THE SHAPELESS by Gregory T. Janetka

THE SHAPELESS by Gregory T. Janetka

When they told her how the body had been found thirty feet from the road by prisoners who were scouring the gutter for trash, the only thing she could think to ask was if there was any way to save his sperm. The police did their best to express their regret in broken English but she didn’t hear a word, lost as she was in the minute details of DNA harvesting. Months had passed since then, or was it years? Maybe it was yesterday, who could tell? His body’s blueprint might be gone from this earth but in its absence came flashes of body parts throughout the apartment: a forearm in the refrigerator, a jaw bone on the nightstand, a left leg—no longer able to support its own weight—crumpled up on the closet floor.

Neither had wanted a baby but the dream of reanimation, of scraping blood from the overgrown grass where he fell, only grew stronger. This life—escaping their country, building something new, traveling unsettled and joyful, burning bright and leaving their bloodlines to die—it was all they ever wanted. Their plans, never codified beyond such romantic ideals, were filled in as the need arose. When there was nowhere to live they bartered for an apartment, when they ran out of money they took the first jobs they were qualified for—he as a courier, her an English teacher. He enjoyed learning the city and surrounding towns on his bike, but hers was a hollow means to a paycheck. None of her coworkers had any higher ambition, any dream, any reason to live here other than survival. But to be fair, inspiration was a useless quality when students wanted nothing beyond a basic proficiency in the language that had come to dominate their own.



That’s what the nurses called it, at least until they learned she was an American. After that, they didn’t speak at all. 

“Another donorcycle accident…” 

She looked up the phrase. It wasn’t a mistranslation but slang, a term to denote the propensity of healthy young men with healthy young organs to die riding motorcycles. It was a phrase accompanied by an eye roll that easily wrote off his entire life.

News of his death brought no word from home. 


It was as silly a term as donorcycle. Home was where she came from, where she’d been stuck, like a bus terminal. With nowhere else to go she remained in the one-bedroom apartment, unsure where she’d find the next index finger, shoulder, or vertebrae, while his scent grew weaker and weaker.


Drowning out the silent apartment with an indecipherable TV soap opera, she lit the stove, put oil in the pan, and dropped in a dozen shishito peppers. It was the last thing she expected to find in a market in the Madrid countryside. One in ten was hot, they said, like Russian roulette. 

Tossing the plastic bag into the trash she watched it fall on a fresh, pink human kidney that sat precariously atop a pile of torn junk mail and broken egg shells. Thinking nothing of it, she closed the lid as the doorbell rang. Every knock, every noise might be him—they never did let her see the body—but would he appear standing tall, his 6 3 frame looming over her with the comfort and safety it brought? Or would it be the pile of mannequin parts that were left by the roadside? 

At the door was neither, but rather a perfect circle that looked as if it were cut out of wax paper, hovering in midair. It moved forward with no deliberate speed, disappearing when it came into contact with her chest. As it hit, she felt the coarse sand of the Jersey shore beneath her toes, smelled the nitrite-rich, overcooked hot dogs of the boardwalk. Nothing else appeared and she closed the door.

The peppers popped and screamed, filling the place with choking black smoke. She removed the pan, turned off the gas, and threw open the small window high above the couch. Despite being hundreds of miles inland, salt air roared into the room. The sand beneath her feet shuddered at the taste and turned to mud, bringing with it the smell of fresh tar baking in suburban sunlight. She fell to the ground and rolled in the substance like a happy baby pig, unaware of its future. As the brown-black mess seeped into her skin she thrashed about, searching the muck for hidden body parts as if on a game show. Finding none, she fell onto her back, exhausted, and listened as the sound of crashing waves filled her ears. A rectangular column of water squeezed through the window like Playdoh, hung suspended for a moment, then rained down. It stank of dead fish and tasted like iced tea. Her belly full, she extracted herself and closed the window.

She stirred the peppers and watched the legs of oil skirt the edges of the pan. Grabbing one by the stem she bit down and her mouth swelled with heat and spice. When her throat hollered for relief she grabbed a second pepper. One by one she made quick work of the dozen, every one hotter than the last. Sweat poured from her forehead, armpits, and under her breasts. 


The heat subsided, the smoke dissipated, and the water dried. Seated at the desk she stared past the blank computer screen to the space where a nothingness planted and grew fruit, colorless, tasteless and unsatisfying. She took out her phone and dialed his number—still disconnected. It would be reassigned one day. Feeling her belly, she dialed another number and walked outside. The stars, filled with lightning, pulsed as if in a power surge.


“Hi mom.”

“Dena. What is it?”

“Mom…I’m pregnant.”

“Pregnant? What do you mean pregnant? Who could possibly be the father?”

“Everyone. Everyone in the whole world. Everyone who ever was and ever will be. Isn’t it grand?”

Before her mother could answer she threw the phone to the sky. As it climbed and climbed she felt her belly again and watched as the phone joined the stars.

Gregory T. Janetka is a writer from Chicago who runs the history site One Hundred False Starts. His work has been featured in Glass Mountain, Gravel, The Phoenix, and other publications. More of his writings can be found at

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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