Welcome to the wild and confusing world of stream of consciousness. My exhortation to you… is not an exhortation: Good luck. This short story begins with an excerpt from a T.S. Eliot poem and then jumps right into the prose. If you have any questions leave a comment. I am going to let this one remain ambiguous because I don’t think it is that ambiguous. Again, Good luck.
Lazarus, Come Out
By Paul Tomes
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
– T.S. Eliot.
The rim of the toilet pushes back up against my palms. This spot feels secure. I can balance on one elbow-locked arm while the other is cocked up toward my mouth, fingers wondering whether or not they are needed to assist me. I have done this before. I figured out that, with practice, you can force yourself to vomit without prodding the back of your throat. Gulping in air helps, as does having strong stomach muscles. You train your body to reject. The stomach, I have learned, is not the only muscle you can teach.
“Come out,” I say. I’m talking to the puke in my gut.
You should stop.
“What is wrong with me?”
I’m not sure what this means. I say it and it seems dramatic because my eyes are a little shot with blood and swollen from suffocation and I am pinching the skin at my side.
It’s soft. I don’t like soft.
These are called body checks, the skin pinching. I think nurses do them on patients in hospitals to make sure they’re hydrated. They grab a fold of skin, usually on the hand, pull it away and let go, watching to see how long it takes to reform back to the hand. It sounds creepy. I tried it on my grandma once. The elasticity of the skin is supposed to tell you something. If a person is healthy or young or hydrated it is supposed to snap back like a rubber band. My theory about grandma was that she needs to drink more.
I do them on my stomach. My therapist tells me not too. He says it’s an unhealthy habit. What I am feeling for is a lack of thinness. Only I know what this means. He says I should make it a rule: no more body checks.
I never look in the mirror in the morning. This is one my rules. I leave it open when I brush my teeth and when I spit back into the sink. I plaster my eyes to the rug and fumble my toothbrush back into the cabinet, avoiding the mirrors judgments.
I also drink coffee. The color of the toilet matches my teeth. Food leaves a yellow stain on the porcelain rim like coffee does to my denutres. If my teeth die, I know I won’t have much longer either. Coffee and stomach acid back to back to back. The ceramic sealed to the tile of my bathroom is yellowy, but it can be cleansed with bleach. The almost water liquid, capable of burning like a hot coal. I wonder if bleaching my teeth would be a good idea. Or just my lips? My mouth? I’m thinking about baptism. Regular water won’t work on me. If I swallowed bleach I might die, but likely not. I would gulp air and my muscles would save me.
My stomach is inflated like a balloon. I turn the mirror back on myself and I look fuckin’ pregnant. Body checks are useless here. The skin is taught around the abs where the food has stretched it out.
I scream, “What if I want to stop?”
Silence, of course, even as I hold his glare level with my own, for a moment, then drop it, embarrassed, and return to it. He moves with me, a mocking game of copy-cat.
After the cups, the marmalade, the coffee—I have to throw up. Here, among this porcelain, among some talk between you and me—it is too much. I need to throw up.
Is this worth while, John?
“Is that a question?” I ask, “Why are your eyes swollen too?”
Would it be worth it? After all, you don’t have to do this. You learned the tricks, the breathing, the twelve steps, the prayer. Go ahead. Say it!
The words dribble down on the tile, “…the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the…”
Did it work, John?
“No! I have to throw up,” I say.
It screams in my head. Don’t come back from the dead!
I yell, “Leave me alone, I am Lazarus!”
John—I have come to tell you—you don’t have too.
Dead men shame the living with their immortality. You can never escape what you can’t kill. I suppose that is what made people hate him, Lazarus. Sometimes the stench comes rotting out the tomb and we’re forced to question why it has been brought back to life.
“Tell me John, what were your parents like?” he asks, over the chin caress.
He has asked me this before. I sat across from him then, in a grey chair, beneath beige lamplight, muted because in the first session he asked what made me feel comfortable. Now the chair is burgundy leather. There is also a rug. It looks Persian, which means it’s pretentious because it’s fake and I know this because his salary can’t pay for such quilted luxury. His questions are the only thing he can afford to keep him warm and comfortable.
“We talked about this already,” I tell him.
“Did you tell me everything?” he says.
We’re in a gunfight. The burning bulb of the lamp is boiling the bloody rivers beneath my skin. I’m red as the Nile. Sometimes it is not all the parents fault you bearded prick! Sometimes mommy and daddy were good! But mommy’s daddy was a fucker and used take big handfuls of Johnny’s “spare tire” and call him squishy!
Wrong questions expert.
“I’m sick of this conversation, ” I tell him.
Look at something different for a while, Lazarus—the shower curtain, white clothe like you’re used too every morning when I brush my teeth.
A dangling strand of drool, like fishing line, hangs hooked to my lip. I shake it free and it ripples the toilet water.
“I have to stop.” I say, “need too.”
I also don’t know what this means. Sometimes I am talking to him and sometimes to myself. I lift up my shirt and squeeze and say something stupid like, “You’re not squishy.”
Lazarus had no choice whether to live or die. Even after four days of being dead he heard, “come out.” Which if you say ilike you are beating a drum with your tongue it almost sounds like, “love you.” In poetry this is called a pyrrhic. Lazarus must have heard the drum, come out or love you, and then he was alive again.
I wonder if I would answer the voice outside the tomb, “What does it matter after all? I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. I won’t come out.”
I set my elbows down on the edge of the seat, my head dangling next to my crotch, ass in the air. I curse my habits: the mirror turning, the coffee drinking, the poem reading. My crotch doesn’t give a shit.
My muscles seem to have failed me. I need to use my fingers. It feels ugly to have to choke yourself, to spasm and cough and cry for something that should be done so effortlessly. I bring my hand towards my mouth. The thumb won’t slide in with the pointer finger unless I want to try and swallow my fist. I have to make a gun shape. I slide the gun between my teeth.
I choke. I throw up.
She speaks softly from the other side of the bathroom door, “John, honey, are you okay? Please— I…come out,”
I ignore her. My fingers are in my throat.
I won’t come out. I have taught my body to reject. That I can do with no hands.
I welcome your thoughts