Theme VIII: Body, “Praying at the Pew of a Savage God”

By Nikolas Reda-Castelao

On Wednesday, in the lobby of his art school, Gabe sat at the bench beside the stairwell leading to the basement level. It was black and metallic and normally one would find some student perched with their iPhone warbling away into it. One would find conspiring duos or carousing colleagues or plotting producers on this bench, and they’ll pass before it in the endless palimpsest of belonging to a community. Gabe did not do these things. Gabe had neither companion nor peer nor friend nor lover occupy the pew beside him, and Gabe was left to occupy it with thoughts and alternate realities and testimonials and hatred. He never looked to his left to say hello to it, whatever it was. He stared at the floor, at the brown marble, marveling at why he was here, alone, sitting on this bench, instead of being in class, which he had ditched to sit here.

Gabe went between deep and short focus; whenever, in his open-eyed slumber, he came to, he was staring at his hands. They shivered. They were apoplectic epileptics of a miniature model, ten people seized in religious fits by a god of sorrow. They had a contortionist act like sideshows, puppets along a street alley. The splinters of his heart each carried their own string. People would pass and he would be there, fixed downward. Perhaps a hundred or so people would pass him, a full integer, and nothing would be said, and nothing would be done. He felt derelict in his own home. He spent years here and all he had to show was that he was able to describe this metallic chair beneath him, beneath the world.

He wanted someone to appear: his catalyst. She was a woman he’d known for quite a while. The specifics of their relationship aren’t important, or perhaps they are. He sat there to probably forget about them. It wasn’t so much that it was in any way sexual, as none of his relationships had ever been so. That was not what he wanted, either. He does not speak with the breath of avarice reaching out for alien worlds of sensation, but he does strive in ship-building and physics formulas. But he is marooned in himself.

On that chair, he felt the most inarticulate sensation slither through his body. He wanted this woman to be there. He wanted someone to be there. He wanted anyone to be there.

The night before, Gabe was sharing a beer with his friends. They told him that a friend of his did not, in actuality, like him. If anything, he quite disliked him. Gabe was taken aback, as this was surprising. He retorted that it was impossible, that he had never done no injury, no grievance, no insult, no disrespect, and no malfeasance of any kind to this person. How could he dislike him? On what grounds could a person who been given nothing but respect and affection by someone turn to set that person on fire? Apparently, Gabe had a feud with someone a while ago who turned out to be close friends with that person, his closest friend really. And so this person was angered on the behalf of another.

How far does that web stretch?

Gabe sat alone and people he knew walked past him, gone and freezing. He assumed they were accomplices in his defamation. These were people he hugged and spoke warmly, too. That person from last night, he was very warm to him whenever he could be. He was always quite warm, he thought. But in the residue of faith, he found his body underlining his dermal tissue with a sporadic frost. But it wasn’t a painful freezing sensation. It wasn’t violent. It was worse. The sensation he would feel throughout his person was a seizure by a god of sorrow, a savage one. It was the zero concept of sensation. Moreso than numbness, it was hollowness; coup d’etats of hollow, empty, breaking nothing. It bursts in flares all over at moments of unpredictable seizure and he races to grab the dissolving part of him, to hold himself together again. The dead feeling escaped him in broken belabored breaths and his breath reeked of emptiness.

In high school, he did this then, too. He would escape his classrooms and haunt the halls. He searched for warmth. Even now as he watches his hands foam and curl their eyes back into their heads, he will take them and wrap them around himself. In high school, he didn’t end up on a bench staring at the floor. He found himself in bathrooms during the time when the school was a wasteland and he would fill the emptiness with shame, and then pain. He punished himself for loneliness. He took the bathroom stall door, swung it open and then laid his forehead at the place where it locks. Then, careful not to turn himself into an emergency room spectacle, he slammed the door on his temple. Again. Again. Each time his arm lost a little more strength, until finally he could see darkness just a few feet in front of him. He would back away, look repulsed at the mirror, and carry on haunting. In truth, even then he wanted a womanly warmth to ward him.

He rose from the chair after what had been maybe an hour, expressed in a lifetime. He looked around at everyone. He sighed. He wondered how strange it was how a community that romanticized and made fetish with broken brains would still turn its back to those same broken brains, a palimpsest of bruises and weals throughout.

He descended the stairwell, back to his class. He walked through the carousel of the triumph of deceit, of smiles pervading the culture, snatching their bodies, closing their eyes. He walked through a personal hell he remembered, to the days when he used to cut himself in class and the world’s eyes glazed forward.

He felt like a drawing, scrunched over and clasping at his head, which had been scribbled over. He sat down in his chair, his eyes glazed over and he sank to the bottom of the world, far from any ships, far from any embrace, and so far from himself that, for a moment tied to infinity, he couldn’t remember if he ever knew love.

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