By Andy Wilczak.

“hiding your eyes from the cashier when you’re back again, hoping people don’t smell it or see it or sense it coming out of your pores, see that you are covered in poison…”

Artwork by Andrey Marin.

It is that infinitesimal space between the rock and the hard place. What is the hard place, anyway? Is it another rock? Or a battleship? Or a battleship armed to the teeth with artillery, trebuchets hurling anvils at the lost souls pinned up against the rock, a siege on one’s soul, trying to crush them against the cliffside. If you even have a soul, which, probably not. Point is, it’s a small window to work with, wedged between what’s right to do versus what you want to do versus what you have to do, when all options lead to pain and shame, or like Dusty Rhodes said, we’re talkin’ ‘bout hard times. You hid it for this long, what’s one day more (another day, another destiny, you reflexively sing everytime you hear this particular phrase, just like you do when you meet someone who’s name is 7 syllables long, so it fits the rhythm of Al-ex-an-der Ham-il-ton). Focus, man, focus. There’s the comfort of keeping going one day more (another day.., no, stop it, not now), but still hiding. Hiding the tremors in your hand, telling people it’s just that you’re really tired, hiding your eyes from the cashier when you’re back again, hoping people don’t smell it or see it or sense it coming out of your pores, see that you are covered in poison, and just keep chasing it for another night, maybe next week you’ll stop, this just isn’t the time, not the right time, or the right place, if place even factors into this decision. But there’s so much pain there, there’s been so much death, so much death, you lost them and they’re never coming back, you lost them and they’re taunting you like the Marley Brothers, the chains around their necks clattering as they warn you about what’s bound to happen to you if you don’t change your ways. So you have to change them, have to, just have to. But then how? When? Is there a plan? You should have a plan. But sometimes you use plans as a way to procrastinate and hide from the problem and flatten yourself up against the rock while the hard place keeps hurling more destruction at you and at some point you have to just say the hell with it or here goes nothing, here comes the sun, or Olly Olly Oxen Free (Ol-ly Ol-ly Ox-en Free, seven syllables, see?) and just take the plunge and so that’s what you do, you pick a day and say it’s all done and you dump most of it down the drain, a montage playing in your mind of all the past times you’ve done this for different reasons like when the girl in DC dumped you, you miss DC a lot, but it’s fine, you’ll find a way back there someday, somehow, just to have one more chance to make the walk down the National Mall and ask Mr. Lincoln for advice, man, you could use some wisdom from him right now, but this is crazy, it’s a statue, statues can’t talk, you know that. May as well ask a lamp or the couch for advice. Is the furniture talking? Are you the beauty or the beast? Remember Chris, who always said “mine as well” instead of “might as well” in texts because it was some weird tick he had? You don’t know this now but he’s going through the same damn thing you are only he’s in the hospital fighting for life and you’re not, you talk about your pain now and he’d say it’s mine as well, a funny cosmic convergence, funny in the sense that life is incredibly cruel, and you’re in your living room rocking back and forth in your chair now 48 hours later because of the burning the burning the burning your head is melting your actual brain is boiling itself like some kind of Satanic crayfish boil those TV preachers might have freaked out about in the 80s, warning against Dungeons & Dragons and Metallica and probably Beauty and the Beast too because it romanticized sorcery and domestic violence if you’re being honest. You rock and rock and graduallyincrementallypainfully the teeny tiny bit of space you had to work with gets bigger and there are no more secrets oh god no more secrets but then once the pain of withdrawal subsides you feel something new, you actually feel, you actually feel feelings now, you’re a real boy again, Pinocchio all grown up, no, not another Disney reference, Jesus H. Christ. What’s the H for again? Horatio? Jesus Horatio Hornblower Christ, vengeful sea captain, I don’t know though, I’ve never read those books, he’s a sea captain, or vengeful, or both, right? Focus, focus. Burning, burning. All these feelings now, how are you going to handle these feelings, it’s so overwhelming, you’re drowning, good thing you kept that bottle for emergencies–no, no, no, your new friends tell you to fast forward the tape in times like this and think about how bad you’ll feel after and how your brain will react and how you’ll have to deal with the crayfish boil all over again but way longer and hotter the next time and shit, man, now you have to go out into the world and live in this place without any kind of safety net anymore and all these stupid feelings coursing through your veins, the governor taken off them, unrestrained, uncontrolled, unwanted intruders, home invaders, wrecking your shit and stomping all over your par-broiled brain, Dave Chappelle as Rick James stomping all over your couch. You feel the burning subside, the hellfire recede into a brushfire into a perpetually burning, glowing, smoking match-head, like the Centennial Light, this ever persistent hotspot forever burned into your brain, you have to check to make sure it’s not actually visible on your skin, like some kind of mark that has emerged that will make it easier for people to identify you for what you once were so they know not to ever fully trust you or to censor their own vices around you or to flaunt them in your face because who the fuck are you anyway, you think you’re better than us? The burning is joined by a sense of sorrow not for escaping the tiny place between the cliffs and the battleship, but for not escaping sooner, regret for all the time you lost in this trap, and in looking back at the wreckage of the fire and find that in your recovery, your rebirth, you destroyed the battleship, you smashed the cliffs to dust, that this was liberation in the truest, purest sense of the word, liberation in a revolutionary sense, that you are actually superhuman, the burning the burning the burning nothing more than contractions the way that the Greeks spoke of gods being born wholecloth from Zeus’ head, ok, maybe that’s dramatic, maybe that’s too far, maybe that’s ridiculous, you hear a tiny voice say from the ashes. You consider it momentarily and then turn away, leaving the scene behind, seeking redemption or seeking peace or seeking something tangible that will make all that time lost in the trap worth it, that will make it all mean something more than those platitudes that everything happens for a reason because nothing happens for a reason, things just happen and you’re free now, you’re free, man, live.

The Blood Pudding – December 11, 2020

Andy Wilczak is an associate professor of criminology and sociology at Wilkes University and will be beginning his MFA at Wilkes in January 2021. He lives in northeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @heyDrWil

Artwork: Born in Murmansk in 1986, Andrey Marin now lives in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is an autodidact, making hyperrealist art. You can find him on Instagram at @paintermarin and buy his work here.