Sarah Rose Etter

Needle Mouth, from Thigh River

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a few things, but this is part of a linked short story collection called Thigh River. This one is very new, and I’m not sure if I’ll add it. But you asked what I was working on, and it’s very much this.

Needle Mouth

Your bodies were pressed together again. It wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare. It was May or it was June. My body was only pressed against sheets, only pressed against its own sweat.

I stumbled away from your bodies which had morphed into more than bodies, had become one large mass, the way a galaxy devours a nearby spiral, stars collapsing, dust wild.

Out on the street, there was no one – it was only me and my mouth full of needles, metal jutting out of my face. I wasn’t sure who had put the needles there, only that they were part of me now. A panic rose in my chest. With every breath, the needles jostled in my skin. My eyes welled. This couldn’t be forever.

It was dusk. Somewhere, your bodies were still a mass I was sure of it. There was a privacy to your bodies. I was always being excluded.

The needles in my mouth began to throb with their hard heat, some of their metal through the cheeks, some up through the chin, some sewing needles, some syringes leaking an unknown juice into me. The needles brushed against my teeth and gums, the metal on all the worst places, all the softest places.

Meanwhile, your bodies elsewhere throbbing, light from eons ago only reaching me now.

It was May or it was June, there was a mist coming down on me. I stopped on the asphalt. I’d have to do the hard work myself.

“I’ll do the hard work myself,” I said through the needles, and the hurt tore through me worse but I deserved that for thinking I would be part of a specific, flesh-toned universe imploding.

Suddenly, there was a small crowd. Suddenly, there were three people around me. I wasn’t part of a circus, but it felt that way, the world’s smallest center ring.

They wanted something grand, I could feel it, these three people in their work clothes looking tired, bags under their eyes and arms and all, everyone a bit rumpled.

“We want something grand,” one of the rumpled people said, a man who had eyes that looked like hers, as if she had put on another face just to watch the suffering up close.

Seeing those eyes was really what pushed me over the edge. My blood escalated, a way of saying a new level of insanity had entered the veins.

I’ll give them a show, I thought. I felt dared.

I looked right into his eyes which were her eyes. My hands stopped shaking. I could show grace in the face of this.

I began sliding the needles from my mouth flesh, slowly, the pain arching through my face. The first needle slid from my cheek, making the skin pucker, grazing my tongue as it exited, the first taste of blood swirling.

“Well, that’s more like it,” he said, and her eyes glittered. She was waiting for me to mess up, egging me on. The street was a tightrope, all of this was in the air.

I kept pulling, next the needle from below my lip, then the needles throughout my cheeks, I kept going, grasping that metal and pulling it from my skin, reversing the damage, reversing the damage.

Tears rushed out of my eyes, but your bodies were still together, and her eyes were still watching. I continued. I pulled and pulled and pulled. With each needle, more blood.

The final syringe extended up through my chin, plastic and metal dangling against my body. This was the biggest. My hands trembled again.

For courage, I thought of our bodies pressed together, how beautiful it was when that happened, our specific colliding. If there was stardust then, I didn’t know. We were in the center of it.

I pulled at the plastic and it broke off in my hand, the needle still moving in my chin, in the bottom of my mouth, beneath my tongue, scraping off cells and revealing blood.

I let the plastic shatter to the ground and thought of you again, this time you alone, singular, before her, you standing with your own bones and flesh, distinct and alive and throbbing with the possibility of being free or even mine.

I thought of you and brought my hand back to the broken syringe, back to the thickness of that bare needle between my fingers and I pulled, the worst pulling, I let out a howl, the feeling making me sick even as I did it, the thick blood spurting harder than any other removal, that final hurt.

I could feel each pain prick throbbing in my face and chin, blood streaming down my cheeks and neck, finally clear of metal, skin slick and red.

The crowd let out a sprinkle of bored applause. Each clap was a small sound, each clap was your body slamming against her body, each clap was your bodies pressed together.

The crowd moved away, those three rumpled bodies gone. Her eyes were gone. The mist kept coming down.

All of the pinprick holes made their small aches. All around me, galaxies made of skin were combining, never mine. It was May or it was June. I stood alone in the street, blood constellating from stars in my face.

Sarah Rose Etter is the author of Tongue Party (Caketrain Press). She co-hosts the TireFire Reading Series in Philadelphia & is a contributing editor at The Fanzine. 

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