FEATS OF STRENGTH by Brittney Uecker

Content warning: the following short story contains gore and references to bodily injuries.

This is unbearable pain. This is death. This is what it is like to die, and this is how I will die, pinned beneath this tree. I’m not even a naturey guy. This isn’t even my element. I had only ventured out on this path out of desperation, a crazed impulse. This is what it is to die alone, of my own stupidity or shitty fate, my guts squishing out of me like jelly from a donut.

Anica had finally done it—she had finally pulled the plug on our dying relationship. I knew she had been tossing around the idea for some time, dabbling in the fantasy of living untethered, no longer burdened by my unpredictable mental states, shit that she didn’t ask for. I knew her eyes had been peeled for a reason to leave. I guessed she had been waiting to fuck all the other guys in our apartment building. When the studio unit opened up downstairs, she jumped at the opportunity, a perfect excuse to bail on me while veiling it in, “Oh, Chris, I just need some space. I need to focus on my work. I need to know what it’s like to live alone.” 

So yesterday, she gathered a bunch of her burliest, manliest friends to come over to what was now only my apartment and help her move her things three floors and two halls down to her new, pretty studio. I watched in emasculated humiliation as their pumping muscles lifted her furniture, heaved her boxes and emptied her closets. Our life divided with surgical precision—half the silverware left in the drawer, a single plate and one pillow. She left the Xbox but took the TV—undue cruelty. I waited for one of the Incredible Hulks to pull out a saw and slice the sofa down the middle. 

 “I’ll only be downstairs,” she assured me half-heartedly once all her things had been cleared out, as if that would assuage the sting that was more like a gaping bullet hole, as if that would erase the pain. I’d never felt emotional pain manifest physically in quite the way that I did then, an overwhelming wave of nausea, vertigo like I had been punched in the ear, a cold sweat like a bucket of water being emptied over my head. I leaned over and vomited on the cheap linoleum of what used to be our kitchen floor. The sharp splat was followed by her groan of annoyance and the click of the door shutting behind her. Downstairs might as well be a different building, another continent, another planet, another dimension.

I thought that was pain.

When I woke this morning—”woke” a generous term, considering I hadn’t slept a wink—mania was starting to eclipse depression, my moroseness morphing into a sort of blacked-out desperation, true insanity. I need to get out, I told myself. I just need some sunshine. I need to get my blood pumping. I need to be outside. The rapid fire thoughts. I got in my car and drove to the state park on the edge of town. It was still sunrise, on a Wednesday no less, so the trail was empty and quiet. A healthy person would have called it serene. I walked the path and tried to clear my head, tried to empty my brain of the images of Anica’s molars when she laughed out loud, the condescending air of her reassurance, the barrel-chests of the men moving her shit. 

I didn’t know how long I’d been walking or in what direction. I could be on another coast at this point, on the fucking moon maybe. My legs were moving on their own accord, no cerebral involvement. I was so focused on forgetting, I didn’t notice the tree until it was on top of me. Maybe it was beetle rot or divine intervention or the cosmic bad luck of stepping on the wrong leaf at the wrong time, real butterfly-effect shit, but I almost missed the echoing snap, the whoosh of air, the sudden pressure like God holding my body in a vise. 

I felt a warm wetness dribble out of my ear and down my neck—blood. The rest of the pain was so complete and systemic that it all morphed into a single feeling. I couldn’t pick out any individual sensations—my powderized ribs, my pelvis in cracked ceramic chunks like pottery sherds, the slick squelch of my organs being pierced and penetrated. Only the warmth of life leaving my body.

I tried to will my arms to move, to summon some superhuman, panic-induced strength to lift the tree off of myself, but any conscious intentions were severed from the rest of my body. I thought of the men in the apartment, the ease with which they lifted all of Anica’s shit, their faces as calm as Hindu cows as they carried our life away. I wondered which one of them she would fuck first. I wondered which one of them she already had. 

I should have thought of her in that moment, of how much I loved her, tried to send a message of apology or devotion or desperation through the ether in my last dying moments. I thought of our empty apartment and how long it would be before anyone knew I was dead. I couldn’t move my arms, but in my last thoughts, I wrapped them around the trunk of the tree stacked on top of me, whose deadly power was not its fault, and forgave it. I thanked it. I kissed the bark and closed my eyes.

Brittney Uecker is a librarian and writer living in rural Montana who writes all lengths of fiction and dabbles in poetry. Her work is published/forthcoming by Waste Division, Stone of Madness Press, Second Chance Lit, and Pages Penned in a Pandemic. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @bonesandbeer.


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