Go On, Go There
It started last year in the fall. I had been experiencing sharp abdominal pains of increasing intensity. My bowels still functioned, but in a detached fashion, as if they werenít concerned with the sensations they inflicted on the rest of the body. I continued on my daily regimen. In the morning I ran a few miles, ate some toast (usually followed by various Ďmedicinesí), and then I might enjoy a beer or two. I was mainly functioning, from a distance, below my own level of awareness. I made travel arrangements with my mother. I broke up with my girlfriend. I considered myself monetarily inhibited and felt lucky to find half of a cigarette in an ashtray.
When I got fired from my job I began to worry about money. I spent a lot of time worrying about money. It distracted me in my conversations. It was rumored that I never trusted Germans, but now it was circulated that I thought Austrians were sound. This issue became complicated. I was distracted. My friends struck me as foreign, and sometimes I imagined their entrails. Ideas began to formulate around the same time I started noticing the hairs.
Iím blonde but Iíve always had a black hair growing out of my shoulder. I say Iím blonde not out of vanityís sake but just to draw attention to the discrepancy between the two colors. The hairs on my chest are light brown. I find the blonde hairs disgustingly bland. Maybe it was my inherent aversion, my love for the dark hair, that provoked--well the point is, I would never debase myself by insinuating that it was a conscious decision on my part, but letís just say I wasnít unhappy about the long dark hairs that began to grow around my shoulders and on the front of my thighs.
From then on I started dressing in long sleeves. I ignored Roman, my canine roommate, who cowered when I entered the room and began to relieve himself in a manner not fit for a domesticated animals.
I was to meet Nadia at six. Driving to meet her I imagined her scent. It was an irritating pleasure. I had noticed it the first time we were intimate.
It was at her job at the nursing home. She was cleaning the rooms alone except for the occasional orderly and the head nurse that was stationed at the counter. I followed her into a recently vacated room, freshly wall papered. Our movements coincided towards the bed, but it was her that was grabbing my belt buckle, pulling me on top of her as she fell backwards onto the bed. Eying her suspiciously, I spit out the breath mint I was choking on. I fought for control, as my senses were filled with her. I looked for a distraction and noticed the almost imperceptible flakes of skin dotting the mattress cover. There were straight gray hairs on the pillowcase. I flipped her over and stayed as far away as possible. I shoved her face into the pillow. It was her hot sweat, mixed with the smell of decay that was causing me problems.
I couldnít give these reflections my attention. I wiped some saliva from my mouth, noticing my response to this new disturbance. There was something pressing me and these distractions were not worthy, or rather to say, they had no way of being incorporated into whatever seemed to be brewing. It was intangible, but it was hard to relax. Headlights flashed in the rearview mirror and these ideas were startled into submission. I was near drooling.
I arrived at the diner where weíd agreed to meet and began checking all my pockets. Lately Iíd been losing things. Nadiaís car isnít in the lot. My abdomen is hurting. Itís hurt a lot lately. Itís hard for me to drink. I try not to drink liquor. Iíve seen some bloody, fleshy looking debris in the toilet and wondered from what part of me it originated. I walk across the street to a local bar and throw back a couple of shots, chasing them down with some soda and a breath mint.
Certain things were worrying me lately. Well thereís my landlady, just for an example. She might be a polished stone, but sheís definitely no gem. Iíve heard noises from her apartment and Iíve seen her some mornings looking pretty worn out. I think of her and her sharp features gradually distort, becoming grainy like a photograph. She has a face and a body, but other than that, she is quite unremarkable. She closes my door sometimes at night if I leave it open when I go to sleep. She could never become like me, but at times, I think her intentions are clear.
I know I have some problems; but when I pay my rent on time I expect certain reciprocation. It is natural to pause or even salivate a little when appraising someoneís posterior, but when that person alludes to some possible (unforeseeable?) discretion on my part, well, thatís where I draw the line.
This was around the time I started noticing some more significant changes. I had begun to smell meat. Like with my landlady, I always found her attractive, but I was never conscious of her smell, or the faint beating of her heart for that matter. I was continuing to grow hair. Certain things were worrying me. I stare across the bar at the bartenderís perspiring breasts and donít leave a tip.
Nadia shows briefly. She only drinks coffee.
"You look a little drawn."
"Youíve said that before. You said that last night in fact."
"Iím just saying."
I got home relatively early but I was worried about how I might feel when I woke up. I donít know if Nadia understands anything. I looked through my mail. A bank statement, collection agency notices, What is post abortion stress? -- nothing very interesting. I popped in a video of Nadia. The screen flashed 7:30 AM. That would be yesterday morning. She was looking for her shoes. That was sort of a ritual for her. At night she flung them off with abandon. Her innocence was attractive to me. It was something I constructed myself. These videos helped. When she was alone she was totally helpless. Iím not very technologically intuitive, but with these cameras I did my homework. Thatís not to say Iím not intelligent. I canít say that.
I couldnít sleep so I went to Annaís. She lived uptown with her Ďhusbandí Tomaso. The train was running on time and I briefly contemplated my good fortune. Tomaso was Italian. When he was relaxing he wore one of those flashlights you could strap to your forehead. He was an artist. He did metal sculpture. He was always prepared to sculpt, even in the dark I suppose. The first night I had been at their place heíd gotten a shard of metal lodged in his eye. He was afraid to go to the hospital because he thought he might get deported. I remember him with his face pressed against the mirror trying to dislodge it with a sewing needle and not having much success. He was cursing because his own light was blinding him.
We played Twister. I figured I would enjoy the game because I was quite good at it. I was flexible. I ended up in a position where I could smell how long Anna had been wearing her jeans. I remembered the time I woke up with her tongue in my mouth. It was shameful. I was unresponsive. It was a missed opportunity and it wore on me like many other things. My mood was fading. Tomaso was trying to give me his leather jacket. Anna wanted to show me something on her computer. She designed scenery for stage productions. She was Swiss but spoke mostly Italian. Finally I was tired. I sat on the couch. Nadia came in and people started drinking and taking pictures.
There was a time when my dreams were pretty heavy. It was hard to tell they were dreams. It hadnít happened lately. On this night I dreamt about my father. My father is a nice man in the most complete sense, a real and good person. Given my own sense of self, I had some questions about what he was really about. I mean only in my worst moments. Well, in this particular dream I was naked and looking a little less manly than I usually felt. Iím inclined to spare the description. The gist of it was that I was there naked and my dad was standing there with a telephone pole in his hands. He was beating me into the ground like a nail. I was trying to stay as straight as possible with my hands clasped to my sides. There was no pain, but my bones shivered in an unpleasant way. He cursed me, but not my mother, who was standing by shaking her head disapprovingly.
When I woke up I was having problems. There were sharp pains in my abdomen and one side of my stomach seemed to be bigger than the other. I had an appointment for a CT scan but I couldnít remember when it was. No one seemed to be home. There was a note that said, "Out to breakfast, tried to get you up." I went to the bathroom and considered my options. I looked in the mirror. Twenty minutes later I came out. I did some push-ups. I tried to ignore that my eyebrows had grown together and seemed quite a bit thicker.
I looked through my pockets but couldnít find anything documenting my recent assessment at the urgent care center. Iíd never been one to shirk away from pain. The only thing that bothered me was that Iíd always heard that there werenít very many nerves down there in the abdominal area. My guts hurt on the inside. There was the occasional sharp pain, but it was more like something festering. It itched. It felt like there was something there that needed to be scraped away. Iím well aware of the current trend associating the mind and body inseparably. It didnít comfort me.
I did a little shopping. I had to think. I yawned and felt a pain in my chest. I was walking in the direction of Woodhull hospital. Iíd been there a couple times before.
An Indian shopkeeper stared at me through the window. At the store on my block Iíd almost made friends with the clerk. He was Indian as well. I came in every day and heíd always asked me something or had some bit of news. It was a pure relationship in a sense. There was nothing to gain or lose. He seemed amused by how much I drank and he always asked about my girlfriend. He looked about thirty. His pinky nail was grown out like he did cocaine, but I had my doubts. I didnít see him for a while and a larger man who spoke a little less replaced him, with his brother as well. Now there were two men that didnít even equal the first. As a joke, my girlfriend and I asked about the absent clerk, who also had worked at their sister store, a little closer to the train station. The two clerks kind of looked at each other and smiled.
"He killed himself."
"I guess he didnít like to be alive anymore."
It seemed ridiculous to me that they would understand his emotions. I was devastated. I sat on the stoop with my girlfriend and cried, shivering. We had planned to buy some groceries and make dinner, but decided not to. I couldnít put my finger on what heíd wanted. It was distracting.
I stepped into the Greenpoint Tavern. I couldnít go to the hospital. The bar was dark. Goiter man was here. His goiter was slick with grease from the fish he always brought in with him. I dreaded when he would come over with his ridiculous ideas, spewing fish and spitting out bones.
There was a lot still on my mind. There was Nadia, and there was the landlady as well. She was still young after all. I had begun taking laxatives. They took six to twelve hours. The suppositories were effective after fifteen minutes. I didnít feel that was necessary. I just felt full. Shawn. She came by twice this month. She told me my apartment stunk. I was aware of it myself. I knew it was something in the apartment. Years ago when I was still in school, well, on break actually, my cat had crawled up and got stuck in the broken sewer pipe we had in the basement. Up until then we had been incinerating the Ďrefuseí ourselves, with a propane torch. When we got back there was a horrendous smell. It wasnít so much that the cat was dead as that it had been wet for almost three weeks. Our landlord charged us $14,000 each for the plumbing. Anyways, this smell was different. Shawn had twitched her nose coming in, grunting. When my eyes moved up to her face, she lowered her eyes. The next time I saw her she mentioned sheíd bought some cleaning products for the tenants to use Ďcommunally.í
I would be here permanently I supposed. Thatís what I had always thought. My skin looked grey even in the sunlight.
I engaged my intentions. There was something cold in my veins. My shoes felt tight. I had thought it through on many occasions. I knew I could never come back. When I was down on my knees Iíd always thanked God that Iíd never had that stain on my soul. I would never have to submit to anyone but him. Even during one of my Ďepisodesí, I seemed to be under his protection. I could imagine myself on the edge of the precipice, poised, thankfully powerless, as my limbs froze, shuddering, unable to throw myself down.
In the bathroom I began hacking away. There is this cut across my abdomen. I donít know where it came from. Itís covered in tape. Both the tape and the incision itself have an intrinsically detrimental effect on my sensibilities. Tonight there is some sort of protrusion above it. I looked in the mirror and saw something recognizable. My soul slipped away painfully dripping red down my forearms. I was cut there as well but not bandaged. I appraised my reflection, staring myself down like a discarded lover. I smiled licking my fingertips and then spat out the blood in disgust.
I remembered back to the monastery. This was in Italy. Rheinhard had woken me up for adoration at 2:00 AM. He was an old criminal. He was German besides that. Well, he had a German name at least. He was reformed in the sense that he wouldnít kill you. The first night Iíd said,
"Laciame stare, porco miserio." Leave me alone. Sleep was my only solace.
Iíd caught hell the next day. All the logs I split I had to carry up myself. From then on when he woke me up I went into the chapel. I found a comfortable position on my knees and fell asleep for an hour. I read some Italian prayer books and found them appropriate to my needs. We talked a little bit in the middle of the night. In the background we could hear the bass from the clubs down in Torino, a city that was said to be part of the Ďtriangle of evilí. I didnít know what the other two cities were. He told me I should pray for my enemies; anyone I hated. A few people came to mind. I found myself able to sympathize. After all, look at myself.
I left the body where it was and crept to the bathroom already feeling less human. I was still constipated and my eyes began to tear up. Last week Iíd watched a documentary on the Red Army during WWII. It was called "Blood in the Snow." Stalin had said that any Red Army soldier caught retreating would be killed as well as his family. Iíd already known that, but it came to mind as I examined the porcelain tiles on the floor. I wanted to call Nadia but it didnít seem right. I had claws now. It was frustrating. I knew she wouldnít understand. I tried to think of something positive. I decided I would take my clothes home and wash them. Maybe I could take them to Annaís. I didnít want to go home. Not yet anyway. I had lost my confidence, but I was concerned about when it might come back.
They had discipline there at the monastery. There were lots of rules. There was discipline. That was what I lacked. That was why I was changing. I didnít want to pray. I wanted to be made to pray. My eyes had turned yellow. It was close now. My heart swelled. I once had cause. I once had strength. I cursed my selfishness. Cracks formed around my nails. My knuckles began to distend. There was a rusty taste in my mouth. I spit it out, smiling. Nadia finally drove up, smiling as well.
© 2006 by Ben Ayers
E-mail: Ben Ayers
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