to the bowl, and carefully placed his collection of parts onto it. Then he gathered up the ice and dumped it hastily into the bowl and carefully lifted the shirt and put it on top of the ice. This endearing combination look of satisfaction and triumph and relief came over his face, and he wiped his hands on his pants, then looked around as if there was another shirt in there somewhere. Then he came out.

"That was absolutely poetic," I said.

He pointed at the room, his mouth a rictus. He looked through the window, I guess to make sure he was pointing in the right direction, then looked back at me. "The fucking unit."

"I know," I said. "And now take a whiff."

He did so. "What's that?"

"Coolant. And you're coming with me to go buy another chest. And you're gonna go halfsies on it."

"What about the sub-cooler?" he said, defeated.

"I might be able to fix it. But get your shoes on."

And so we went out to the community car stop and there was this argument in process. Two sourheads were screaming at a young woman with a daisy graft on her chin.

Daisychins were, in those days, by and large, crazy about parts, and this one probably made an excited comment about an upcoming release, incurring the wrath of the sourheads.

Jake took her side, and I had to take his. And now it was three against two. Two sourheads, that is, which is like arguing with four regular people, each of whom speak a different language.

They said that Bobo Schmuley probably wasn't a real guy anyway. And they said that Bobo Schmuley's best parts were all taken and all that was left were grubs and inferior arteries and so forth. And anyway, they said, get a life. And besides, they said, agents of the everclear are everywhere. Their go-to slogan.

I agreed with them silently.

One of the sourheads lunged forth to bite Jake's face. I swatted at him. Probably not the best idea, as now we'd drawn a crowd. And as luck would have it, a community car rolled by and scrolled another message about Coming soon! Bobo Schmuley's Liver! Bid or Be Smashed! And someone shouted that there was absolutely no way there was a liver up for grabs. Jake and the daisychin were red in the face. Redder, that is. We were all red in the face. And we were all sweating profusely out there. Community car stops have no coolers.

I put my hands on Jake's shoulders in an attempt to reel him in. His muscles were ropey and tense.

"Miles," he screamed at me. That's all he said. Then he turned to the sourheads. "Goddammit, go back to Wildwood!"

Wildwood was a low-income suburb in those days. The phrase "Go back to Wildwood" was a terrible insult back then.

There was this eerie, momentary calm, the kind that is usually needed once class warfare is invoked, so that everyone can consider where they stand.

The sourheads pulled out these homemade whizzers that sparked when they switched them on, and that spat sparks intermittently all over the place. And I said, "Now, hold it." And I put up a hand.

That's when someone blindsided one of the sourheads with a fist in the ear. I heard a whizzer amp up and the subsequent shaky squeal from its target. The car stop suddenly looked like it looks when a cyclone hits a grain silo. It looked exactly like that. I managed to pull Jake out of that mess.

We didn’t talk at all for the rest of our errand. We got the chest and scheduled a Special Courier delivery and went halfsies on the price. I had to spot Jake his half because he went and bought a new stoneware bowl for his parts. I should probably say here, though I probably don't need to, that I hated how Jake just threw the parts into a stoneware bowl without bothering to display them. What good is it if you don't display your collection to its best advantage? But that's the way it was with parts, I found out. Most people who collected them just threw them into a bowl.

 

I couldn't fix the element in the sub-cooler. Which meant that it would be a good week we'd have to spend in the heat. Jake was especially sheepish about it when he asked me if we could please keep his parts in the new chest freezer. I couldn't say no. The last thing I needed was to have him blowing hairs off my head about his parts going warm. For lack of a better thing to do, and a little out of curiosity, I went to help him transfer them from their little stoneware home in the ever-warming sub-cooler to the new freezer. Jake was ecstatic beyond measure to be doing this. He proudly exhibited his parts, holding them regally as he marched them from room to room. I thought they were rather pathetic, particularly for their unremarkability. Nowhere was there an ear or a tongue or a tooth. Nothing really any average person could name save for the sole finger, which was truly his most prized possession among a bleak and withered assortment of muscles, tendons, and odd, jigsaw cuts of membrane.

And here's what had happened. In the altercation at the comcar stop the day before, one of the sourheads had dropped an air cap. I saw it gleaming on the ground there like a little bullet and I snatched it up. I'd always wanted to try Sour Air, and anyway it was just one cap. And when we were done transferring the parts and Jake was brushing his hands together for a job well done, I went into my cube and got out the cap and huffed it. Good and deep.

Sour Air is elegantly poor, like cheap aftershave.

And when I came back into the room, I saw Jake standing there with the freezer open, smiling down on his parts like a proud papa.

"You're never going to have the whole person," I said. The Sour Air was making me itch all over on the inside. "And anyway you keep ruining our days with those things."

I was not at my most eloquent, but I honestly don't think anyone could be so in my situation.

Jake bit his upper lip and breathed through his nose and then he turned his back to me. Then he shook a little and whipped around in a frenzy. "You prove to me they aren't him!"

I had said nothing about them not being Bobo Schmuley. And I told him so.

"Fuck you, Miles," he said, fully composed. "I always figured you for a detractor."

The drug was a wonderful thing, for it evened me out where I needed it. "Let's talk this over in the sub-cooler," I said calmly. "It's warming up, but it's a lot better than standing out here."

He was cowering beneath me.

I said, "Jake, it's a beautiful day outside."

He said something about me not knowing what I was talking about. I found I was okay with that.

"Jake, you are parts obsessed, and it has to stop."

I had blood on my hand. Under my nails.

 

And then what happened was I was waking up someplace else. I was in the sub-cooler, and it was dark, and I was lying down, and Jake was sitting next to me and cradling his wrist and weeping silently.

I won't go through the whole scenario, only that Jake told me through his tears that I'd been screaming nonsense when I grabbed his wrist and tore it open with my nails, and I said the most awful things to him and about his parts.

His sobs got heavier. "I... felt like... I was... dying... inside... when you... did... that..."

I sat up. My head screamed in pain and there was a dull buzzing or ringing inside there somewhere, fading as if attached to a dream. I caressed the back of his neck and he shriveled up and then let go all at once, sobbing miserably. I think I was crying too. I don't remember. It was a terrible day that ended in a terrible night.

I woke up the next morning and Jake was still asleep, curled up like a dog next to me. We were both drenched in sweat. The browser wall lit up with a silent message that said Jake had won another auction. A five-inch sliver of Bobo Schmuley's right shoulder blade would be arriving soon. I had a tough time deciding whether to wake him or let him sleep, trying to think which would be worse. I came to the conclusion that letting him sleep through it would be worse, but I didn't want to wake him. I didn't want to have to get excited about parts. I was through pretending.

 

The next day was when the bad stuff happened. Jake's new part arrived. The Special Courier was a snarling thing that stunk of Sour Air and chicken scat.

Special Couriers get bad press so often it's hard not to join in sometimes.

I gave the parcel to Jake. He kept his head down when he grabbed it from me, and he took it into his cube in the sub-cooler.

About an hour later he emerged with this dour look on his face. He pointed behind him. "Scapula," he said. Then he slunk back into his cube. A minute or two later, I heard him call.

"Come in here, Miles. It's highly probable that I don't know what I'm talking about."

Grudgingly I went, knowing full well it would come to no good end. Jake was holding up two identical pieces of bone.

"It can't be a dupe," he said.

"They're the same," I said. "A scapula is – what do you call it? What do you call something that's different when it's either left or right?"

He shifted his gaze from one part to the other.

"Well, that does it then," I said, and I left him there.

The heat was unbearable. The sub-cooler regulator part was due to arrive in six days. We bought a couple of ice dollies to sleep with. That helped a little.

Sometime the next afternoon, I realized Jake had not spoken to me for the past twelve hours. I guess you don't pay any attention to certain things you'd rather not admit to, or maybe there is a superstitious wrinkle in all of us that makes us afraid to notice something for fear that it may not actually be there. Whatever the case, I was grateful for Jake's silence. I could keep to myself and read, and sniff Sour Air – I neglected to mention that I ordered a case of caps the day after my first experience with the stuff. It came later on in the day. The package had been tampered with and the case was three caps short. It's no secret that Special Couriers palm a couple here, a couple there. I filed a euthanization request against the Special Courier that delivered the parcel. Back then, you still had to submit euthanization requests in person. I was lucky that I didn't have to wait long on line. I'd heard horror stories.

I should hear back in four weeks to schedule my secondary assessment exam. By then I probably won't be interested anymore.

I looked up and there was Jake holding a piece of ice to his lip, tears streaming down his doughboy face.

 

The air made me not care about Jake so much. It even gave me a strange confidence about the future—and I know why it is that sourheads are often regarded as psychics.

But then I saw him standing there with a bag of stuff

packed. And I looked and the new stoneware bowl was gone. I didn't want to look in the new freezer, but I did. He watched me look and he didn't say anything.

I brought him into the sub-cooler and told him to sit.     

"Jake, this is all about parts, isn't it? Parts caused all this. And now parts are gonna end it. I'll collect them with you, and we'll start new, OK? We'll make it like nothing ever happened, and your wrist and your lip'll get better and there'll be parts for everyone, right? Bobo Schmuley forever, and all that?"

He breathed through his nose. It looked as though acquiescence was trying to escape in a sneeze. "Mm-mm, no. No."

"Come on, Jake. Be a man."

"No. You don’t get it. Because underneath it all, you don't believe. And you hit me."

I went to take his head but he shrunk away. "I'm sorry I tore your wrist and hit you in the face, Jake."

He didn't respond to that, and it made me more ashamed to look at him. I was thinking maybe the air caps were a bad idea to begin with, as it amplified every emotion. So I decided never again with those blasted things.

"I'm moving out, Miles."

"Don't do that," I said, huffing another cap.

"No, I can't stay. You hate me enough to want to do some serious damage like this." Here he fingered the medi-skin patch on his wrist.

There was a buzz of hate and fear inside me. "Who's going to take care of you?"

"Don't worry about me," he said. "I won't be hurt anymore by you, and that's all that matters right now. All's I know is I can’t stay here." Here he started to cry. His chin was on his chest.

I told him the sub-cooler part was coming soon.

"You can abuse me all you want, but don't tell me my parts aren't from the real man."

I know I shook my head to this.

Jake rubbed his eyes with the collar of his dingey shirt. "I've been doing a lot of mulling over this the past twenty-four. Miles, if you're gonna get along in life, you have to understand something..." He took a couple of long, clear breaths with no sob-sucking in between. "You can't tell me, or anyone for that matter, that their parts don't belong to anyone. Because if there isn't a name attached, it's just parts. Y'understand? Without a name, we're all just parts. Do you understand?"

I needed some more air, and even while I squirmed, he even had the audacity to put his hand on my arm. "Do you understand, Miles?"

I thought about it for a moment. "Then I'll kill you," I said, "and sell your parts under the name Bobo Schmuley."

It was a terrible thing to say. I wish I hadn't said it.

Jake left. He hasn't been back.

I hadn't known he was capable of this.

I'm scared he's gonna be hurt out there. I'm afraid he'll get killed. And I'm afraid to find out if he does. And I don't ever want to hear about parts.

END

 

“Parts” is copyright Paul Lorello, 2017.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

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Thanks for listening, and I’ll be back soon with a reprint of “The Subtler Art” by Cat Rambo.

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