by Julia Long
There was a little it inside of Shem’s chest cavity.
A pine cone, in his chest cavity.
A disgusting little pine cone.
The little chest pine cone was made of nubile naked skin.
The little skin pine cone in Shem’s heart caught hellfire.
Shem was taking a creepy bath.
A lot about it was creepy. The lights were off in every room in his apartment except the one he was in and there was a dollhouse version of this in his mind’s eye with a little Shem dummy in the imagined tub. In this imaginary version the Shem dummy kept slowly sinking beneath the water line, then silently, willingly drowning. Shem was trying to keep the downright dirty drowning fantasy under control. He kept forcing himself to picture other things but that was always in the background, if veil-thin.
Shem started looking up ‘John Wayne Gacy art’ on Google Images with his SmartPhone. It turned out John Wayne Gacy had painted a lot in jail. A lot of exactly what you’d expect. Images of clowns, clowns with children. One that showed how he ‘became’ the clown (Pogo), his transformation. There were a few standouts though, one of the Seven Dwarves as baseball players. It was chaos, some art dealer had actually gotten a bunch of famous baseball players to sign it without telling them what they were signing.
Shem was hoping the John Wayne Gacy art would help his God Sized Hole situation. He was forever doing this, trying to find ways to stuff or fill or patch his God Sized Hole with art, entertainment, thoughts and food and people. Baths and showers, Tarlov cysts.
Shem listened for the spies in his apartment.
He listened so hard he manufactured footsteps in reality with the power of his sense of self.
It felt like his sense of self was spreading a little too far outside his ears.
He could see it in his mind’s eye slowly coming out his head, colored and fluid-looking, like a tornado on a radar. It looked very thick and like something that might hurt him. Some inches, yeah, too far out from where it should be in both directions. It should really be confined to just his skull, that’s what Shem would’ve needed to be comfortable. It was like being on a tightrope all the time, spending all this energy and focus trying to use some vague powers to keep his sense of self in his skull and suck it back up when it escaped. The sense of self wasn’t him exactly, but the tingly notion of his whereabouts in his environment and body. The sense of self had a mind of its own, its own greedy id agenda.
Shem’s sense of self was only coming out his ears, not out his mouth or nostrils. Not in a spiritual way, it wasn’t a third eye kind of thing. It was secular.
It was unfair he had to deal with this vague cancer of a sense of self living in his genitals and leaking out his ears.
Shem and Rand were taking a walk at a SportsPlus nature preserve.
“How was the holiday,” said Shem.
There had been a holiday, yesterday.
A national holiday, to be sure.
A big one, an important one, maybe or maybe not a religious one.
Shem didn’t know which holiday had happened or if he had celebrated, with whom. He looked outside to try to guess based on the weather, but the weather looked neutral, temperate. Shem dismissed his ‘curiosity’—he could just look it up on the Internet later.
“It was good thanks I wasn’t myself,” said Rand, “My mom had to make all my meals in camouflage colors. I suppose that was meant to set my mind at equilibrium.”
“How was your holiday jogging,” said Shem.
“I don’t jog,” said Rand.
Shem looked at Rand. So boring, he thought lovingly, so beige.
“How ’bout you,” said Rand, “Were you drunk.”
“Commode-hugging drunk,” said Shem, though he had no idea.
“Me too,” said Rand, “I wasn’t myself. I said I’d jump off my parents’ roof for some reason.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Shem said on autopilot.
Shem and Rand started walking a notch faster, it was an unspoken agreement. Shem was thinking about outside. He felt suspicious. He felt like he knew he was in a diorama. Pine needles looked like they were made from outdoor furniture PVC. The sky looked pixelated, like it was on a computer screen. The creek looked like a holographic projection. Wildlife looked animatronic, moved in a robotic way. The sunshine was diluted like mall lighting. The grass was too artificially green, it was overwhelming. Outside looked like inside.
“I need to tell you something,” said Rand.
“Me too,” said Shem, “Outside looks like inside.”
“I’m being serious,” said Rand, “Be serious with me, I need to say something.”
Shem waited to know his opinion. He waited for God to send it to him as a singing telegram in his inner monologue. Nothing visceral was happening in his inner world, there were chaotic and disgusting images rotting inside it but with no emotion attached. He was a 2D dummy, a total idiot made of paper. Shem pictured himself made of paper. Flat Stanley, he thought. He was Flat Stanley. He remembered Flat Stanley.
“I’ve been puking,” said Rand.
“On purpose,” Shem said excitedly.
“No what the fuck of course not on purpose,” said Rand, “The fuck, I’ve had morning sickness and I’ve missed my last two periods.”
Shem diagnosed himself hydrocephalic. Then his God Sized Hole got a little wider and his closed-head-injury-themed dura mater maggots awoke from hibernation and began to feed on the toxic, infected cerebrospinal ooze that also had traces of lead in it and had somehow gotten behind his eyes. That was the liquid controlling his retarded expressions, making his eyebrows go slack with dumbness. Shem knew this information because he had a pang. He knew exactly what was going on.
Blister was Shem’s therapist.
Office appointments with Blister were $300. Shower appointments were $600.
“I can’t be a parent,” said Shem, “I can’t even handle myself. I don’t even know myself.”
Blister squirted cleanser into her hand, lathered it up and started soaping Shem’s face.
“That’s really it Shem, you don’t know yourself,” she said, “But I know you. I see everything.”
Her hands massaged and caressed Shem’s whole face. Scrubbing, scrubbing. Most people in the world scrubbed the exact same way, it was an archetype, a ritual. The cleanser smelled natural, romantic, was hypnotic. Shem closed his eyes. It felt comforting, spurred some heavy energy that ticked off a little box in his God Sized Hole.
“You’re so dirty,” said Blister.
She scrubbed harder. It hurt all good. Shem felt Blister’s lips touch his.
“You’re gonna be better,” she said into his mouth, “You’ll be better and God will deal with it. God will like it.”
Shem so badly wanted to have an opinion. He wanted to know what was wrong with him and that it could, would be fixed. He wanted to feel like there was hope. He wanted to think about the world and sense dimension, substance and consistency.
He felt it would be impossible to know both himself and the world. That was the forever at-ends duality, there was his existence and there was the overwhelming world pulling and chewing on him, this world whose presence he had to accept and swallow quick as it came at him, this world he had to grow bigger and open wider for always, as the only way to appease its constant hits was to be a learner, an eater, a void. He was a hole, a big nothing, a throbbing yawn wandering around an endlessly complicated and yet maximally shallow movie he didn’t belong in. Compensating and lost, always.
Blister was washing Shem’s mouth with soap. Shem stood there unaffected. His little taste buds were sending signals to his brain, telling him he was being poisoned, but he was above biology and knew this was okay. Shem’s mouth filled with bubbles. Bedroom eyes, thought Shem. Then he looked at Blister’s eyes. He was trying to send her the message that he had bedroom eyes and was maybe also trying to extract some bedroom from Blister’s eyes.
“Spit,” said Blister.
Shem spit in the shower. It wasn’t enough. His spastic taste buds were still going off, still firing. His disgusting little nerves. Ooh my soul, thought Shem. He did a rinse-and-spit with the water coming from the shower nozzle. His soapy spit went down the drain. Blister put a hand on Shem’s genitals.
“Everything is gonna be okay.”
Shem wanted his mouth-hole plugged up again. He was and would always be frozen in time because he constantly felt the urge to patch himself like this. He could never move on as a person because he had to keep appeasing these ever-throbbing holes, the theoretical (God Sized) one and the ones that were part of his body, all the little person-holes through which he sucked up the sexy world’s sensuality. He had eyeholes and earholes and noseholes. He had a little mouth-hole, an asshole and a hole in his genitals. He liked to suck up the world’s beauty through his genitals. He liked to suck on Blister’s fingers. The fingers tasted like earthy human but Blister was not New Age no. Shem kissed Blister with tongue. He felt like a child.
Shem was logged in to his Hulu Plus account, buying a season of a show about housewives in Orange County.
I buy the drugs, thought Shem.
He couldn’t wait to start to feel the tickly tickly high in his God Sized Hole.
The show was intellectually stimulating. One of the housewives was looking for her phone. She was not feeling well no. She was angry about someone crashing Last Night’s Party. The crasher had worn a similar dress to the housewife’s. The housewife felt attacked. Someone had come into her house and jeopardized her individuality. The housewife called it ‘Identity Theft.’ Shem could sympathize with that. It was profound.
Shem cared about these housewives deeply. He cared about them more than the people he knew and he cared about them more than himself. They were great people.
Also there was something Shem really loved about the idea of minor problems. Something being wrong with a necklace someone ordered or a guest of honor being late to a gala or someone being dissed in a gossip magazine. There was something intrinsically enticing and seductive about them. ‘That noise’ gave Shem’s phantom notion of a brain a little massage. His little solid. He could sense it.
He was some okay kind of addicted to reality shows–this one with the housewives, Mediation obviously, one where brides competed to get plastic surgery, one where recent college grads (strangers) lived together in a mansion for a few months, one where prepubescent girls did dance competitions, one where prepubescent girls did beauty pageants, a prank thing, a redneck thing, a cooking competition, a modeling competition, a singing competition, a general talent competition. All of these, he knew with his clairvoyant powers, made him a better man. Yep, with every episode, with every minor problem, there was a little metamorphosis that Shem’s imaginary homonculus clone experienced inside of his theoretical torso cocoon. It was like, seasonal. And prickly.
The housewife and the party crasher made up. The crasher had mentioned the housewife in some speech. The episode was over. Everything was all over.
Shem’s eyes didn’t blink. He knew his skull was filling up with cerebrospinal fluid that also had little teeth in it. He was an empty little bowl, which was kind of sweet. He was OFF. He ran on a little ON/OFF switch (he sensed) and he was OFF.
Julia Long is a 21-year-old ?something? that ?somehow? got to the northern California coast. Her writing has appeared in Nat. Brut, Thought Catalog, theNewerYork, Electric Cereal, Rawboned and Bizarro Central. Her debut book POLLYANNA will be available from Bottlecap Press later this year.