by Andrew Wilmot
One night, thirteen-year-old Ned Powell is horrified to discover that his skin has taken on the physical properties of glass. Over the years, he finds himself resented by his father, coddled by his mother, rejected by society, and always on guard for the next devastating crack. In order to make peace with himself, Ned must overcome a fragility that goes much further than skin deep.
“An original, tender, metaphoric story about a man made of glass.”
— Steph VanderMeulen, Bella's Bookshelves
NED POWELL AWOKE FRIDAY morning at eight and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, rolling a viscous, snot-like clump between his fingers like it was putty. The first thing he saw, as he poured out of the bed he’d not slept in since he was a teenager, was the brush-stroke seam along his arm. It was where the model adhesive had set following his last break, three weeks, five days, eleven hours before.The point of contact was the forearm, just below the bend at the elbow, from a stone that had been kicked up by the deep tread of a passing pickup truck. Ned was lucky the damage wasn’t more severe. Though a couple of shards and some powder were lost on impact, it was all together nothing more than a few ounces to the breeze.
Still, he hated to remind himself, those ounces lost were ounces he’d never see again. All told, Ned Powell had permanently lost close to twenty pounds since he was a teenager, making him that much more flower-petal delicate. Surface shape and texture, splintered free from the whole, disintegrating into the ether.
IT WAS TWENTY-NINE years, four months, seven days, and sixteen hours since Ned first entered the world. Twelve years, eight months, and five days since Ned’s father, sobbing violently, his arms wrapped tight around the urn containing Ned’s mother, told his son he’d never make it to thirty—that he was too soft to survive without his mother to protect him.
At the time, seventeen-year-old Ned was determined to prove him wrong. Yet he found himself running later that same night when his father, drunk and still dressed in his funeral best, slumped down into the same wooden slat-backed kitchen chair in which his wife had sat clipping coupons every morning for the twenty-one years of their marriage, and started hurling ice cubes at Ned, one after the other, hoping to put a few chips—maybe even a crack or two—in his son’s brittle exterior. He connected twice. The first hunk of ice put a small V-shaped gash in Ned’s left shoulder. The second managed to shave an eighth of an inch of powder from his right ear.
One week later, Ned moved in with his aunt and uncle, who lived two towns over. He remained there until he finished high school, then made his way north for university and a job in a box in a building in the city.
It would be more than a decade before he returned home. It was to receive the urn that held his father’s ashes, which he placed next to his mother’s on the mantel above the small gas fireplace in their two-storey east end walk-up. Which was now his two-storey east end walk-up, which he didn’t want, and which, he promised himself, he would clean out and put on the market before the end of the day on Friday.
THE PHONE IN HIS parents’ bedroom started ringing. Ned quickly got to his feet and stumbled into the doorjamb as he moved. He put up a hand to steady himself, but was a half-second too late and chipped the outside edge of his palm on the weathered wood frame.
He knelt down and picked a small thin-crust wedge of glass from between two weed-like tufts of carpet. He inspected the jagged piece for a second before tossing it into the wastebasket around the corner.
The phone—a rotary ten years older than he was—was on the nightstand next to his mother’s side of the bed. He got to it by the fourth ring, lunging for the receiver before the answering machine could kick in.
“Hello?” he said.
“Ned?” said an elderly woman on the other end of the line. “Neddy, is that you?”
Ned pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, Aunt Carol, it’s me.”
“Ned, I want to talk to your father. Is he there?”
“No, Aunt Carol. Dad’s dead, remember?”
“He’s dead? Well when the hell did that happen?”
“Last week. When Uncle Ross called and told me to come down for the funeral.”
“He did? That old bugger, he didn’t tell me! Why am I always the last to learn these things?”
“You were there, Aunt Carol.”
“What?” she shrieked. “No I wasn’t. I couldn’t have been. I’d have—I’d have—”
“You were. You wore your black-and-orange dress. The one with the sequins.”
“I-I did? Oh… okay. Did I look nice?”
“You looked like an overstuffed Jack-o’-Lantern.”
“Ned? Neddy? Boy, it’s good to hear your voice again. Listen, is your father there?”
Ned clenched his fist around the receiver. He felt the beginnings of a pressure crack veining his palm. He forced himself to calm down, to breathe deep and count to—
“No, he’s not, Aunt Carol.”
“Oh. Well what about your mother? Is she there?”
Ned quietly put the receiver back in its cradle, then reached down and unplugged the cord from the wall. He’d seen the first glimpses of Aunt Carol’s Alzheimer’s when he was a teenager, in the months he’d lived with her and Uncle Ross. Back then it had seemed like nothing more than standard age-related memory loss. Over time, however, the gaps in who she was and the life she’d led grew from small fissures to ever-widening black holes where information and names and places went to die. She even forgot about Ned’s condition.
ONE NIGHT, THREE WEEKS after his thirteenth birthday, Ned got hard and stayed that way. The skin of his chest started to prickle and grow firm in the early morning hours. Drowsy and half-dreaming, he thought maybe a spider had crawled between his sheets and bitten him on the sternum. But when Ned moved his hand across his chest to scratch the point of irritation, he felt his fingers strike something smooth and slick, felt his nails glide silently over a surface he knew, immediately, was wrong. He threw back his sheets to look down at his torso, and saw the stars and the moon on the surface of his body—reflections from outside his bedroom window. He saw his heart and his organs beating, churning inside of him, housed by skin as transparent as glass.
Ned could not remember precisely what happened next. He could not recall the deafening scream that woke both his parents, nor could he picture the veil of white panic that fell over his mother’s face, causing her to faint at the sight of her son’s new skin.
Ned’s father, ignoring his son’s continued shouts of terror and confusion, picked his unconscious wife up off the ground, carried her from the bedroom, and pulled the door tight. “You’re just lucky she’s man enough for the both of you,” he said to Ned the next morning.
about the author
ANDREW WILMOT is a writer, editor, and artist living in Toronto, ON. He is a graduate of the SFU Master in Publishing program and spends his days writing a lot and painting stupidly large pieces. He currently works as a freelance reviewer, academic editor, and substantive editor with several independent presses and publications. To date his work has been published in Found Press, The Singularity, Glittership, Drive In Tales, and Turn to Ash, and he was the winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest. His first novel, The Death Scene Artist, will be published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak & Wynn, in Fall 2018.
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