Six Small Welts / 2 December 2002
On Thanksgiving morning I noticed six small welts on my arm, positioned in a circle. My landlord fancies himself a mid-level G.P. so I headed up there and knocked on his door, knowing he’d be home and drinking and watching the jogging lady on his zoetrope.
“Let’s give er a look,” he said, not taking his eyes off my arm as he backed toward the coat closet and fumbled for something in one of the many pockets of his army jacket—
About the jacket, which belonged to his father: The father found it in the backyard while digging up a sewer pipe with a garden hoe, buried underneath the roots of a plum tree. The name on the jacket: Darweig. And the smell: Unholy. The jacket was wrapped around some bones and at first the father thought it was a two-headed human skeleton before he took a step back and realized it was two human skeletons tightly intertwined. Ribcages crisscrossed, ulnae overlapping, jawbones locked like a moebius strip. The father reburied the skeletons, had the jacket drycleaned, went out and bought his wife a silver bracelet due to some kind of unnameable guilt.
—namely a jeweler’s loupe which he then screwed into his eyesocket, hustling me into the better light over by the window. “Oh boy,” he said. “Oh what have we here.”
“Give it to me straight,” I said.
“I’m going to ask you three questions and I expect total complete honesty,” my landlord said, and I nodded. “Have you had intercourse within the last twenty-four hours?”
“What time is it?”
“Oh nine hundred.”
“No I have not.”
“Have you eaten peppered pork or peppered steak or any peppered meat or just pepper in the last twenty-four hours?”
I honestly had no idea. It was one of those moments where I’m asked something and my head locks up and instead of thinking about the answer I think about how I’m not thinking of the answer and then I think about how much time has gone by and how simple I must look just standing there and not answering. Luckily this was a yes/no so I could go ahead and fake it: “No.”
My landlord gave me a hard look and took a deep breath before saying: “Have you — Josh, seriously, in the last twenty-four hours, have you made a solemn pledge that you fully intend to honor?”
That time my head didn’t lock up and he knew the answer almost as soon as he finished asking the question. “I thought so,” he said. “Josh, you have to tell me what this pledge was. I don’t care what it is, I don’t care if you honor it or not, but as your doctor I must insist that you tell me what it is, for your own safety.”
I told him that the night before I’d pledged to create beauty from torment rather than vice versa, which hadn’t been working out too well for me. He nodded and clapped me on the shoulder. “I’m glad you shared that with me,” he said. “Put some Eucerin on those welts and they’ll be gone by halftime.”
I did, and he was right, and I felt better. After eating a can of cranberry paste, I flipped through my dream diary and was startled to find something from that morning, an entry I didn’t remember writing: “Military man sneaks down from Heaven, breaks into my home, administers Heaf Test to check for tuberculosis, is concerned w/results.”
And now I remember my landlord showing off his six-needle puncture tube this past Fourth of July. Why, diary? Why couldn’t he just come down here and ask about my pledge, the pledge he heard me make through heating ducts as surely as if he’d been there in my bedroom with me? Why all the theatrics?
And now I get it: He wants to give me something to document in these very pages. I’m choosing to feel embarrassed by this rather than inspired, though at least this time around I realize there is a choice to be made.