Monday, June 18, 2012

Intermission: "War Paint." A Psychologically Visceral Jolt Of Love, Baby...

Our third and final intermission...or is it fourth? Ah, no matter, here's simply the last intermission amidst my second big promo push for my collection, The Dark Is Light Enough For Me.  Here we have an older piece, something very visceral, psychologically aligned body horror.  It's called, War Paint, has been published twice, but one of my favorite rejection slips ever is connected to this one.  I remember reading how the editor loved the story--yes, loved!--and how it was exactly what they wanted.  So, at this point, you're probably thinking, rejection?  Riiiiiight!  Me, hey, I was stoked through the first half of the letter...then it all fell apart.  His tone shifted, he mentioned having shown the story to his girlfriend who absolutely hated it!  Made her very uncomfortable--a lot more than uncomfortable, if I remember correctly; I must find the slip, haha--and by the end of the letter which had started so promising, he was informing me that this story he loved...was not being accepted.  What the heck?

Anyway, it's about 1200 words long and, as noted, is an earlier piece, so take it for what it's worth, but it has some nice elements and, yes, you will "feel" this one, hehe...



War Paint
by John Claude Smith

     Cynthia left David after four months of what he would have unequivocally qualified as bliss.  She said something about the relationship becoming stagnant, about them “moving in different directions.”  When David argued that this was not true, that they were just going through a rough phase, she cut the civility and said something about being bored.  She wanted out.  
     David loved Cynthia.  From her black mane, sleek physique, sloe-eyed innocence, to her insatiable appetite for knowledge, she stimulated him to no end.  There was no other woman for him.  So why had it hastily fallen apart, with such an anemic exit, no less?  How could something so perfect simply fade out like the insubstantial denouement to a bad foreign film?  He did not understand why she had left him.
     The razor blade penetrated the flesh with ease, deep and to the bone.  David slashed toward the nose, riding the cheekbone.  Blood gushed from the gaping wound.  He then altered his path, slashing straight down, through the cheek and into the mouth, slicing cleanly into the gums.  Nerve endings were severed, sending a message to the brain—precise as the handiwork in progress—of the parameters of pain the preceding twelve seconds had obliterated.  He ignored the message.  Tasting blood, his probing tongue poked through the newly formed opening in his face.
     Jackie left David after seven weeks because, as she put it, “it just wasn’t working out.”  Worse yet, she utilized the phrase “finding herself” to further confuse the issue.  David thought that this was a very outmoded excuse, but he did not know how to retaliate in a manner that would convince her that “herself” was meant to be with him.
     David loved Jackie.  After Cynthia’s abrupt departure, he thought he’d never find another woman to take her place.  When a relationship of any substance or length (usually a hand-in-hand development) deteriorates, this defeatist conclusion is often adopted to compound the lonelyache: a mentally fatalistic, melancholic recession into one’s perceived failings.  Four months had been, by far, the longest relationship of David’s generally lackluster love life.  But Jackie and her auburn curls and sugar-coated kisses had blown in to get him back on his feet again, helping him to reacquaint himself with his fragile self-esteem.  And then, through her vague maneuverings, she knocked him back down.  He did not understand why she had left him.
     He continued his transformation, following the pattern engraved into the right side of his face on the left side, with tenacious conviction.  His corrupt reflection bloomed: he thought of slaughterhouses; he thought of the blood-slathered call of the wild; he thought of primeval rituals aligned with insignias wrought in scarification.  He was fascinated, staring at his reflection in the glass top table, by the inherent, atavistic logic in what he had undertaken.  He felt good.
     Nina left David after nineteen days.  Said she didn’t like his “erratic behavior,” didn’t like what she called his “constant pathetic hounding.”  Didn’t like the way his anger overrode every situation: always on edge.
     David loved Nina.  He felt the chemistry between them fairly sizzle.  Their time together may have been somewhat tumultuous, but David chalked it up to heightened passions ignited by their (one) fleshy coupling.  Passions he’d never felt before.  Not even with Cynthia or Jackie.  He found it hard to control himself around her.  He did not understand why…
     The razor blade split his right nostril as it started its ascent toward his forehead, and then shifted so as to cleave a crescent parallel to the eyebrow.  He followed the same procedure on the left side of his face, adding a flair for the artistic by cutting a heart out of the flesh next to his left eye, a cautionary statement (I’ve loved before, I have), like tattooed teardrops on the calloused countenance of an ex-convict.  He smiled at his creativity.  At his creation.            
     Teri left David after sixty-seven hours.  Said he was “crazy, possessive, clinging like a hangnail I’d d rather snip off, it was a mistake to even have said hello to you”; she said he had real issues of maturity, communication—blah blah blah…
     David loved Teri.  He had planned to ask for her hand in marriage.  He wanted her.
     He wanted somebody.
     He did not understand…
     The razor blade, sweet lover, catapulting despair through actions: he pressed it firmly into his lip, four times—twice on the upper lip, twice on the lower lip.  He pressed so hard the blade penetrated his already ravaged gums, scraping enamel from his teeth.  He pushed his lower lip with his tongue; it flipped over, swinging open like a trap door.  He licked the blade, an action that left him with a forked tongue.  He felt very good.
     Michelle.  Twenty-five minutes.  Said he was annoying her.  “Go away or I’ll call the cops, you freak!”
     David loved Michelle.  He knew this by the way she made him feel: just like all the rest of them, using his emotions--his love--as a springboard for freedom.  Just like all the rest of them. 
     Just like all the rest!
     He felt strong.  The blood painted his face red: the color of love…and anguish.  The pain helped define him--now!  He gazed at his grand creation, at his agonizing metamorphosis.  Naked, blood streamed onto his bare shoulders, down his chest.  Adorned in a coat of blood and sweat; moist, sticky clothing, he thought.  All he needed.
     Except for the knife…
     He set the razor blade down gently on the glass top table, sweet lover.  He reached over and pulled the knife out of Michelle’s throat.  He slid his fingers into the gash, tearing, almost separating her head from its ruptured pedestal—her head lolled obscenely, limply resting on her upper back--better to facilitate the gathering of blood from the yawning scarlet chasm that was her neck into his cupped hands.  Blood like his.  He used it to paint his face completely red, even so much as to slick back his hair.  Red for love—the futile wages of love—for passion, for anger.  He felt primitive; he liked the feeling.  He felt primordial, with the option to evolve—to reform--into anything he wanted, and not just crawl out of the sludge with unrefined intentions.  He had become an animal driven by urges.  Like love.  And hate.  By everything purified, refined down to its core impact resolution.  He wasn’t boring or aggressive or annoying or anything but the impulse to be.  And most of all, to be loved. 
     Because he loved them all. 
     He eagerly caressed the smooth side of the steel blade with his forked tongue, savoring the succulent, tangy splendor congealing there, and stepped into the hallway, naked but for the grim, dripping crimson adornments of love; the glistening armor of battle.  A woman leaned out of an apartment halfway down the hallway, saw him, and screamed. 
     Maybe she’ll love me, he thought.  Maybe she’ll love me.  He strode with a whittled, knife-honed objective down the hallway, knowing that it didn’t really matter what she thought, what she felt, anyway.  He loved her…and that was enough for the both of them.


Fun?  Ahem, yeah, messy, I know.  ;-)
This woman looks as though she might be the perfect partner for David, eh?

Back to our regularly scheduled Darkness with the next blog post. 

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