The Severed Head: Part 1


Terran Boylan


The thing about grisly discoveries is they’re almost always life-altering experiences. Say, for the sake of illustration, a woman comes home and discovers her husband has brutally slain their three beautiful blonde children. Upon further investigation she finds he has also killed Scout, their ever-faithful golden Labrador retriever and their 50-gallon tank of Polynesian fish. In a state of zombified shock she wanders through the house and discovers his last act was to take his own life with a shotgun in a spectacular splash of blood. She wonders when and where he got the gun and asks herself the question for which there could never be a satisfactory explanation: why?

George Bellows, who is incidentally neither the early 20th Century American realist painter of the same name nor the man in the preceding example, was a man who had over the course of his life developed a multitude of techniques for dealing with the psychological neuroses from which he suffered.

For one thing, George had always thought of himself as fat. He had been fighting his own battle of the bulge about his midsection for as long as he could recall. As a child, Georgie had been teased by his peers on account of his prominently pear-shaped abdomen, his red hair and braces, and his tendency to stutter when overly excited.

But that was all in the past. Adult George was a successful instructor in metallurgical engineering at the local university, which was located in Whiskey Creek, a small Iowa town. He had lived much of his life as a bachelor (and virgin) and then, at the age of thirty-seven, had met, wined, dined, danced with, slept with, and married a fine blonde-haired woman named Dottie, a native Iowan of good, solid farm stock.

George and Dottie had been married for three years and she was, hands down, the best thing that had ever happened to him. Five years older than he, Dottie was a remarkable woman who suffered from a notable absence of psychological dysfunction. She was unbelievably patient with George’s idiosyncrasies. She tended him not only when he was sick but also when he just thought he was sick. She wasn’t a saint, but she was a very gentle woman and a loving wife. Her interests -- tame by the standards of some -- included knitting and board games. Her favorite games were backgammon and Scrabble, and on cold winter evenings the two would occupy themselves playing games. Dottie also loved flowers and she kept a small garden on the South side of their house where she grew red, red roses and purple, purple tulips. George -- thanks to the limits to which his self-esteem extended -- knew in his heart he didn’t really deserve Dottie’s love and adoration although he never spoke the words aloud.

Due primarily to Dottie’s supportive nature, George finally had gotten his shit together and had developed a weight loss and health system that worked for him. Although he’d always loathed running -- a psychological hang-up he correctly attributed to an emotionally scarring experience during 4th period gym in the seventh grade -- he had finally managed to lose enough weight and get himself into good enough physical shape to run on a regular basis. His schedule allowed him to go for a nice jog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at eight in the morning. His first class on those days didn’t start until 11am, and so he had ample time to run before he "showered up" and drove to work.

He and Dottie lived in a light blue three-bedroom house located on a small acreage ten miles East of Whiskey Creek. They were surrounded on three sides by rural farmland and on the fourth by a gravel road that ran East to West. This road was little-traveled enough that the city inconveniently left it unplowed except after the most severe of snowstorms.

It was a beautiful Friday in late July, and although summers in Iowa could be brutal, it was early in the day and the temperature was a comfortable seventy-some degrees. The country air was filled with sweet green smells from the surrounding cornfields. As George ran, he often counted the steps as his feet struck the ground. Usually his mind would wander, drifting to thoughts about his 11 o’clock class or making love to Dottie and he would forget where he was in his foot counting and would have to start again.

Had George’s angle of vision been turned even a few degrees to the North or South, he would have missed seeing the severed head in the ditch.

Upon closer inspection -- his heart fit to burst from adrenaline -- George could see the victim was a young woman. Her hair was blonde. Her eyes were blue. Her lips were parted as if in anticipation. She was, George would later learn, the eighteen-year-old daughter of one of Whiskey Creek’s twenty-two bus drivers.

For George, finding the head in the ditch was a discovery -- one could say a grisly discovery -- that would have a profound, life-altering, effect on him. Simply put, this one event would change the way he would experience the world for all the rest of his days. George would stop running. Over a short time he would gain back all the weight he had worked so hard to lose. All his carefully crafted techniques for dealing with his neuroses would fail him, unraveling, a experiment that just plain didn‘t work. Instead of running, he would soon be spending Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings with a fifty-year-old psychologist named Patricia.

For George, Dottie’s red, red roses and purple, purple tulips would lose a significant measure of their chromatic vividness. The country air would never smell quite as sweet and he would never be able to look at his loving, patient wife’s blonde hair the same way ever again.