“My Lurid Escape”
a short story
Gary Baker, August 2014
I remember the sun as it drew across the room, and how I wanted it to stop for one goddamn moment and how I needed the light. I remember the sweetly wafting tendrils of the whiskey beneath my nose, and the way it stung while it enticed. Then came the taste as I lifted the glass and brought some in for further inspection, and the way it was so wonderfully opposite to the scent. In this case, I needed the numbness.
Holding my arm tight, I brought the knife from the jar of rubbing alcohol and set down the tip on an incongruous point of my arm. I put it where I would have no fear of arteries or the like, no fear of tendons that could be sawn in half, just muscle and a bit of fat with skin in the way. I had to hold a small tasting bottle of scotch with my arm just so it wouldn't twitch on me like a mad soldier under the knife back in the twenties, doing so also kept me focused on my task. I wasn't leaving this be until I'd seen blood.
One drop, I told myself. One drop and I'm done. No more.
So it began.
I pushed in and felt the electric sting, which prevented me from pushing further when it became strong enough to bring stars to my eyes. So I swashed the knife in the clear liquid again and brought it to the pinprick once more. This time I would do it. This time for sure.
Again I felt the sting, the jolt of helpless denial that my body seemed intent on screaming, as though it thought I were some killer from the movies all but unstoppably drawn by the busty blonde with the dagger in hand as he came for her. It seemed to think I could be stopped, though, just like how in those movies the killer can always be talked out of it, perhaps even delayed until some force of nature or police or something could intervene. But not me. Not this time.
I was only here for a drop, after all. No more.
What was the worst that could happen, I asked myself.
I pushed harder and was immobilized by pain, so instead chose to draw rather than push. I laid the blade down lengthwise along the point I'd made, and pulled ever so slightly. While this didn't bring the pain, it also didn't bring the desired gleam of crimson. So I did it again, pushing harder, drawing more forcefully, watching as hairs atop the skin were sliced and the skin broke free layer after layer.
For a moment there I became frustrated enough to saw at my arm. The drawing wasn't doing anything, and this was the sharpest blade I had in the house, sharper than any of the steak knives or such like that, and although they weren't exactly sharpened by a professional they could more than handle the tasks they were made for. Unlike me. Unlike this knife at that moment.
I cleaned the knife again in the alcohol and took a serious swig of the eighty-proof off to the side, downing it like floor cleaner. Delicious cinnamon burned from all angles, evaporating even as I swallowed, or so it felt like. What liquid made it down my throat was dry and searingly wonderful, and my soonest exhale brought gasps of intake as though I'd just swallowed a real fireball. My lips stung with the sweet burn and I allowed my arm the moment to relax as I enjoyed the taste once more, licking it off like a psychotic cannibal tasting flesh after years without.
Then, determined as the numbness moved across my cheeks and into my scalp, I retook the knife and shook the alcohol from it. I brought it to my arm again where that last drop splished on the skin. It was like a magnifying glass. Suddenly I could see into the wound I had made. And I could see quite easily how I still had yet to break the skin. My arm wasn't numb enough yet, I learned then. Haltingly, I retried the piercing method. This time it went in further, but felt no more like cutting a steak than it did like cutting sailcloth. I saw the tip pushed down into my arm, but there was no blood.
This angered me more than I can say. I became overwhelmed by this urge to push it in all the way, all three inches of steel, just to find out if I were even human. Already I had pushed it it more than a millimeter and I could see just where the skin ended, or so I thought, but still nothing so pink as the pastel blossom of a 'naked lady' could be seen. Instead all I was given was an ugly white-ish tone and the jawbreaker-like layers of my skin.
Another swig of whiskey, then.
This next time I knew I had already broken skin, so I chose not to redo the annoyingly tedious task, and instead began sawing at the end of the fissure already made. It worked for a moment, and then I hit something, something threadlike and tight which wouldn't let me cut further no matter how much I sawed at it. So, decidedly believing it to be a small capillary of sorts, I turned the knife around and pulled at the string from the other end. It took a moment to get down that far again, but when I did I knew I had something.
So I slid the blade along behind the thread from the more shallow of wounds and pushed away from myself with hardly enough force to cut into a fly. I wanted the blade to do the work for me, not the other way around. If I had to use brute tactics for this I may as well have tried doing so with a pencil or a pen, perhaps.
For some time the two objects just wouldn't part ways. I had the thread peeking close to the skin layer, stretched from it's depths in my fattier layers one millimeter deeper, with the alarmingly not-as-sharp-as-Id-thought blade tip. Then, as I pondered taking another swig big enough to fill my mouth, I felt a release, and my knife flew free with only enough momentum to jolt my hand.
At first nothing else happened. I grew angry for a moment, knowing I had snapped some thread within me, yet seeing not a hint of blood. After all the minor pain I had endured, I still hadn't gone deep enough. So I retook the blade after swashing it about again and settled myself to no more drinking until I'd seen a drop. This time it only took a second or two of dragging the tip through the opened crevice before I got something.
Deep, dark and nearly brown, I watched particles stream down from the alcohol filled wound opening. Odd, I thought, and cleared the fissure to allow more. When I did so, I pulled from it a mat of congealed brownness that looked more like mud residue than a scab. So I redipped the blade in the alcohol and once again slid along the bottom of the opening until I got what I was looking for.
Barely a single drop came bubbling out, then nothing, then one more and nothing shortly after. I just stared as it did this little routine until finally it clocked in me that this was from the pulsation of some vein inside my arm, near the surface, that was releasing blood with every beat of my heart.
By then the sun had moved across the table and no longer had me in its sights. I moved things on the table and shifted places then, so I could see, and watched as half-congealed blood was pushed through the cut into the real world little by little despite how deep it was I had dug. The fascination grew. I placed my arm atop a paper towel and rest it there while the blood barely dripped down. Every second or so I had to re-clear the wound so it could drip once more, but each time I did the numbness came and allowed me the act before coming again with the pulsation. By this time my arm had an ugly line moving to the towel, pocked with particulates and dried blood in the path of more coming down little by little.
I cleared the line again and felt the rocky roughness of the bottom, so I dug deeper, seeking more to this flow, and yet each time I pulled the knife away it seemed the wound had pressed itself into closure again and that the only way I could see more blood was by pulling one side from the other. So I did. I placed two fingers upon my arm, one to either side of the line, and pushed the lips of the wound away from the other. Blood would come for a moment, and then I had to clear the drying debris once more.
Finally I sat back, relieved somehow, feeling lighter, more real. Somehow the druggy sluggishness of my life had seeped just slightly further away, enough that I could see what the sluggishness was. I looked upon my act and smiled. This was all for that smile, I knew, for that sense of satisfaction for once and, knowing that it was small enough not to be questioned, I sighed with contentment.
No one would notice. No one would know.
Not even my girlfriend would ask me where I got it from, nor the more problematic questions of why I had done it. For once I had a dark secret to hide, and for some reason this made me giddy. I felt the queer throes of withheld laughter inside, threatening to come forth, and knew that this secret, while dangerous in the eyes of those in my life, may have just given me the escape that I needed. I knew then that this would be a return act, an addiction of my very own, could I only get over the nervous pain.
Perhaps, I thought musingly, next time I might try harder alcohol before digging in.
[NOTE FROM THE WRITER]
[August 31, 2014; 2:30 AM]
Turns out that was anything but true.
I'd sworn it was a one-off deal, that that lone drop (or in all truth, that lone dripping run of quickly-dried crimson) would be the last. Yet such isn't so. I have drawn again. I have drawn my skin open again, to the point of several drops, each more red than the last.
They started out as a brownish hue, like dirt had been globbed in my veins and this was somehow releasing mud from within me. While it felt as if this were absolute truth, I know it was all psychological, and altogether with such knowledge I still cannot figure out what this is all for. I cannot say why I do this, nor what has brought me to it.
Sure I can point to the increasing mental stress lately, about the point at work where I simply broke and resigned despite numerous bills to pay and loans to make installments on. I can also point to those very bills for this. I can show many moments of doubt as deep as the neurons carrying these words to the fingers as they type away here for you all. I can convey so many moral wrongdoings in my world done unto others as well as myself, all focused upon this one lone life and how many it meets along the way to the final end. I can tell anyone who asks of the struggles I face each and every day and how anxiety meets stress so thick it drowns, and how when I actually open my fearful eyes I can see nothing to truly be afraid of, and how this then makes me feel so insignificant and small-minded that I just want to die to be over it all.
Yes, I am a horrible human being. Yes, I take things out on myself that should never have blame set upon anyone and, yes, I know these things to be fallacies in all truth, but that notion doesn't make them any less strong, any less wondrously vivid when push comes to shove. When I see these minuscule things emerge from behind the magnifying glass, like a cartoon bug walking on a scientists desk, instead of acting out against them to rid them of my life I take it out on myself in turn for ever having thought them large in the first place.
So for any out there who understand this... this piece is for you.
I have begun in earnest lately. I started with what turns out to have been a dull knife, that or just way too broad for the task. Now I yearn to distance myself from the razor removed from a box-cutter, cleaned and sanitized with high-grade rubbing alcohol. I found myself doing this even in plain view of Meaghan as she watched a show online earlier. When asked about it, I blame a cat, after having added so many others around the larger ones so as to appear so. Each burns, yes, but each also relieves some tension as I remember how the razor bypassed my sensory objection to pain and alleviated some in its place.
I still am not quite sure why I do this, however, even as I wonder where I should place the next one so its not obvious come daylight. I should admit now, though, that none of these go very deep other than that first time. With the razor in poised delicate-gripped fingertips I fear of going too far and not realizing it until its much too late. Thus I only go, so to speak, skin-deep. I go until I see a neat, crisp line of red, and then stop cutting deeper and focus on letting no scab appear. I scrape it away with the flat of the blade to allow the line to stay longer, to allow it that final course down my forearm and onto the paper towel lain beneath.
Now what was once a dream of mine, a worry without cause but a worry nonetheless, has now become much more tangible and real. I can now truly fear going too deep and doing something I can never do. It really isn't my intention, mind you, to end my life. Instead my intent is to focus on pain in place of mental worries, in place of things I can never truly change. Instead of absolute panic over not having an income just now, I am able to focus on my arm and how much I can take before adding the cleaning liquids and neaten it all up. Instead of fretting over a lack of fuel for a car I currently cannot make payments on, I can focus on how hard I press the blade and when I should begin drawing it along and how long to do this one and which direction and where to make the next one when the time comes and how to make them all look like cat scratches or the like to the untrained eye.
I know it's wrong, but then again this same pain would come from tattoos and a tattoo would last me my entire life... not just a week or so. I guess what I mean to say is that this is real. It doesn't get any more real than this. Yet truth be told too many people dismiss those in my state as small-minded and depressed and mentally unstable and fraught with a disease of the brain and so on, while not many tend to stand aside for a moment and ponder the implications. By cutting I am therefore an outcast among many, and yet by keeping it in and never doing anything physical to release it I slowly become a mass murderer or a depraved psychopath or a true suicidal being. No matter what malcontent it keeps from reaching me, if this act seems horrifying whilst keeping me alive, then I say let the blood come. I say keep this drawing act going...
and let the alcohol clean what ails me one drop at a time, from the internal in the form of drunken charades and from the external in the form of sanitation and fast-healing.