POLLYANNA, by Julia Long
Realize you're the god of the people stuffed inside your toe.
Fall in love with Sunshine, a bulimic featured on a reality show.
Lock yourself in your apartment and become a sex slave to a pizza/wings/waffles TV dinner.
Blame your insatiable lust on a Tarlov cyst.
Have a violent fantasy about a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
Rob Wal-mart with a frosting pink toy knife.
Shower with your therapist.
Join the idle ingenues wandering aimlessly around the USA, incapacitated by meaningless relationships and preoccupied with their mental illnesses.
EXCERPT FROM LINCOLN LOG SMOKE SIGNAL
America was downright dirty.
So was an American named Shem.
Shem was at the CVS Pharmacy. He found whitening toothpaste and went for the least attractive cashier.
Shem got what he deserved, a shitty cashier. She didn’t ask how Shem was doing, but actually, Shem asked the cashier how she was doing! It was chaos, it was like Shem was the employee.
The cashier said the word Working.
How you doing? Working.
What the fuck, thought Shem.
Shem didn’t make a $5 donation to the Special Olympics (downright dirty).
Shem let everything he saw on the walk home go in his eyes. Most of it evaporated and some vague tracing of it went to his crackly God Sized Hole. When that happened, Shem pushed it back away. He was preoccupied, thinking about more important things than what he was seeing. Light, events, nature, buildings and random people, this stuff didn’t affect him. Maybe made a little wiggling insect leg shift in his God Sized Hole but would not affect his life. Could not would not harm him.
Shem was thinking about his genitals. The world revolved around them. The last time Shem touched his genitals was in the morning. No porn, not even using thoughts. His brain and body always seemed to come back to this, this directionless lust, this vague but screaming force field around his genitals.
Elsewhere on Shem’s body there was this dual itch, meaning it was the same itch happening on two body parts at the same time. Shem trusted the itch. It was just there, not to be judged or scratched (killed). He stared into the Sun.
Shem was home. He was at the front of the house, taking his socks and shoes off. There was a spider on the wall. Shem smiled. A vague thing wrong with his genitals changed.
Shem stuck his hand down his shorts and rubbed his genitals. He was thinking about something really solid as a feeling but unnecessary—maybe impossible—to put into language in his God Sized Hole. Not that he wanted to—he didn’t. He liked it just as a heavy, thing. Some vague notion of rhythm, some consistent vibration of sights. Some, thing.
Shem’s genitals gushed. His God Sized Hole throbbed with pleasure.
The big bad thing inherently wrong with the world bounced forever down the sidewalk.
Something was living in Shem’s computer.
When Shem was typing to his friends on the Internet, he’d hear these crawling legs coming from underneath the keyboard. He’d stop typing and the crawling would stop momentarily. He’d listen for a beat, always wondering if he’d imagined it, and then when it didn’t come back he’d keep typing.
But it would happen again. Always.
This had been going on for days and Shem had gone through various vague stages of grief until he finally accepted it, accepted that he wasn’t going to tell anyone nor try and kill the thing. It was almost a comfort, now. It definitely made a difference in the vague Universe that was his genitals.
The state of the thing, though, was that it was trying to escape. Shem knew because the crawling was frantic. Maybe it wasn’t crawling really, but writhing.
It moved around to different parts of the keyboard, though, so yeah it was crawling. Maybe crawling then writhing. Shem smiled.
Shem was on a filesharing web site, watching an episode of a reality TV show about addicts.
This one was about a puking bulimic. Puking bulimics are addicted to bingeing and purging.
Shem had seen this episode some times before. It was his favorite episode of any TV show e v e r. He already knew everything that was gonna happen but that didn’t kill it. It maybe made it better.
The girl on the show’s name was Sunshine.
Shem had elaborate fantasies about what he would do with Sunshine, their lives together.
It had nothing to do with her looks. She happened to be attractive but it didn’t matter. There was something so feminine about how her body controlled her. It was chaos! She couldn’t resist her urge if someone held a gun to her head. This was someone totally innocent, sensitive enough to be this affected by something as tame as food.
They don’t make ’em like that around here, thought Shem.
On the computer screen, Sunshine was gagging over the toilet. Shem turned the volume up.
I need to find me a puker, he thought.
Shem was in love.
"Guess why I'm a nympho," said Blister.
Blister was Shem's therapist.
"No," said Shem, "I don't care why. I accept it."
"That's actually very Zen," said Blister, "And sometimes I like that about apathy, it's Zen."
"I could see that," said Shem.
"But no but I'm a nympho because my body just does it for me," said Blister, "I have no part in it. I'm never not horny. I don't even have to be thinking about something sexual or touching myself. I wake up horny, I'm horny all day, I go to bed horny...it's actually a spine problem, supposedly. Supposedly I have a Tarlov cyst. And supposedly Tarlov cysts can cause Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder."
"Which exists," said Shem.
"Which I have," said Blister, "I mean I think."
"Is it more intense when you're on your back then?," said Shem, "The lust? Are you like extra lusty lusty right now?"
Blister wiggled in a way. It was a provoked dog move.
Woof, thought Shem.
"I think I'm more horny on my back yeah," said Blister, "But maybe not cuz the cyst should be in my spinal canal. Right? I don't know much about anatomy. I just know I have a Tarlov cyst pushing on those sensitive striated nerves. Not striated, maybe not striated, I don't know about the nerves, I made that part up. I just like the way that sounds. The cyst is pushing on my nerves and they just keep firing, sending little signals to my brain."
"I actually like that too," Shem said thoughtfully, "A big ugly cyst jamming your spinal canal. Let's imagine it. The way I'm imagining it it's a fatty light pink sac. I wish you had two."
"Two cysts," said Blister, "I wish you could find them with your thumbs, but that'd be impossible."
"I know I'm gonna think about this a lot later," said Shem, "You can go 'head write that down."
"It's the only thing I think about when I masturbate," said Blister, "I just lay back, spread my legs, close my eyes and picture the Tarlov cyst like you said jamming the canal. The fact that the insatiable lust is so almost boringly anatomical, so purely physical, that does it for me."
"Makes it better," said Shem, "Insatiable lust. I feel like that all the time for no reason. Like too much of my sense of self just hovers permanently around my genitals. I think I have a Tarlov cyst too."
"You probably do you probably do," said Blister.
"Which gets you off," said Shem.
Shem and Blister started looking up pictures of Tarlov cysts on Google Images using Shem's SmartPhone. There were a lot of diagrams. Some of the cysts were really unbelievable, festering monsters. Some looked like lava lamps. All were interesting to look at and Shem was picturing them all inside of Blister.
"That one's nice," said Blister, tapping the screen with her nail. It made a little exoskeleton/armor sound that made Shem's heart swell with pride. This is an example of a 'bonding activity,' thought Shem.
"Oh my God, there's a wrist cyst," said Shem, "Do you like that? It's not a Tarlov cyst."
"I like thinking about it but it doesn't turn me on no," said Blister.
Blister tapped the little clock widget on Shem's SmartPhone screen.
"Our time is up today Shem."
EXCERPT FROM DOLLY
Archie put some music on on the computer. She felt embarrassed about listening to the same songs over and over again. Everyone seemed so much older than she did. She took a piece of paper from the printer and got a pen out some drawer. She drew people as quick as she could. Hairball scribble bodies and big cookie faces. Curly hair. One after another. As many as possible. She didn't have the shivers. I'm gonna get carpal tunnel syndrome, she thought, Later in life. She smiled to acknowledge the vague Lord.
She put the paper in some drawer. Now she was disgusted by it and didn't want to think about it. She thought instead about a guy she liked and her little floating shit.
She went to the kitchen even though her gut was burning and she was having a neutral fantasy about one day getting colon cancer. When she got colon cancer she would get treatment. She looked in her pantry. She was so stubborn. She ate the same things every day. She pushed some things around thinking maybe some other stuff was there. She found an onion that had been there so long it was asexually reproducing. It was growing hands. She looked at it. She looked at it. She looked at the other boxes.
EXCERPT FROM SWEET DOLL
They’re all very sick so they need to go to the hospital.
That came like a tic. It was Green to his mom. She brought Green some limeade.
“Please don’t say that much to me,” says Green's mom.
“Why not?,” says Green.
“If you talk to me you’ll look at me," says Green's mom, "I’m kind of a mess, you know?”
She’s covered in ants, naked with a towel turban.
Everyone’s covered in bugs, mostly ants.
There’s a ton of ants on the wall with a mouse-sized spider chasing them.
A huge orange bug lands on the table.
Green crawls through the house drunk. His goal is to get alone and remember his dream but everyone is following him. Green hears someone call him mean.
He crawls back upstairs to his bed because maybe he’s drunk enough to pass out again even with everyone trying to talk to him and maybe if he passes out again he’ll have the dream again, or the dream will continue. He has a pang it was interrupted. He passes out and wakes up like a blink. Like getting anesthesia. Nothing happened with the dream.
Someone’s spooning him, Isobel he has a pang. It’s Green, Isobel, her friend Brandon and some other girl in Green’s bed, but that’s just a pang. He hasn’t turned around yet. Green hears everyone drunk and laughing. He opens his eyes and sits up. The big spoon turns out to be Brandon. Green is too drunk to be funny.
EXCERPT FROM BROWN STUDY
This spot. Under the left breast. The sagging left breast.
She put me in this unflattering position. And I know she thinks I'm ugly. But I don't really care. I'm never gonna see her again. Or maybe I do care.
Puppy's sucking in her stomach a little but she doesn't want the tech to notice cuz that'd ruin the point, like visible makeup. The tech really presses the thing into the base of Puppy's breast and Puppy feels like a thing hit a mass something and she groans. She makes sure she does it in a sexy way though, she makes sure her mouth stays sexy. She needs to impress everyone and there are no exceptions.
"Does that hurt? Does that hurt?"
"It hurts so bad," says Puppy.
"Certain time of the month?"
"No. My breasts just hurt. All the time."
"All the time? Not just a certain time of the month?"
"Yah, like all the time."
The tech said 'Not good' but she's smiling.
Either I'm cute or she made a bad choice. I mean, either way it was a bad choice, but either I'm cute or she just made a bad choice about what face to make when she told me it's not good.
"Some women are just sensitive," says the tech, "For me, when I gave up caffeine that helped a lot."
"I did give up caffeine."
"Still hurting? Wow, you are sensitive."
Puppy looks up at the screen and it looks like there's a baby. The tech is smiling at the screen. She looks a little smug but Puppy thinks maybe the tech just thinks she's cute. There really couldn't be a baby in the breast.
"Okay, now you're gonna hear a funny sound and it's the blood passing through your heart valves."
She said something like that. The blood passing through something. Puppy hears it and it sounds like a thing from a kitschy 80s alien movie but whatever. She doesn't care. It doesn't really affect her.
She thinks about a headline she read yesterday. 'Peter Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Says 'I Am Gay' In Essay.' I Am Gay. Peter Buttigieg. South Bend. Puppy needs to think about something else so she doesn't start laughing. She starts laughing.
"Are you ticklish too?"
"No, that's just funny to hear."
Puppy's pretending to think the sound of her blood passing through is funny. Really she doesn't think it's funny, really it didn't affect her.
"Oh, okay, cuz I have ticklish ones. I have to chase them around the room."
It isn't interesting. But what can you say. What can you say about chasing ticklish heart patients.
Puppy looks at the poster on the wall. One of the posters. OVER 50 MILLION AMERICANS ARE LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE TODAY. Living with heart failure. She understands, she understands what it really is but it just sounds ridiculous that it's something you can live with.
I can't afford to laugh again. I used my one strike. There's no alien blood sound anymore. So if I laugh she'll know it's not at that. And then she'll do the "What? Really, tell me" and I'll have to be like "So okay, that heart failure poster" or tell her about the gay mayor.
"Okay, so everything sounds okay, is there anything else you want us to check out?"
Puppy thinks about it.
"My whole body hurts all the time so it's hard to decide."
The tech smiles.
Definitely thinking about how cute I am or maybe how naive I am, so yeah, cute.
"Well okay, I'll just do what I feel."
She rubs the jelly on Puppy's belly. She does an ultrasound there.
"Well you're not pregnant," says the tech.
The tech laughs.
No matter what Puppy says the tech will laugh or smile.
People sometimes do this to Puppy for literally no reason. In the waiting room she had her headphones in and didn't hear them call her when they did and someone had to tap her and they were laughing with the other receptionists.
I just have a weird attitude. I just have a weird personality and it makes people uncomfortable. People laugh when they're uncomfortable. People laugh because I'm a travesty. A cute travesty.
"What about your toe," says the tech.
She points at Puppy's toe. It's big and gray and swollen, throbbing, with moss growing on it.
"Oh, it's been like that forever," says Puppy.
"Does it hurt?"
The tech rubs the jelly on the toe and presses the thing against it. Puppy looks at the screen and sees some people walking around.
"You have some people in your toe," says the tech.
"I see that," Puppy says.
She feels disgusted. But her feeling disgusted is just as uncalled for as her thinking the 'I Am Gay' essay thing is funny, or the heart failure poster. She tries not to throw up or cry.
"We have to kill them," Puppy says.
"No, you can't kill them," says the tech.
On the screen Puppy sees some swaying flora too, somewhat rose-like plants that look like suction cups. "There are plants and people," says the tech.
"I want to kill them all," says Puppy.