Some time ago, I discovered I was made of clay.
Not in the metaphorical sense, as in: ‘Recently, he’d realized his idol had feet of clay.’
It happened in the shower. I washed my hair, soaped and rinsed, and washed my face. Not wanting to leave the warmth of the water for the chill of the unheated house in winter, I lingered under the shower spray. I scratched my neck absent-mindedly, and dead skin accumulated under my nails.
‘Well,’ I thought, ‘no need to carry extra dead skin around.’ I scratched harder, making a red trail around my neck, letting the grey clumps wash down the drain, feeling the clean of fresh pink skin on the surface.
Several minutes passed, but I kept scratching. My head began to get heavy. My arms began to itch. I scratched my right upper arm, and flakes of grey, dead cells formed into little moon-shaped wedges under my nails. My nails, for that matter, seemed to be getting blunter, but I felt compelled to keep scratching.
Three hours later, I’d whittled myself down to an irregularly shaped humanoid. My right arm was completely gone, my head dangled fragilely by a 3-inch diameter of neck. I’d scratched random patches off my torso and legs. What had started as alarm and fear had quickly become morbid fascination. I consciously surrendered to whatever result would come of my continued scratching. What was my alternative anyway, now that only half of me remained?
Clumps of hair had started to detach, and these I plastered on the tiles in abstract, swirling designs. A sardonic, internal laugh bubbled up but didn’t escape as I imagined myself sculpting new art with old body parts. Movement became more and more challenging with each cubic millimeter that disappeared. Eventually, I had to sit down in the bottom of the tub.
After five hours, only about twenty pounds of my shoulders and head remained. I’d left my head for last, although I wondered if it mattered. By now, I’d realized the grey clusters of dead cells were merely bits of ordinary sculpting clay. Milligram by milligram, I was undoing the elaborate work that had gone into making me appear human for over thirty years, whoever that artist had been. ‘All things considered,’ I thought, ‘I’ve held up quite well.’
I couldn’t remember how I’d been brought to my existence. Had I been created by a person? A higher force? Were all people made of clay? Was it by design that I couldn’t remember (the forgotten trauma of childbirth, perhaps)? The questions jostled each other inside my head, but I couldn’t summon up much concern for the answers. I’d already washed 95% of myself down the drain. What did it matter what the answers were? The water had long since run cold, but that, like the questions, was only acknowledged from some distant place.
Eventually, as the last of myself was circling the drain, I became more and more aware of my existence on the molecular, then the atomic, level. I could sense the bits that had been washed away first, already at the sewage treatment plant, tenuously connected to the vaguely hand-shaped bit that remained on the shower floor. I was in a hundred million bits, but I could feel all of them. It was both exhilarating and liberating, but in a familiar and mild way, like your fifthieth bungee jump.
My thoughts, like my particles, got more and more diffuse. I don’t know how long things lasted this way – perhaps a day; perhaps a century – but eventually, I sensed something changing. It’s hard to explain, but it was like the hundred million little bits of consciousness started to drift from the hundred million little bits of clay that had been me. The bits of consciousness found other atoms and molecules to attach to – silicon and oxygen and other things. My consciousness drifted along currents, pipes, streams, rivers, until eventually I settled on a beach. I felt people’s footsteps around me, being sifted through small hands, the warmth of the sun and the cool of the ocean water. How long I stayed this way, I have no idea, but I relished the freedom from the constraints of time.
Since that time, the bits of my consciousness have been collected, all of which are sitting in a large box. The room is very hot. It’s strange, sitting here in infinitesimal and innumerable pieces, yet all together. I’m aware that I’m about to be made into a person soon, although whether I remember the journey, I don’t know. Whether I have been made of other things, I don’t know.
Sometime soon, I’ll forget that I’ll be made of glass.