HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.
Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…
Self-Portrait in Metal Chair
With enough time and repetition, the body and mind can get used to anything.
This is how it was with you. At first, I had no idea what things would be like. Everything was stripped off of me, including my hair. I remember sitting there in the metal chair and looking in weary disbelief at the wispy clumps on the floor. I felt strangely lighter without my locks, but I wasn’t deluded enough to think this any kind of liberation. I had nothing left to give up and the fragments of hair only served to reinforce my position.
I was put into clothes that were plain, functional, and nondescript; a cross between scrubs and coveralls. I was placed in a cell with an icy, sterile floor and a ceiling light that shined unrelentingly. I sat down in the corner with my arms around my knees. My head was cold and my body shivered.
Food came at regular intervals and that timing became my first sense of rhythm in my new surroundings. I couldn’t rely on circadian rhythms now that I could not see the sun or its absence. The food had no taste and I was unaffected.
The first time I saw you I regarded you as anyone else, nothing special. You dragged me from the cell as others had done, placed me on the metal chair, and interrogated me in the same dispassionate manner with the same inflectionless tones. I was taken back to the cell with the usual complement of cuts and bruises.
But you came back the next day. The whole of yesterday was repeated.
You came back the next day and the next day. I was yours. We were integral parts in each other’s daily routines. I longed for a more concrete time reference so I could anticipate your arrival. Sometime after what I thought was the first meal of the day: that was the best I could estimate. I waited agonizingly for your silent entrance, when you would pull me to my feet and escort me to the room with the metal chair. Your hands were my only human contact; the food was slipped through a slot so I could not even see those hands. As you restrained me to the metal chair each day, I wondered if you noticed that there had become no resistance. Your touch was my only touch and I craved it.
One day I was ripped out from my cell by someone else. I was placed in a holding area and I was too disconsolate to pay attention to what was happening. I was put on a train with others and somewhere between struggling with the loss of you and comprehending their existence, which seemed now so alien, I heard words like “freedom” and “liberation” and “home.” Apparently, the motherland wanted her children back (or just didn’t want them to talk).
I followed the others off of the train in a comfortable line but then everyone dispersed madly. I was confused and the long-denied sunlight added to my disorientation. I vaguely recognized my hometown but I couldn’t remember exactly where I had lived so I wandered the rubble-laden streets for what seemed like hours. I saw people whom I thought I knew but they surely would not recognize me, so I kept going. Exhausted, I sat down behind a mass of broken cement and twisted iron. I put my arms around my knees and rested my naked head. I thought of my first day in the metal chair and as I pictured my hair on the floor I realized that I could not simply glue it back onto my head.
JENNIFER DUNIFON is a cardiovascular technologist in central Florida.