I only realised I was being hollowed out as I looked in the sink after a shave. When I imagined being stuffed with straw I pictured long fronds of sun-dressed golden husks, if I thought about it at all.
In the basin, on the surface of a thick spume of shaving soap, floated a jetsam of minute lengths of grass. Each one was black and blooming with rashes of white mould. The razor came down my cheek again and I held the blade up to the light. There was no mistaking it. Along the edge stuck a storm rotted harvest. Cleaning the blade, and folding it between the bones of the razor, I leant close to the mirror. From my pores the straw stuck out in clumps. With my fingernails I grabbed some and pulled it free, holding it close to my face. It smelt of flooded fields and abandoned byres. Even though each frond was bristle length, the smell was overpowering.
“Tanya?” I shouted into the bedroom.
My wife came to the door, rubbing her hair with a peach-coloured towel. In her left hand she held an unopened brown envelope.
“Hmmm?” she said, distracted. Her hair was long and thick like molasses. Most nights it took at least three quarters of an hour to dry.
“I think something is wrong.” I held out the clumps of sodden flax and marram grass.
She hung the towel on the back of the door and balanced the envelope by the taps. With one nail she pushed the flecks of grass around my palm, the shorter fragments sticking to her fingertips.
“Where did this come from?”
“My skin. I was shaving,” I said, as if it wasn’t obvious from the mess around the sink. I could never keep the bathroom tidy, no matter how much I prepared for my weekly shave.
She tried not to let me see her panic, to be strong for me, but I saw the expression flash across her face like a stuttering cloud.
“Wait there,” she said, and left me alone. I listened to her walk downstairs, turning on lights throughout the house, darkness tumbling with each one like dominoes. While I waited for her to return I stared at myself in the mirror. After a few moments I had to pause and clean away the steam from my breath with my arm. My reflection was now more visible, but smeared. A ruined oil painting.
Steve Toase’s work has previously appeared in publications such as Cabinet de Fees’ Scheherezade’s Bequest, Pantheon Magazine, Innsmouth Magazine, Jabberwocky Magazine, Sein und Werden, Cafe Irreal and streetcake magazine amongst others. His short story “Call Out” has recently been published in the Best Horror of the Year Anthology 6.