By Drew Pisarra
I’ve always been more interested in the connotation than the denotation, in the implication than the meaning, in the feeling over the definition, the sound instead of the Latin root, aspirates and glottal stops rather than suffixes and prefixes. So it should come as no surprise that when I saw the envelope standing alone and erect in my mail slot, I decided to eat it instead of read it. I ripped the envelope open with my teeth. The taste was dry and flat. I took another bite for confirmation: the same taste. I ate the envelope and its contents in their entirety then waited for the reaction from my stomach.
There was a churning and a slight gurgle. I felt my stomach fold around the paper and kick into the digestive mode. The paper resisted, especially the glue on the flap. The letter fought a breakdown, my stomach persevered. The gastric juices shifted into overdrive and tore into the wall of the stomach. I felt the activated acids begin to climb up my esophagus, and trickle down the small intestine, then the large. My asshole squirmed. My pharynx quivered. I wanted to fart and burp at the same time.
I wanted to jump up from the toilet seat when the paper cut a thin sliver right along the edge of the exit. The letter unfolded in, and absorbed, the water. The sentences went fuzzy. Words floated up off the paper to the surface of the water. Slightly bleeding letters separated and rearranged themselves in suggestive formation: DANGLEROU, GLANCRE, KILDYN. I flushed it all away, but an “e” remained—resurfacing after the whirlpool—silent and sure of its ability to alter through its mere after-presence. That fuzzy, furry, black-bleeding silent letter confronted me. I put down the lid; shut the toilet’s mouth, and waited among the still white tiles.
I washed my hands over the sink and over the sink was a mirror. There I saw the original message repeated in three penciled lines that rant across my forehead; lines that mocked age through mimicry; lines which became deeper when I expressed my disapproval at their existence.
The lines extended, overlapped, formed a gridwork, a mesh, a screen. The screen projected and cast a shadow in front of me, across my image. Every other square of the screen darkened and became a solid so that a checkerboard emerged.
The lines extended, not touching, pointing: rays, arrows, directional which remained confined to the same plane as my forehead and hence only pointed to the side, never backwards, never inward. The arrows that pointed at me were from the outside. Sometimes fingers and tongues on billboards, or in shop windows, or spray-painted on walls, poked.
I took an arrow aimed at me, at my mouth, and swallowed it. I took the arrow from the head to the base. I made it disappear completely if only momentarily for the tip of the arrow hit a softer arrow inside me; an arrow directing downwards, towards my guts. And from my very stomach up through the throat, I wanted to expel any notions of gulping, swallowing, ingesting.
Upon its reappearance, the arrow forced its way back in again. Before the third, I clenched my teeth. I turned away in order to face instead of avoid. The gesture’s meaning inverted. Aversion became observation.
In the darkness, I rediscovered the bed, his body, and a clarity avoided in the blinding whiteness of the bathroom. Although here forms lurked and suggested rather than asserted presence, nevertheless, their being remained total and unquestionable.
I stepped out into the light and realized I was nude. That was okay though because I was in the bathroom again. I took the opportunity to step in the shower which was already on. I yanked the curtain shut and, following the tattling of the hoops, everything turned blue: the shampoo, the soap, the walls, the curtain. I examined myself. I remained flesh colored. My skin wasn’t blue. It stood out in sharp contrast. I looked at my palms, my nails: white. I looked at my feet and there was the letter—re-materialized. Off a single page, the ink ran around my toes and down the drain in a river simultaneously evaporating an d straining the atmosphere with an ethereal ink.
I yanked the letter up off the porcelain, tossed it on the carpet, and dabbed it dry with a hand towel or tissue. The words remained in order. Only the letterhead and salutation were dissolved. The news I read with my eyes, uttered with my voice, heard with my ears and felt throughout. Then I folded up the information and placed it in a desk drawer.
The next day, I remembered where I put it.
I remember my life two weeks later: hot, sweaty, scared, terrified, wet, defiant, angry, desolate, hopeful.
I remember my life 18 months later and the taste of homegrown tomatoes, and organic—if store-bought—radishes, plus an occasional marijuana brownie.
I remember my life three years from now. In the prime of my life once again, with a handful of green-smelling flowers in my skinny hand, I gleefully make my way across the street. And, when a car broadsides me, I think (still smiling): I do have control over my life to this point.
Drew Pisarra is the author of You’re Pretty Gay (2021), a collection of short stories; Infinity Standing Up (2019), a collection of poetry; and The Strange Case of Nick M. (2021), a radio play commissioned by Imago Theatre. His poetry has appeared everywhere from the Whitney Biennial 2022 to Analog sci-fi magazine.