Kate Folk

Halved

Today, after three decades’ vigilance and dread, I have been sheared in half by an automatic sliding door while exiting Safeway. My right half falls inside, on the doormat. My left half falls onto sun-warmed concrete. I feel no pain, only relief that it has finally happened to me.

I was born with a disorder tucked into my mother’s DNA. My sisters and I were raised to fear elevators and automatic doors, whose sensors do not perceive us and whose rubber-sheathed touch is sufficient to split us apart. Our bodies come lined with invisible perforations. Halving happens to all of us, sooner or later.

In 1939, my great-great-uncle Robert, a WWI veteran who suffered from periods of catatonic depression, was cut in half by a plow on his farm in Pennsylvania. The surgery was less advanced then. It took twelve hours for a team of surgeons to stitch him together, and the resulting seam was uneven. Uncle Robert walked with a limp for the rest of his life, but those who knew him said his spirits seemed improved.

Last year, my cousin Sean was halved on a roller coaster at Six Flags. He was split at the stomach, a lateral halving. I saw him in the hospital right before he went into surgery. His halves lay on separate gurneys. I made a joke of saying hi to his bottom half first. His smile was a light left on in an empty room.

After halving, we are leaky vessels. Sadness and happiness sieve through in equal measure, subsumed by a flinty indifference.

In the ambulance, EMTs pack my organs in, like a lobster’s meat mixed with crab and breadcrumbs and stuffed back into its own split carapace. My halves are wrapped tightly in gauze. I’ve never seen anything like it, says one of the EMTs. He is pleasantly surprised by the absence of gore.

In a bright room I am sutured whole. My father visits me after surgery, asking questions that imply I am to blame. He suspects that I, like my mother, initiated my own halving because I could no longer bear the tension of not knowing when I’d be halved.

I was nine when my mother stood beneath our garage door and pushed the remote controller’s button. By the time a neighbor found her, the open walls of her body had congealed like a skin on the surface of soup. My mother’s halves were rejoined, but she was never made whole. She has lived since in a white room in our basement. Her left hand scrawls gibberish on the wall with a pencil. Her right hand slathers the wall with fresh paint. She inches along, her right half painting over what the left has written. By the time she gets back to where she started, the paint has dried.

I assure my dad it was really an accident. My foot caught on a hump in the rubber mat, and I tripped. After he leaves, I pull up my hospital gown and regard the zipper of staples and stitches that travels down the center of my body.

It’s nearly midnight. My sisters must have gone ahead and fed my mother without me. Her right half is health-conscious, demanding vegetables and lean protein. Her left half craves candy and cake and vast quantities of soda. We take turns appeasing the halves of my mother, first with healthy food, then with sweet. I had gone to Safeway to buy cherry soda for my mother’s dinner. When I was halved, the two-liter bottle fell from my right hand. My right eye watched the bottle roll and come to rest at the turned wheel of a shopping cart. I am glad I was not there when my mother’s left half discovered this lack.

Kate Folk is from Iowa City and now lives in San Francisco. Her fiction has appeared in Colorado Review, Puerto del Sol, PANK, Wigleaf, Tin House Flash Fridays, and elsewhere. In 2014, she was a fellow at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Visit her at www.katefolk.com.