Surgeons – by JEN ELLERSON

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My surprise came when I faintly began counting the names engraved on the silver knife sliding into my spinal column. I traced each letter with the back of my mind and howled gently before my claws went in.


I live life in reverse. I lie in bed, duvet between my legs, curtains unfolded. Clock ticking. My hands smoothing the warm sides of pillows, cotton skin. I melt into the mattress. If I breathe slowly enough between the latitudes of sheets, it could be close to having someone lying there, lying to me. This is the Restless Bed.


I work. I list and tick and cross off. I clean and call and write and pluck. I scroll. I grind my teeth, and kiss false starts. I miss people who don’t miss me. Tracing the doorframe with my fingers, I silently ask:


“Does she pick the loose threads off his sweaters?”

“Does he kiss her in the shower?”


I’ll never find out. They had books and holidays and cups of tea and each other. I wish I could lick the shapes in the wallpaper. I wish it to be Oscar Wilde’s wallpaper. I side-stare at Patrick from several meters away, as he orders drinks and hugs strangers.


“Can’t you find a new beautiful?”


I had played by the rules, done everything right. All has been said before. All of it is sad. I can flick between whatever I like, but in the end I am thinking of the warm yellow glow of a wooden place. Supposedly strong, but surrounded by glass. It’s unsafe and intoxicating. I am alone in knowing everyone there. You won’t know how you got home, if you get home. Stay, with invisible arms around you.


I’m sitting on an edge of a dirty stool, and I’m out of nicotine. I check the time and say to Patrick: “Will you wake up?” It’s slither-o’clock, and he’s unshakeable. Forehead on forearm, both sleeves rolled up. Second button undone. Patrick has a stainless, shiny layer of human vellum for so-called skin. He is an indefinite age of solid membrane with loose blonde hair and glass-cutting cheeks. Sharp trims of black jean draw the outline of his muscul-angular body. A post-crash James Dean, with a head posted on ape-like shoulders. He shows you how the devil smiles. Patrick’s eyes are so blue, you could see the sharks swimming in them.


It started with him, and it will end with him too. He drew me in, reflecting any kind of light, in so many darks. I studied his beautiful; he gave me interruption. He dragged me into a sewage all of his own, and I swam willingly. I mapped my life’s escape in a dotted line around a bar with red lipstick. He was over again, though. He had crossed over.


This is the Restless Dead. Night after night I’d see them, shots down, in position. There would be several in each room, in sticky deadlock. Bodies would be bumping into them, smoke seeping into nostrils while their half-rolled, half-smoked cigs leaned in lonely ashtrays. Strangers would call out over their deaf ears, dripping backward with clenched glass in fists. Their faces would twitch, even smile, but they would not move or wake. They were vacillating in an opposite cosmos.


Tonight Patrick was their guest of honour. Inside his static shell, he shifted, swore, and slammed his way into the other door. With an earful grin, he invincibly drank, smoked, and danced on the bar. He was fighting, he was fucking, and he was fitting right in. Here, your money is no good and all of your jokes are funny. Here, no song ever plays twice. There is no stumbling, no slurring, and all stories. Johnny Cash could walk in and not hold a candle to you. The sun never rises, the knees never drag. You are the man in blackout.


I spied on his latent bones and attempted to reel him back on a hook. I’d stroke the creases of his shirt or his closest leg. I whispered in his ear. He might, at best, raise an eyebrow in my direction, but he wouldn’t know it. I can’t carve him out, I can’t sew him up. I am a muffled scream. In the land of the Restless Dead, the living aren’t alive.


From the bathroom I gaze at the glistening tiles, under the filth. It’s safe here, there’s a lock. The human alleycats mew and scratch close to the battered door. I feel sick, like in floatation, when something is trying to come out of me but remains swimming inside, against a ruthless tide. This is the wrong kind of wrong. This is no second spring. My ankles have gone perpendicular and I am smarter than this. No one ever taught me how to paint my face, or about who would clean it right off.


I remember when someone picked me up, feet off floor, squeezing my body to a single breath? Fred Astaire would waltz me off stages, and I’d barely escape applause. My teeth would expose in canine disbelief. I am from a time of pearls and bubbles, black velvet and a future. Welcome laughter would rise to my unyielding chin. This is what I did, this is what I do. And I’ve confused survival with hunting.


In dark-red light, I am gradually attractive. The hues complement my soft margins, while I talk out of one side of my mouth, and smoke from the other. I’m unforgivably loquacious, even when no one is listening, and no one is here. Shapes and frames shadow around, while I pick at my cuticles, hoping no one notices. Everyone here is trying to savor a moment they know they will forget. I don’t want to become one of them, and wonder if I already have. I can feel my teeth dropping out, one by one. There is a ghost-gun that firmly wraps itself from temple to temple; sometimes from the back of my neck. It’s a familiar, husky poke.


I envy sleep. Every pore wants cover in slumber. Circled in cotton wool and away from the no one. The want of nothing, just breath against my ear. Another heartbeat to race, the deep coma of arms within this chest. I feel it enter, like a scalpel, where my tail used to be. At first you feel nothing, it’s mere routine. As it lodges into your pretty insides each nerve collapses with a letter of your new, forgotten name. In the land of the Restless Bed, the living don’t revive.





Jen Ellerson is a Berlin-based Creative Director, Designer, Promoter, DJ and Writer – and not necessarily in that order. Her 2012 publication, “Modern Movement”, is a document of Berlin subculture. She is currently working on a compendium of short stories. To this date, she maintains a perfect sense of trouble.

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