Buy the lotion. Buy the oil. Take the homeopathic vitamin mixtures. Drink the tinctures. Sweat lodge. Meditation. Cleanses. Wheatgrass so thick you choke. Teas so strong you lie down on the bathroom floor, this is what it must have been to die of dysentery on the goddamn Oregon Trail. You are not weak like western medicine, like your strung-out Cousin Shane who stole your grandmother’s cancer meds and overdosed in his trailer. Buy another $250 unlimited yoga pass. You are better than Cousin Shane.

The Buddhists say suffering = pain + resistance. It is not the pain that blooms into suffering, but the resistance to the pain. Lean in. Let the pain take you—into the vein, bone, deeper than marrow. Essentialize the pain—fuck the pain so brutally that it becomes you. You know each moan is a beat of Morse code, signaling to your body: deeper, deeper, deeper. Follow the pain, follow the Buddha. The pain is a practice.

Before there is Percocet, there is gin. Talk about the botanic varietals in your favorite bottles, the small-batch craft distilleries that marry juniper and lavender with coriander and rosehip. Learn to make your own infusions and syrups. Have an opinion about the best kind of ice. There are bottles meant to mimic the packaging of Prohibition and bottles meant to look like lilies, opening sensuously at the neck. There are bottles meant to look like British telephone booths. Talk about the architectural quality of each one. You feel better in the long stretches of down dog, more confident that the homeopathy could work for this pain knowing there is the beautiful copper tumbler waiting at the end of the day. The antique crystal drink stirrer fits perfectly in the curve of your palm.

When you are confronted with the pain scale, say 11. When you are confronted with the pain scale, say -11. It is both: everything and all-consuming, and nowhere, nothing, gone. It is 11, or -11, but it is not willing to submit to the tidy box of 1-10.

The pharmacy on Liverpool and 5th is normal, not at all connected to the pill mills that you’ve read about. The pharmacist is young. Look directly in her eyes, count one-Mississippi-two- Mississippi-three Mississippi-four, before she slides the crinkling paper bag across the counter, receipt as loud and long as a fire rope.

Buy a good set of knives. Sushi sharp. They glisten, their handles bright fluorescent oranges and pinks. Fun. When you lean into the pain, as you tame it, lasso it, neuter it, husband it—make it into an animal you can pen and domesticate—it leans back, sniffs at the fun knife handles, circles, pisses on the knives, claims them for its territory.

Call your aunt, Shane’s mom, and say you are sorry you didn’t make it to the funeral—work. Say you have been thinking about Shane a lot, that he is on your mind and on your heart, that you lit a candle for him just yesterday, which isn’t entirely untrue. Tell her that the thing you loved about Shane was his laugh, which is cliché, but say it. When he found something hypocritical or self-righteous, he’d push a laugh out, thin at first, but then louder, until the laugh was a cackling, joyous indictment. Tell her you didn’t know he was suffering so much, that you don’t want her to grieve alone, that his pain is gone now. He has been liberated of his pain. If you say that, there’s a chance you’ll start believing.

At the independent movie theater around the corner from the pharmacy on Liverpool and 5th, they crank up the air conditioning and have the good dark chocolate with crystallized ginger and cayenne. They play French nu-wave, and environmental documentaries, and marathons of Tarkovsky. For $8, the theater is yours. Drift into the pitch black of the cold room, nod into the film silver, watch double features, triple features, finish your chocolate, tuck the crinkly pharmaceutical bag between your thighs like popcorn. IX.
It is 3:30 in the morning. There is work tomorrow. Important meetings. You should wear heels and subtle, gold jewelry, tasteful makeup. The pain has plastered your bed, and you are nothing but a nerve ending. Press your hands against your forehead, your eyes, try to breathe. Grip the headboard like a rope, like a knife, like a lover, kneel in front of it, pray. Look for a sign, a shadow, something cast down from Shane, who will intercede on your behalf, who somehow, in some beatific way can harness the last of your pain and lift it up, make it his own, miraculous and holy.


Photo by Denis Agati on Unsplash

CategoriesShort Fiction
Sarah Shotland

Sarah Shotland is the author of the novel Junkette, and a playwright whose work has been produced nationally and internationally. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Baltimore Review, HOBART, and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Chatham University and is the Program Director for Words Without Walls, which brings creative writing classes to jails, prisons, and drug treatment centers in Pittsburgh, PA.