They’d been high school sweethearts, newlyweds at twenty-three and parents at twenty-six. And now, at thirty, Janet and Mark were soon to be divorcees. But what would they do with their son? Janet thought Zack should live with her. Mark disagreed. Zack was no help. They asked him what he wanted, but he just burst into tears and said they should keep living together.
Then, one day, Mark had a moment of inspiration and suggested they should cut Zack in half. “Yes,” said Janet, “that seems fair.” Unfortunately, this quickly led to arguments about who got the top half—clearly the best bit—and who got the bottom half. This carried on until they realised they should make the cut vertically, not horizontally. Finally, they thought, a way of moving on. They did think about asking Zack for his opinion, but he’d been so unhelpful earlier with all his tears and his snot that they decided not to bother.
The next step was doing it. They waited until Zack was glued to Adventure Time on the TV and Janet bonked him on the head with a rolling pin, knocking him out. Now it was time for Mark to play with his new hacksaw. It was dirty work, and they later spent a fortune on carpet cleaner to get rid of the mess. Then, once the job was over, they used a ladle to scoop out all the globby bits until they each had their own half a Zack. These skin shells were a bit floppy, so they stuffed them with cotton wool balls. That firmed them up, and absorbed any remaining ooze. Perfect. And so Janet stayed in the house and used her half-Zack as an umbrella stand, while Mark moved into town and used his to prop open the back door on sunny days.
Time passed and, as divorcees often do, they both got lonely and tried to play the dating game. All would go well until they brought their potential new partners home. People were horrified at seeing half a dead child in the hallway. Words like ‘monster’ and ‘murderer’ were bandied around and romantic meals for two would swiftly become ready meals for one.
The upshot of this was that Mark and Janet, for want of other company, found themselves spending a lot of time together again. They began to forget their previous problems and fell in love once more. Soon Mark moved back in. And, shortly after that, Janet was proudly sporting a new baby bump.
Then the infant—little Zoe—was born. Now aged eleven months, she sleeps in Zack’s old room. Gone is his Manchester United wallpaper, and in its place are cartoon puppies. But Janet and Mark were keen to make sure Zoe would always know Zack.
Which is why, when Zoe stirs in her slumbers and opens her eyes, she sees, at the end of her crib, her big brother. His two halves have been sewn back together—the stitching down his face is particularly inexpert, for neither Janet nor Mark were handy with a needle and thread—and he’s been dressed in his Superman outfit. There he stands, every night, as if guarding his sister against whatever bad things lurk in the darkness.
“Zack-Zack,” murmurs Zoe to herself as she drifts back into sleep.