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The Broken Man

fork on top of dripping blood

Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

“Hello, Daniel. It’s good to see you.”

“Good evening, Doctor Sanders. I’m pleased you could make it here so late. I know my call was a bit sudden.”

“I’m happy to be here. I was a bit surprised to see your call. Our next session wasn’t scheduled for another month. That’s unusual for you.”

“Yes, well, I’ve been terribly busy, Doctor. A lot of ideas going off in my head. Like a warzone. And it’s become seriously urgent that I see you.”

“Of course. Uh, before we go any further I have to ask, do you mind if I record today’s session?”

“Oh yes, that’s quite alright.”

“Thank you. Okay, Daniel, what’s on your mind?”

“Quite a lot, Doctor. As I’ve grown older, I’ve collected a mountain of thoughts. Massive. And each day it’s growing harder to climb. But recently I think I’ve hit its summit. Yes I’m certain I have.

I’m a struggling man. Can’t say in all honesty I’ve struggled more than anyone else but I’m confident enough to say I’ve had some trouble. Most of my life I’ve dug into myself, searching for the root of my weed. I’ve tried to treat the soil every way a man knows how. But it’s never solved my trouble.

But finally I’ve come to understand a bit of truth about myself. I’ve come to accept that I’m broken.”

“Why do you say you’re broken?”

“People say I’m broken. Am I not?”

“That’s a very harsh word. There are things we all can improve on but no one’s broken.”

“Oh no. Call a spade a spade I say. No point trying to be sensitive about it. All my life people have told me I’m broken. Maybe not to my face anyway. But I’ve heard it from enough people to know when someone thinks it about me.

They say a man half my age should be married. At thirty he should have had his first kiss.

“Something must be wrong with you,” they say. “You’re broken.””

“Who says this?”

“Oh I believe it was one of my sisters. Family knows the most about you and all the ways you’re wrong. They’re like a radar to all your imperfections.

Anyway, I’m not married. Haven’t kissed anyone either. Ha! Nearly seventy-six and all. Love never really came to me. Probably because it knows better. Stay away from the rot and foul.

The funny thing is you can go your whole life just being respectable and yet they still call you broken. You don’t have to do anything. Sometimes it’s the not doing anything that makes you broken.”

“Do you feel there is something you should have done?”

“Oh sure, there are plenty of things. But then you wouldn’t seem quite so respectable and suddenly you’re broken. They say that’s being a coward. Oh yes, I’m a coward. I’m terribly afraid! But that doesn’t matter. It’s do or die out there.”

“Sometimes there’s a lot of pressure put on us.”

“Oh terrible pressure! Terrible! But I don’t blame the world. We were born to it so we should be able to bear its weight.

I know my faults, Doctor. I greet them every morning and bed with them every night. I also know the greatest problem with being broken is that you can’t stand the thought of trying not to be. That was me for nearly all my life. Too much work. And then no guarantee you’ll ever really come out quite right.

But I suppose I’m old now. Being by my end I’ve had plenty of thoughts to test. And I’ve become particularly wrapped by one of them. It deals with a broomstick. Now I’m not too sure who said it, but I remember hearing this idea somewhere in the middle of my life.

It goes like this: say you have an old broom with two parts, a head, and a stick. Now rather than going to the market to purchase a whole new broom all you have to do is replace the parts. So, you replace the head, first. And then once that’s fixed you replace the stick. Now you have a new broom!”

“I think you’re referring to Trigger’s Broom. It’s the same as the Ship of Theseus. Replacing a ship plank by plank.”

“Yes! Exactly!”

“But I don’t think that’s the point of the idea. It’s a question of whether or not the broom or ship is the same once you’ve replaced all of its parts.”

“Oh that doesn’t matter. It’s a broom, isn’t it? As long as it does what a broom should do then the problem’s solved.”

“I suppose. What made you think of this?”

“You think of a lot of things when that’s all you’ve got to do… But my idea, Doctor, is that we’re much like a broom. It’s hard to replace it all at once. And you might not get the broom you want. But piece by piece, that’s more doable.

So, I decided I’m going to fix myself, Doctor. Piece by piece.”

“That’s great, Daniel. How are you going to do that?”

“Well that’s the question I suppose. There isn’t quite a broom shop for people now is there? But then I realized that’s not true. In fact, the whole world is like a broom shop. I’d think in the many ways I’m broken, many more people are fixed. All I needed to do is find the people who are fixed right and put their parts in myself.”

“You mean acting in someone’s image? Following your inspirations?”

“Oh that’s a good word for it, Doctor. Yes, a lot like that.”

“And who inspires you?”

“A number of people I’d say. The difficulty is finding those who inspire me for the right reasons. To do that I’ve got to know what’s broken.

I’ve studied my parts, Doctor. Gave it a thorough examination. And I’ve come up with a list of all my broken pieces. The first piece, I believe, is my tongue.

All my life I’ve been awkward. Couldn’t quite say the things I wanted to. The words I meant never stayed the words they were. They’d jump around my brain but get fuddled on the tongue.

So I kept quiet mostly. But then when you keep quiet people think you’re broken. Deadly cycle, that.

My neighbor has a good tongue. Shelly. She could talk for hours and it wouldn’t tire. Always thought she was just a blabber mouth, but I admire the way she could always pull up a chat.

I think Shelly’s an inspiration. A tongue like that would fix me good.”

“I have to agree, Daniel. It seems like Shelly would be a great role model. And if I may be honest, it sounds like you’re already improving. You’re not usually this open to talking during our sessions.”

“Right! Well, I’ve already gone to put some of my thoughts to practice. I think that’s why I can speak so freely with you.

But I’d need to fix more than just my tongue. I think the other side to talking is how you listen. And I’d say I have a sort of selective hearing. It’s easy to ignore other people and their troubles. Sometimes your ears get so clogged you can only hear your own teeth. More than that, people can tell you what’s best to do but there won’t be a way to do it if you can’t as well hear it.

There’s a kind young lad who works at the grocery. He always would help me with my bags. Name’s Dillon, I think. He carries the salt all wrong, but I tell what’s right and he fixes himself. Very good lad. Good ears. Just the kind I would need.”

“Listening skills are important.” 

“Mhm. But all that goes best with perception. And mine’s not quite right either. I think it’s because I’m picky.

People say you should never settle. That you should be happy with where you are and where you’re going in life. Well I followed that idea. I knew what I wanted and so that’s what I aimed for. But I guess I aimed higher than I could reach. Left a lot of things to go under my nose.

I got stuck in that place. Between too high and too low. It became my normal. I settled with not being settled. There’s probably something to say in all that.

Anyway, never really had the eyes to see better. But my sister, she saw my whole life pass me by. She’d point it out to me every time. I didn’t have good ears then, of course. But she definitely has the eyes I’d need.

And those are my pieces, my broomstick if you will, that I had got to figure out. They were the pieces I had to fix.”

“It’s great you’re able to… reflect on yourself like that. The first step in solving anything is identifying the problem. Now that you have, what will you do?”

“Oh Doctor, I’m already on the track and running!

Now I realized I can’t very well put on new ears. I could train them of course. But it often takes a lot of learning for a pianist to know what notes are in tune. And I’m old and would sooner be dead than not broken that way.

A lot of our body grows and develops during our youth. It’s learning to take shape. But even after, it still grows and develops. And that development is set by a lot of things like your genes, health, and diet.

I remember once, when I was young, hearing about an ancient African tribe that had a unique way of passing on knowledge. You know what that was?

They’d eat brains…”

“Uh… I’m sorry, Daniel, I don’t think I follow.”

 “Oh I think you do, Doctor. You alter your nutrients and you alter your development. If I was going to fix my parts I was going to need to find some good ones to eat.”

“Daniel, this isn’t funny.”

“Well, I don’t think so. I was being quite serious.”

“What you’re talking about is criminal. It’s cannibalism. I won’t allow you to entertain these ideas. This is not good for you.”

“I hear what you’re saying. I really do. But what matter is prison to me? I’ll be dead in a bed either way. Back’s too old to tell the difference.

But also, Doctor… I’ve a little more than just entertained these ideas. I’m at the finish line, to be straight.”

“What… what are you saying?”

“I already took their parts…”

“No! It’s murder! Daniel, you’ve murdered them!”

Now, now, Doctor, don’t worry. It’s like I said, I don’t mind being put away. But I want to make sure I’m fixed before I do. And I really just want to talk to you. Get it all off my chest.”

“Daniel… you don’t want to do this. Put the gun away…”

“I will! I will, Doctor. I just really want to talk to you. You’re the only one I feel I can really speak my peace to. Just go on. Sit. Sit.”

“Okay…”

“Thank you.

It’s a messy business. I see that now. But even you yourself said I was better. It’s dirty. Really. But I did my best to keep it calm.

Shelly was sound asleep when it happened. Held a pillow on top of her. When it was done, I cut the tongue and cooked it on a skillet.”

“Oh my god.”

“Well hold on. Let me say it all.

I cut it into pieces. Thin slices. A tongue is mostly meat so give it a soft rub of salt and it’s really not too hard.

Dillon, I took, as he was lifting my bags. I parked behind the lot so no one would see. When he was busy with the load, I knocked him over and threw him in the trunk.

Now the ears I did wrong. I know that now. I tried it in the oven. Thought I’d make it like a crisp. But it was tacky and all together hard to chew down.”

“What did you- what did you do with him?”

“Oh he’s buried in my lot. Not too deep. I expect the police to find him quite right.

As for my sister, she was a bit stand-offish. Always suspicious of me. But I got her over on a visit. Hers was a bit messy. She wouldn’t drink the poison, so I had to use a knife. Then I took a spoon to the eyes and plup! They went along with some ice cream!

And that was that. I was content that I had fixed myself! No longer was I broken!”

“Daniel… you’re better than this! Why would you- how could you?!”

“It’s all rough. I know. But it had to be done. I couldn’t just stay broken.”

“You’re not broken, Daniel! You never were! These were innocent people. If I would have known you were going to- I could have helped you! I can still help you.”

“That’s very kind of you, Doctor. I’m glad you said that.

To be honest, I’m still having a struggle with it. I thought I did it all right, but I still feel wrong. Broken. I thought I might never be fixed.

But then one morning I woke up. And with my new eyes I saw the horrific scenes on the tele. With my new ears I heard the reporter’s sad voice. And everyone was saying whoever did this truly must be heartless.

And that’s when it hit me. The one piece I had yet to fix was my  heart.

That is why I had to see you, Doctor. Because I knew no matter what I did, what I’d say, you would always want to help me. I needed to see you, Doctor Sanders, because you have a very  good  heart…”