Coming Apart
Anthony Woodlief

I saw a screw as I waited to cross the grey slush-covered street that surrounds my building like a moat. It was a hex-head screw lying on the section of the curb sloped for wheelchairs and the people who don't like to lift their feet. I walked across the street and into the cavern that houses the subway and onto the subway. I stood up close to a door on the left side, so close that my breath blew mist on the glass. Some people don't know the left doors won't open again for three stops and so they stand in the crowded center. I always stand beside the left doors because three stops brings my stop.

I looked down and saw another screw by the door, this one long and skinny and not suited to hold together anything on the subway. Perhaps it had fallen from someone's bag or pocket or maybe it had been cast out by all the other screws on the subway because it clearly did not belong. It waited like me, huddled against that door and not looking anywhere but at the door, for it to open again. When it opened I would get out, but that screw, that screw would lie there until it could bury itself in the crevice of someone's sole. Then it would ride until it was thrown off.

I wondered if maybe I was losing screws because everything feels so loose lately, like it is barely holding together anymore, and I was finding all these godforsaken screws lying around by my feet. It's funny how things hold together when there are so many screws on the ground and nobody doing anything about it. I wondered if, when the left doors opened, I would start to walk and then fall apart into big chunky pieces all over the subway and platform. I wondered if the people would just step over my pieces and try to pretend they don't see me, the way we ignore bums and Mormons on the street. I wondered if the pieces could be reassembled, or if all those screws dropping from me like pinecones are lost for good.

First published: February, 2004