he cardiovascular system is a complex web of highways and truck stops through the human body.  The veins cross through muscles, over tendons and bone, always in the same direction, always on the long journey back home.  Until the journey is interrupted.

Just before the first puncture, the heart slows.  The beats come in a steady death march, palpitating in his ears.  And then the pace quickens, as he fingers the knife.  Faster and faster until breathing is difficult, until his lungs fill his ribcage and expand towards his heart.  His eyes glaze over, his head swims, his will focuses.  This is the challenge, to overcome the body’s barriers to his will.  The brain’s attempt to circumvent him with fear is always the hardest part.  Pain is not nearly as potent as the fear of pain.

The trick is to make a clean slice.  Insert the blade into the rubbery skin deep enough to open, but shallow enough to close easily when he was done.  In the fantasy, of course, the cut is deeper, his parents find him on the floor, he is taken to the emergency room, half dead and translucent from the loss of blood.  It pools on the ground quietly, not like the gore of a battlefield, but like a whispered execution, a scene of decapitated virgins from Arabian Nights.  A fine greeting for Scheherazade, congealed black fluid on a Persian rug.

The reality is always a vague letdown by comparison.  The tears that arise from the skin are small rubies at first.  They blossom into drops as large and clear as pomegranate seeds, juicy, lustrous, clean.  The pain subsides almost immediately, and he is left with a sense of release.  Few people can imagine the high that this produces, as the blood runs faster through the veins to make up for the lost portion of the caravan.  It rushes from the body now, creating bright rivulets over the arms, the legs, the wrist.  He lets it fall in a tiny waterfall to the floor.  His mind wanders, dizzy from anticipation and euphoria.  Like magma, the blood begins to grow thicker, a macabre volcano of the flesh.  Soon the river will stop, he will apply pressure, clean the wound.  He will sink back into invisibility, unsure what to do with himself or his body.  The heart will slow and resume its normal pace: steady, tired, plodding.  The excitement will cease, and his lungs will take in air without gasping or gulping.  The relaxation is torture.

All but the skin, the final touch on his self-portrait.  Hidden beneath jackets and sweatshirts, the scar will remain as a testament to his strength.  For weeks it will be a dull red, irritated and sore, capable of reopening at any time.  The blood’s wrath at its mistreatment cannot always be contained.  Then it will become a pink line, swollen at first, then thin and emaciated.  The vessels and capillaries will knit themselves back together, and as the recovery is completed, the skin will turn a gruesome shade of grayish white.  Sometimes there will be no trace.  But for his closest calls, those times when he almost achieved victory over himself, there will be scars forever.  A testament to the desperation of his pain.

* * * * *

This week Emily Markussen Sorsher is acting as Guest Editor while Dr. Hurley puts the finishing touches to his prize-winning Christmas Pudding. We hope you enjoy the morsels she has hand-selected for your delectation!

Emily Markussen Sorsher occupies space beneath a palm tree in Southern California.  She writes grants, lesson plans, and young adult fiction, and has a bad habit of collecting the written word.  She has lots of degrees that she doesn’t use.  Emily likes her chocolate dark, her drinks strong, and her life just dramatic enough to be interesting. Her posts on Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

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