What a Human Body is Made Of

By Aileen Robinson

Untitled emerges from the concerned press of relatives surrounding him. Swiftly he steps out round the back of the family house. He presses his black shoes into soft marsh, slowly picking his way towards the familiar woodshed. He enters feeling the comforting invasion of aromatic wood permeate his nostrils. The floor is softened by wood shavings trampled into the earthen floor. His wet shoes gather up the tiny pieces as he paces round the edge of the room. He lets his fingers lightly brush against the walls, tracing them across wood as he walks. Logs are stacked pushing upwards towards the low-raftered roof. Untitled turns toward the chopping block which sits colossus-like in the middlemost point of the room. Solid and unyielding. He squats to clasp his arms around it, leaning into its solid presence. He squashes soft cheek onto soft bark. Untitled wishes he could sit here forever fending off that expectant reality continuing outside. Everything in his family home is so oddly familiar. Sights, smells and sounds penetrate his mind evoking his mother at every turn no matter how hard he tries to avoid her.

Untitled means to leave, to return to the black-garbed relatives waiting for him. But he stops and fingers the edge of a dog-eared cardboard box. His hands begin to root through its contents touching upon the edges of bicycle parts, juggling balls, a mouldering playing card. Each familiar item gently prods a boyhood memory. He tugs at these remembrances unsettling them from the corners of his mind. The hours he spent with his brothers playing here on the compact, dusty floor. They disposed of their youthful energy with games of catch, marbles and conkers. As his mind skates through these recollections, his fingers continue to explore the box. He pulls out a twisted mass of wires each strand linking together five wooden balls. Deftly unhooking the tangled wires he lifts the model before him. Five coloured orbs hang trembling in the light breeze creeping up from under the doorway. Untitled can feel the past drawing him down, rushing up to meet him in a whirl of sensation. Clamping his hand around a heavy stool he drags it to face the chopping block. He sits. His fingers skim the block’s smooth surface; he lets his index finger circle the rings. Counting from its dark centre to the outermost edge. He again lifts the model before him.

He is seeing beyond it to a bright rainy day where his wet feet are chasing a farm cat into the woodshed. The boy Untitled stops abruptly finding his mother there, her hair tied back, her strong arm swinging an axe high in the air. Untitled startles her. As she brings the axe down she involuntarily turns and it glances off the edge of the log sending shards of wood flying through the moist air. He turns to examine her face, but she lets out a short laugh and he answers with a giggle. She returns to her work and he, cat forgotten, perches on a woodstack his bare legs dangling. His mother’s arm is strong as she swings the axe round and down, round and down. Untitled swings one foot high, spreading his toes, watching her through them. He squints bringing his foot in and out of focus with each axe blow. Wood shavings stick to the damp skin. The man Untitled sits pushing his toes to the edges of his black shoes, spreading them against hard leather. He hears the crack as the log splits each side tumbling to the ground with the force of the blow. The boy asks his mother,

“What’s in my body?”

She returns, “Well… Skin, bones, that apple you ate this morning.”

Dissatisfied, he asks again, “No, no! I mean what’s in a body? What’s it made of?”

And so his mother shows him. Taking a halved log they cut off five chunks then whittle them down into round spheres. They colour them blood red for oxygen, milky-white for hydrogen, bold blue for nitrogen, silver-grey for calcium and the dark black for carbon. Linking them together with wire his mother turns flourishing the model before his impatient eyes.

“This is what a human body is made of,” she says.

Untitled is drifting now, outside of his body, flying through the cosmos of his past pulled on by some mysterious current. He sees his frail, aged mother before him no longer able to recall her memories. She is grappling with each thought, tightening her fingers around them as they melt away into the blackness. She forgets him, forgets herself when faced with that great blank void. Alone now, he is the one floating untethered through the darkness. Aching for her touch, for her assurances. He wishes he could communicate his despair to her, his own bewilderment for the universe before him. Without warning the atmosphere shifts. Untitled becomes aware of his mother’s presence somewhere ahead of him in the darkness. He stretches across the vast expanse, his every molecule straining to meet her. At last, he reaches her solid presence and exhausted leans into it. The relief unlocks him. Untitled unfurls tentatively accepting the vast emptiness stretching out before them. This time they travel through it together. Companionably they overcome the lonely darkness.

Untitled turns and sees his body. It sits far below him dangling the model in one hand. She tells him to return to it, to leave this place and her, to recall himself to life. He exerts his mind trying to evoke the vivid sensations of the body. The aroma of chopped wood, his toes pressing leather, fingers gripping cool wire. He grasps into the depths pulling onto these strands of reality with all his strength. Untitled begins to feel fingers stretching across smooth, cool wood. His eyes peel open, the room spins in one definitive turn, and the world unfolds itself before him. He blinks in the face of its startling clarity. Feeling her loss, feeling at home.

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