Stronger Than Stitches, Stronger Than Glue by Joely Dutton

Lorna was eager to see Kris’ sleepy head still in bed, back at her flat. Her boyfriend had stayed the night and taken the day off work to wait there until they could celebrate her last exam together.

Leaving the morning exam, past the buzz of students talking outside the hall, she strode all limbs and intention. But when she arrived home ten minutes later, Kris’ head was the only part of him she could find.  His saddened face on a dismembered head, saying a defeated hello.

Kris explained to her from his spot on the pillow that he had no idea where his body had gone, or how he might get it back. He just woke up like this.

Lorna said nothing while he spoke. She focussed on the words coming from Kris’ head and the sensation of her blood trickling into retreat. Her horror was tempered by concern though; she’d make him feel worse if she screamed or sobbed.

‘God…’ she said instead, ‘I bet you’re thirsty’ and she lifted him palms to jawbones from the bed over to the dressing table while she went to fetch water and a straw.

They’d never said I love you.  Three months had seemed too soon, and Lorna wondered as the tap gushed whether it was a good job they hadn’t. Nothing tied her to this situation. Her head was intact with her body.

She returned to the bedroom dresser and fed the stripy straw into Kris’ mouth.

Watching him drink through the straw reminded her of the time they drank mojitos, when nightclub UV highlighted bits of mint leaf between their teeth. The hours they spent dancing that night. The sex sabotaged by rum in the early hours.

God, no sex, she thought.  No hugging.  No holding hands.  Where’s the affection with just a head?

‘Don’t cry, gorgeous’ Kris said, rejecting the straw with pursed lips. His eyes were untainted by the change.  ‘It’ll be okay’.

The way he spoke to her was warmer than a squeezed knee, sweeter than lying together under sheets.  Lorna sighed and her shoulders dropped.

I could look after him here, she thought.  He doesn’t take up much room, I don’t think my flatmate would complain.  He could fit in a large handbag on outings.  As long as I left it open.

She leaned over and kissed him.

Being careful not to stumble, or drop him, Lorna took Kris into the living room.  ‘We need to move around, change what you see.  It’s bad to be inactive’ she said, transferring him to the crook of one arm while she switched on the radio with the other. ‘I’ll go to the shops tomorrow and buy a papoose’

‘Okay. Thanks Lorna.’

She ruffled his thick hair before using both hands again to turn his face upward to hers.  His nose was twitching.  Twice to the left.  Twice to the right.  Twice to the left again.

‘Are you okay?’ she said.

‘Yeah.  Dancing.’

‘For fuck’s sake Kris, I thought you were having a funny turn.’

‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘Or my head is good, at least’.

The afternoon dissipated with smoke as they watched cookery programmes together, Kris cushioned on Lorna’s lap. She passed the joint down to him without looking away from the TV, feeling for his lips with her smallest finger. When she realised daylight had inched from the room, Lorna got up to switch the lights on. The world still turned as before, and it emphasised the point with red skies.

Kris stayed over at the flat again, cocooned with Lorna in his new state. He didn’t tell his housemates about losing his body. Not yet.  He asked Lorna to text one of them on his phone for him.

‘Not coming home tonight…’ she read as she typed, ‘I’m not dead… With Lorna…  Cos she’s amazing… Send.’

‘They know you’re writing that Lorna.’

‘Don’t pretend you don’t tell them all the time’ she said, flicking his ear lobe.

‘Not sure what I’ll tell work tomorrow.’

Kris worked at the local foundry, loading furnaces. Casting moulds and using power tools. They were less likely to sack him for a no-show than if he turned up to his shift on time, with too few body parts to do any of it.

‘Work schmerk.’ Lorna said, though her stomach weighed molten-metal heavy. She wondered how Kris felt his worry now, with no gut there to demonstrate it.

Lorna placed Kris on the bathroom window sill to brush his teeth, picked him up to spit, and carried him back to the bedroom pillow.  She climbed into bed beside him, pulling the duvet up to his chin to tuck in the body that didn’t exist anymore. With her bedsheets there it was almost like nothing was missing.

She placed her own, attached head on the pillow beside him and they watched each other, resisting gentle blinks as long as they could.

When Lorna’s eyes closed, she dreamt about the anime Kris had drawn on her revision notes; the swoosh of his corduroy jeans when they’d walked along the river. Indelible moments together that wouldn’t be cut or washed away.


Joely Dutton’s short fiction was long-listed in the Ellipsis Flash Collection competition, and has appeared most recently in The Molotov Cocktail and Jellyfish Review. Say hello @JoelyDutton.