Robert Olen Butler

Robert Olen Butler published a book of flash fictions called Severance in 2006. The stories focus on the suspected “minute and a half of consciousness” after one’s head is severed from the body. Yep. Good stuff.

Since this is such a recent work, I’m just going to share with you the excerpt Butler has on his website, “Ta Chin Chinese wife, beheaded by her husband, 1838.”

straight and whole are my feet I would rise and run as I have loved for many winkings of the moon to run with my brothers but I press my feet side by side and wiggle my toes this last time and whisper to them goodbye I know what is before me my mother in the courtyard singing prayers to Kuan Yin the goddess of mercy, not to spare me a life of pain but to wither my feet to perfection,

The entire story makes for a big block of text in-blog, so let’s just pull out bits. Notice that this piece is mostly stream of consciousness. There’s little punctuation, and even the ending of the piece has no period. The stream-of-consciousness telling is fitting for the situation, as the book is based off of a few precious seconds of continuing consciousness after beheading.

Ta Chin also focuses on her feet, and we realize quickly that she was a made a participant in Chinese foot binding. Based on pictures in that article and other places online, I can only imagine how painful it must be.

Ta  Chin speaks a little about how she came to be beheaded (her husband, an opium user, suspects infidelity) but ultimately returns to her feet:

and my mother sings and my toes are seized and folded hard under and the wrappings wind and wind and squeeze and my arch cracks and I see Buddha in heaven sitting on his lotus but it is my naked foot the golden lotus he sits upon and hands push me down my neck made bare and I cry please, before my head cut off my feet

The pain lasts her even to adulthood, it seems, and it is this focus that consumes her last moments of conscious thought.

 

You can find Severance on Amazon and Barnes &Noble.

Image found on http://www.robertolenbutler.com/writings/fiction/short-short-stories/severance/

 

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