"False Rib" by Mike Corrao

Frank entered the room holding two mugs in his hand, one filled with water, and the other with coffee. The same two fingers looped through both handles. He sat down, set the cups on a desk, and drank the coffee, then the water. He patted his pockets, shirt, then pants. 


“Any cigarettes? No?”


He sifted through the drawers, running his fingers along random ephemera. Picking for false bottoms. 


“What a shame.”


Frank moved his jacket out of the way and tapped two finger against his floating ribs.


“How long has that bad boy been missing?” Shrug. “Let me take a look.”


Morgan hesitated, then slowly unbuttoned their shirt and pulled it to the side. Over their rib, in the same spot that Frank had indicated on his own chest, there was an opaque pink line. Skin removed of its texture. Brought smooth and solid. The flesh underneath soft and unsupported. Intercostals hung from above like drapes.


Frank ran his finger along it, scratched his nail against the edge, “Have you looked for it?” Morgan shook their head. “I wouldn’t know where to start.” 


“I get it though. Things are weird now. Your rib goes missing, people speak like they’re actors, the air changes flavor. You feel like a nail is missing or your jaw is misaligned.”


Frank took another sip of his coffee, then his water, spilling a little around the base of each mug when he set them down. 


“People don’t get it. I get it.” Frank tapped his rib over his blazer. 


“I get it. These things are intimate. People don’t realize that. They don’t really get around to it.”


Frank smiled, then rolled back to the desk and started digging through the drawers again. 


“No cigarettes.”


He continued to look, often reopening drawers moments after thoroughly inspecting them. “Some people just want to fuck with you, I guess.” Frank closed all of the drawers, shook the desk, and started checking again. He began to speak absent-mindedly as he looked, shook, and repeated. 


“It’s like having to remember a combination.”


Frank shook the desk, waited a few seconds, then opened the keyboard drawer. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and put one in his mouth. “Now where’s the lighter?”


“Do you have matches?” He thought for a moment. “Why would you?”


Frank took a sip of coffee and water, spilling more onto the desktop. He checked the drawers again and shook the desk. 


“You’ll get nauseous sometimes, or utterly confused. You won’t be able to speak sometimes.” 


He pulled out a match, and struck it against the chair. Nothing happened. He wrapped his fingers around adjacent drawer handles and pulled them out. Shook. Back in. 


“No strip?” He jerked the desk. “Of course it couldn’t be a strike anywhere”


He waited a minute, took a sip of the water, then the coffee, the water again, liquid pooled on the desktop, he shook, he checked, and with a sigh of relief, took a friction strip out of one of the drawers. He lit the match and then the cigarette, took a long and relaxing drag, then rolled his chair back by Morgan. 


Frank fingered the soft spot under his chin and continued. 


“Your rib is a catalyst for change. Like Mueller arranging the hamletmachine. Something small but dense. Its displacement noticeable but ultimately vestigial.” 


Morgan nodded, allocating most of their attention towards the desk where coffee and water had begun to drip down the edge. The mixture began to pool at the base of the desk, forming small puddles on top of the scuff marks that Frank’s performance had created. The markings lifted from the surface and diffused. Frank grabbed the match and struck it against the table, lighting another cigarette, taking another drag, then smothering it out. The water hissed when it touched the hot surface.


“There is no journey to recover the lost materials. More, you might consider what’s gained by shedding unimportant appendages. What you could put in that empty space. What you could do with less materials to carry.”


Morgan rubbed their hand against the spot on their torso where the rib had been, over the smooth pink band, picking their fingers at the edges. As if to peel it off.