Rae Bryant’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in BLIP Magazine (formerly Mississippi Review Online), PANK, Gargoyle, Annalemma, and > kill author, among other publications. Selected works have received Honors and Awards in the Lorian Hemingway, Whidbey Writers, and Bartleby Snopes Competitions, and most recently nominated for Dzanc’s Best of the Web and Best of the Net. She is soon to graduate with an MA in Writing, Fiction at Johns Hopkins University, and she’s the editor of Moon Milk Review. More at raebryant.com.
Grab a straw. Do it. This isn’t an exercise in the mind. I want you—yes you—to go to the kitchen, rummage through the drawers, grab a straw, hold it in your hand. Now, fill a glass or a cup or a coffee mug with bubbly like Coca-Cola, Sprite, seltzer water, champagne if you have it then come back, sit down, start reading again.
Get up. This is not a hypothetical exercise.
Got it? The straw and the bubbly? You wouldn’t cheat, would you? You’re not sitting there grinning at the page and thinking, hah, like you’ll ever know. I do know. We all know. Get the hell up, go get the bloody straw and fill a glass full of bubbly.
Got it now? Good. Let’s get started.
* If you’re cheating. If you’re sitting there without the straw thinking you’ve gotten away with it, curses on you. Curses on you and your family and the little dog you plan to buy in the future after you have children or the children you’ve had move away or you realize you don’t want children at all and end up lonely so you buy a little dog to cuddle. You cuddle it. The minute that little dog runs into the road and gets hit by a car, you’ll think back to this story, and you’ll say, Holy shit! I should have gotten the straw.
Now. Stick the straw into the bubbly.
Sip. Slow-like. Let the bubbles fizz at your tongue tip. Pull the bubbles back through your mouth and feel the fizz. Let the fizz move into your sinuses and imagine you can see the bubbly flow down your throat. Follow it. Imagine that the bubbles are all the bad things you’ve ever done.
Yes, you’ve swallowed them, all those bad things.
They’re in your stomach now. Like the time you called your mother a bitch but wanted to call her a whore. The time you stole your best friend’s Barbie doll then dismembered it while imagining it was your best friend. They’re there, all of them inside you, quite literally, bubbling in stomach acid. The day you wanted to hit your girlfriend for calling you dickless but instead pissed on her toothbrush while she slept. That’s in there, too.
What? Your bad things are worse? Well, you’ve swallowed your worst then.
Take the straw, stick it up your nose.
The definition of a coward is one who is unable to face fear and mistakes and bad and worse. Cowards are afraid of little plastic straws.
Straw safely planted? Good, let’s continue.
It is believed by some that flagellation will refocus attentions, wash away sins, but flogging leaves long, nasty, red marks. Psychiatrists, not so historically, believed in cutting connections between the frontal lobes. Effective, but still, this was a permanent and brutal practice. Shock therapy has always been the most effective of such methods, but psychiatry sessions and hospital stays can be expensive and not all psychiatrists are willing to use shock therapy nowadays.
Listen. The bad in you sits in your stomach now. It bubbles in acid. Let the bad bubbles and acid fill you. Let it pull you to moments when gray turned black. Moments when nasty words tasted good on your lips, as did the connection of your fist to her jaw. The desire of the girl so small she didn’t understand.
Now sniff. Hard and long. Take it full in, push it back out.
This is your conscience fix. Your home remedy shock. Keep your straw close. Find a special place for it where you can get to it whenever you must. Keep one in your car, in your bedroom, make a straw sculpture to perch on your work desk so to remember. Sniff bubbly morning, noon, night. Keep it handy, a synapse douche for those times when your brain doesn’t feel so clean. Sniff and imagine the bubbles are tears, collected. Imagine they are the little girl’s or your mother’s or your best friend’s. The stranger you never knew. Imagine you can put the tears back, make them never-happened. Imagine tears sipped through a straw by a little girl’s lips, and the tears were really your own only you were too young to understand. Sniff as if you could take back your sins.
As if you were never a sinner at all.