Four Visions from The Book of X
BY SARAH ROSE ETTER
Vision #13 (Throat Fields)
I took my lover out to the throat fields because I need something to strangle.
“It’ll be five dollars per throat,” a man in overalls calls to us and I pay.
“It’s been a long week at work,” I explain.
“I don’t understand,” he says.
Discomfort blares off his skin in the sun. This is his first time, and I want it to be tender.
The bare necks reach toward the sun, short stalks of flesh, the raw edges of the throats blooming the color of old blood at the center.
How did he see me before this? Poised with the right hair. Now, I am disheveled, wearing filthy sweats, bags under eyes.
Lately, the fury has been keeping me up. My anger boils under my skin at work, beneath the fluorescent lights of the office. All I have ever wanted is a soft place. At night, I dream of rooms filled with feathers or cotton.
“You don’t feel the same anymore, do you?” I ask him out in the throat fields.
I can feel his ebbs and flows instantly. I know when he is turning from me in the slightest way, as if a flower toward another sun.
“Remember the good days?” I ask.
He looks carved as stone. No words, just that straight face.
“Say something,” I say.
The silence is bigger than suns, it is the silence of distant galaxies. The universe begins to crumble. The rage roars trucklike through my blood.
I throw myself to my knees in the field. I grab a good neck, a thick neck. I look up at him with my mania. The rage multiplies and I wrap fingers around the flesh.
“SAY SOMETHING,” I scream.
I clench hard, good around the throat. I squeeze until my fingers want to break. The skin caves in beneath, which feels good, a satisfaction. I strangle harder, until I go dizzy from lack of oxygen, until my rage deflates.
I pant on the ground before him, my weak fingers still around the skin. He stands in the field, still silent, immobile. I stare up at his throat which is long and thick, glinting in the light like a silver coin.
Vision #17 (Sadness Training)
The sign on the door says SADNESS TRAINING on a piece of cheap white copy paper in the black letters made by a weak printing cartridge.
“You must be Cassie,” says a woman with short spiky blond hair who greets me in the cheap waiting room.
“That’s me,” I say.
She glances down at a chart in her hands.
“Well, it’s been brought to our attention that you’ve been bringing your sadness to work. Your boss says your sadness is starting to influence your performance.”
I nod as if guilty.
“Well, we’re going to offer you some strategies to prevent that. Follow me.”
I nod again and follow her into a cramped room with yellow light. In the center of the room, there is a table between us. She sits across from me like a detective.
“Now, this is a common problem and you should not feel ashamed,” she explains. “However, it is also unacceptable and it is costing your company dearly in terms of productivity and revenue.”
“The sadder you are, the worse you work,” she chirps. “That’s where I come in.”
I picture myself as a slow moving machine, wheels churning through the mud of my own sadness.
“There are three sadness strategies,” she says. She slides a piece of paper across the table.
“Strategy number one requires you to put the sadness in another part of yourself. This is called compartmentalization. I want you to think of your sadness and think of stuffing it into a square white box.”
My sadness in this scenario takes on the shape of a black sludge. I picture my hands pushing my sadness into a white box in a green field, the darkness of the sludge spilling over the top of the pristine box.
“Strategy number two relies on your imagination. You just have to imagine you aren’t sad.”
I picture myself without my sadness. I picture my sadness in a grave, being buried.
“Strategy number three relies on strength,” she says. “I want you to picture yourself digging a grave for your sadness and burying it.”
I imagine that my sadness has a body just like mine, the same shape and size.
I visualize the strategy: In the green field, I dig and I dig and I dig until there is a hole big enough for my sadness. I shove the body of my sadness into the ditch, then I cover it with the fresh dirt.
Vision #24 (Blooming)
I am about to bloom, I can feel it. I have always been seasonal in this way. I wait on the bed.
“What are you doing in there?” my lover calls from the living room.
“This happens every few months,” I say.
I have been keeping track on a calendar.
My skin has already begun to green.
“It’s too late,” I say.
Another blast of warmth tears through my body. Then I bloom.
Leaves pierce through then grow up out of my skin. Vines bloom then wind their way down to the floor. Ferns and grasses sprout beneath my armpits, between my legs. It hurts but nicely. Near my upper thigh, a single fragrant blossom emerges from a bud, peeling open to reveal deep purple petals.
I power the whole scene. My body is a rainforest conduit, an entire new bedroom ecosystem in our bedroom. I flourish like Brazil.
I watch his jaw drop. He takes a step closer, then presses his face into the blossom. I hear him inhale, nodding his face against the softness.
Vision #25 (Jealousy Removal)
The shop says JEALOUSY REMOVAL over the door in fat red fluorescent letters. A bell dings when I step in. The entrance gleams white and silver.
“Hey,” comes the drawl from the old man behind the counter. He has white hair, jowls, and watery blue eyes.
“Hello,” I say.
“Well you don’t look familiar. This is your first time, isn’t it?”
“Now what would you like removed today?”
The list of options: Sadness, Fear, Anger, Bitterness, Jealousy.
“I’m here for the jealousy,” I say.
“That’s just fine,” he says. “It’s a popular one. But legally, I do need to inform you that this is a permanent procedure and we cannot be held liable for any side effects or other repercussions.”
“Well, here’s the paperwork. We do it cheap out here. Gonna cost $110, gonna need your ID.”
I scrawl out my name and my answers, then fish my license out of my purse, pass it all over.
“If you’re ready, I’m ready,” the old man says.
I’ve been getting jealous lately. I have been noticing my lover’s eyes on the legs of other women, I’ve been noticing his distracted responses to my daily recaps after work, I’ve been feeling his heart tilt on a new axis that is not related to mine.
“It’s all in your head,” he says. “You’re just jealous.”
The jealousy rages up out of me like lava. When it comes over me, I can’t see anything else.
The room is white-walled with a white table in the center. There are silver countertops and cabinets. I sit in an open-backed paper gown.
“Now let’s see what we’re dealing with here.”
He steps closer to the table, and passes a hand under the gown, over the bare skin of my back. He runs his fingers between my shoulder blades until he finds the thick lump on the left.
“It’s a big one,” he mutters. “Jesus.”
He shifts his fingers over the lump again.
“Now, we won’t need to knock you out for this, just a topical painkiller,” he says. “It’s going to hurt a bit, but it’ll be worth it in the end.”
He gives me two injections near the lump. Then, he moves a scalpel expertly over the lump. I cry out in pain as the skin splits and air rushes into the new wound.
“Hold still now,” he says.
I feel his hands on either side of the fresh wound. He applies pressure and the mouth splits. I can feel the lump sliding out of me.
“There it is,” he says.
He brings his hand forward to show me. All of my jealousy has crystallized into a disgusting gem, slick with my blood, shining its evil in the fluorescent light.
He stitches me back up, puts my skin back together.
I put my clothes back on, moving slow, wincing at the pain. I move down the long white hallway to the front counter. He’s waiting there, and in his hand is the black gem, clean and shining, sparkling less without the blood.
“It’s yours to keep,” he says. “We don’t want all of your baggage.”
“What do I do with this?” I ask.
“Most people toss it in the pit up the street,” he says. “Follow the signs.”
The signs are small and wooden. They say JEALOUSY PIT in sloppy black script with jutting arrows pointing the way.
I park and get out of the car, walking up to the edge of the pit.
Below, a quarry in the earth is full of them, jealousy gems, all black, removed from everyone in town and left here.
I picture the whole town split open like me, their incisions like smiles. I stare down into my stone again, into that dark, awful crystal. Then I throw mine down into the dirt with the rest.