Liminal Body

March 29, 2012 | Published Short Stories, Writing

This was originally published first in a small run publication, Lightness & Darkness and later in a limited edition zine, “False Love.” False Love included writing by Dan Gleason, AA Bronson and Michael Workman was published in this same volume. My story is based on an artist who injected herself with horse plasma.

They entered through a side door on the outskirts of the city. Few words were exchanged. They entered the abandoned warehouse. They came to see a performance and paid a small fee at the door to do so. Electric light glimmered in the entrance, dim from an auxiliary generator. An usher directed them up a dusty stairwell — everything smelled like factory dirt and dry cement. At the top of the stair the light was warmer and more secure. They moved toward it like hungry moths and there, in this main room, another usher wearing white gloves and thin, gold glasses, gave them programs.

A woman sat in front of them, head down in black pants, wearing a crisp white shirt. She looked like a beatnik, her fringe was cropped flat against her forehead. She held a lit cigarette in her hand and never took it in. Instead the smoke spiraled up, in lazy coils that gathered by the nearest light overhead: an accidental spot. The woman seemed preoccupied. Other than a gurney and a medical table, her portion of the room — the stage — was bare and sterile. There were no pregnant women in the audience.

 

The audience sat on bare wooden benches. They rocked slightly back and forth under different, uncoordinated weights; the benches were not perfectly balanced, nor was the floor perfectly level. Because the room was cold, everyone kept their coats on and most left their hands in their pockets. A few people smiled, but did so nervously. A wife squeezed her lover’s thigh, her lover continued to study the woman on stage. The woman had not moved.

Some forty people assembled in this room. Formal gowns peered beneath woolen coats. The leather of fine shoes glimmered, except where dust from other parts of the building collected on the surface.

A doctor entered with a lab coat. He tied the artist’s arm to make it bulge, then popped a vein with his needle. Being used to the operation, his subject only winced slightly. She opened her eyes and looked at the audience for the first time. Behind her, a projection screen came to life. They watched an aerial view of a woman’s bare chest on an operating table.  Most of the audience would forget the presence of this projection and remember the woman on stage being naked.

They watched the doctor prick her other arm this time to draw the blood out, her human blood — in order to create a vacuum in her body, such that that the horse’s blood might rush in more quickly.

The artist’s veins were red and swollen: you could see through her skin where it puffed up angry, containing this foreign energy: it was greedy to possess, consume and digest her all at once, yet her face remained placid. The cigarette, abandoned on the floor by her feet, smoked itself.

 

The woman became a horse, she said, right before the people’s eyes. They watched her transform. They saw her face grow every more horsey. As her human blood let out one side, she drew the beast inside the other, fainted but a moment and then came too, her eyes expanding differently to the light. Her sense of smell the more acute, she snorted and stamped her foot, impatient.

The doctor quickly put a harness around her head. He attached a lead and tied her to the chair where she waited more patiently: an elephant tied to a tree with a very fine rope.

Not so long ago a girl was told to shoot the family horse. It was old with age and tired of life. She used to ride it as a child. It had been her companion for as long as she could remember; they were the same age. Still, the girl believed in her mother’s kindness — there was trust and decency between them — so she brought the horse to the edge of their property: the farthest pasture, far away from the barn, even farther from their house. She brought her boyfriend also; he knew how to clean a corpse.

It was easier than she’d expected. She heard a bang and watched the horse’s face as it exhaled and fell down. It’s eyes, cloudy with cataracts, became mirrors. Her boyfriend cut a knife through the horse’s gut and steam rose out of  its belly as its guts slipped out. A bag of hot snakes. Her impression of the moment was such that the girl removed her clothes and slipped inside the horse. She fell asleep, prolonging their inevitable supper. When she woke up it was cold. She wept.

Their haunches had gone numb with the bench. A woman sneezed in the back. The artist came too and shook her head and her harness chimed like coins where it connected to the lead. The doctor brought out a pair of stilts with horse hooves at the end and the woman climbed into them. When she walked back and forth — the doctor holding her head (she seemed nervous) — there was a clacking of hooves. Her stilts had been fitted with horseshoes.

Far in the distance, in a faraway and perhaps dirtier room, they heard a rhythmic clapping of hooves. The artist stopped short and raised her head. She seemed to prick her ears, trying to listen to the distance between sounds. She snorted. The clopping sounds grew nearer and more precise. The woman shook her head with a clinking sound when the larger, dark horse came into the room. It was led by another doctor. This horse shone, almost cherubic, calm and composed. It had a very glossy coat.

The first doctor untied the artist. He led her to the horse and together, doctors, horse and artist paraded around the room. Their feet sounded like drums warming up, out of sync but warm, chipping at cement.

The audience clapped as well.

After the horse left, the artist took off her stilts and resumed her chair, where the doctor once more drained one sort of blood and replaced it with her original human kind.

What horse blood had run through her, they froze on separate petri dishes: Artifacts of Hybridity. Each member of the audience took one home, and the artist sold the rest at Sotheby’s.