All posts by pawel kowaluk

The Arm

When we are children, we learn to name emotions. We all know what sad is, and happy, and scared, and in love. Those are all common feelings that we can easily recognize. Overtime we learn complex ones, like uneasy, anxious, homesick, envious, and much more.

When I was just out of medical school, I knew I would never be a doctor. I found a job at a t-shirt shop and got a small apartment near the docks. It was a bad neighborhood and my life was in a bad shape. I started drinking and got myself a girlfriend who liked tattoos so I soon got into tattoos myself. I set money aside every week so I could get another part of my skin decorated with colorful ink and it felt good for a while. Or at least it did not feel terrible.

I lived from paycheck to paycheck and kept fighting with my girlfriend all the time. She was saying I should be making more money, making use of my brain more. Yeah, well I did not think my brain was any good, so there is that. And I knew one thing for sure, I could never ever be a doctor.

On my day off, I was sitting at my small apartment, making a sketch of a new tattoo I wanted when my phone rang. It was my girlfriend.

“Hey, Veronica, what’s happening?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she sounded tired, “Can I come over to the shop?”

“I’m not at the shop, it’s my day off. I told you, didn’t I?” I said, slightly irritated. I guess things were not so good between us anymore and I was growing more and more fed up with her.

“Oh. Can I come over?”

“Sure,” I said.

I thought I could clean the place up a bit before she comes, but then I decided I did not care about that, so I just continued sketching until she arrived about forty-five minutes later. We kissed hello and I let her in. She threw herself on the couch almost immediately and put a cushion over her face.

I took some time to examine her body. With her face covered, the other body parts were free for inspection and I took pleasure in the sight of her slim legs, her flat stomach, her shapely arms, one clear, and one tattooed all over. It was covered with a baroque tapestry of colorful ink. Among all the creatures on Earth, only humans have this kind of skin; not evolved but engineered for purely decorative purposes. Skin that serves as a means of expressing the soul.

I sat on a stool across from her. “What’s going on, baby?” I asked with care. I was not sure whether I was only feigning concern and it did not matter to me.

“I just got off this really creepy shoot,” she said, but the cushion was muffling her voice so she removed it and covered her eyes with her hand. As she spoke, her lip piercing bobbed up and down, “This guy wanted me to get undressed, so I said no, but he threw in a couple hundred more, so I thought what the heck and showed him the goods. And then he wanted to touch, so I said no, and he offered more money, and I said no, so he got angry and kicked me out, and did not pay me at all.”

I was angry. The very thought of another guy seeing her naked made me furious, and now what was I expected to do? Find him and get her money? Act like I was her pimp? I bet I could not intimidate any creep to give anyone any money. I lashed out.

“What the fuck were you thinking? Going to seedy studios, posing for perverts.”

She removed her hand from her eyes, furrowed her brow and looked at me for a minute in silence, not believing my reaction, trying to figure out what to do. Then she fought back.

“What I do with my time is my goddamn business. And with my body. And what do you care, anyway?”

Things escalated from then and we had our biggest fight ever. Later at night, I lay in my bed alone, trying to fall asleep. Thoughts were rushing through my head. Violent thoughts followed by remorse, followed by more violent thoughts. I shifted in the hot sheets for hours until I got up around four a.m. and walked into the dark living room.

The lights of the street cast window-shaped spots onto the walls but the rest of the room was pitch black. Something in the fabric of reality seemed to shift and fill me with a sense of dread. I imagined the walls covered with intricate tattoo patterns where I could not see and I found myself split into two, the weaker part of me going to the bathroom to vomit.

My mind returned to my senior year in medical school when I was assisting in the trauma room. The sight of blood and broken bones sticking through tortured skin sickened me and I spent more time than I wanted to admit on my knees in the bathroom hugging the toilet seat. Then there was the incident which left me with the resolution not to pursue a medical career. An incident which revealed the true structure of my psyche to me and to the world around me.

I was left alone with a pregnant woman who had been in an accident. Both her legs were broken, as were a few of her ribs, and here face was bruised and swollen. Luckily, her baby was alive and stable. She was hooked up to two heart monitors just in case, one to monitor her life signs, and another to monitor her baby’s. I was in the room when she came to.

“Hey,” I said, “Are you awake? Do you know where you are?”

“What?” she said, still a little confused, “Is this a hospital?”

“Yes. You were in a car accident. You are safe and the baby is fine.”

She looked around, still confused, and then made an “aha” face. “Oh, the baby. That’s right. I should not have been drinking and driving.”

“Drinking and driving,” I repeated, “You should not drink when you are pregnant. It can be very bad for the…”

“Stop telling me how to live my life,” she yelled at me, “Who are you, anyway? Some kid in a white coat. You don’t know shit.”

I looked at her like you look at a piece of meat. I had not been sleeping well and it was catching up with me, but I reached a strange moment of clarity. Of lucidity beyond what most people will ever experience. I saw her for what she really was, an intricate mechanism put in replication mode about to produce another immensely intricate mechanism. But she was faulty. She was going to give birth to an alcohol baby and raise it to be a no-good hellraiser, or abuse it until it became a sociopath.

Luckily, I was the mechanic and I knew just how to make the two mechanisms right again. I knew the chemicals I needed to put in her so she would no longer operate. At the same time, I knew the baby was developed enough to survive on its own if ripped from her dying womb. I also knew how to make it so I was not detected.

I made one small change to her chart to make it look like the attending doctor’s mistake. A decimal in the wrong place. Nobody could blame the intern for following instructions to the letter. I filled the syringe.

I was flooded with new emotions I could not name. Emotions that did not have names in the human language because people would never admit to having them. That is the few great people who did experience what it is like to hold life and death in your hands and make a conscious choice for the betterment of all humanity.

The following day, after a few hours of sleep, I saw things from a different perspective and made the decision not to pursue medicine anymore.

But now, back in my apartment, I knew my true self would only surface in moments of strain, such as this one. A broken heart of a doctor was no different than a broken heart of a lover and it led to truth. Truth is beauty, as the poet once said, but he failed to describe the full complexity of truth. The hidden fields of human experience only available to those sensitive enough to reach them. For fear of sounding overly dramatic, let me use the word “demigods.”

The dark corners of the room whispered and crawled with arabesque patterns. I switched on the light over the kitchen table to chase them away and saw the notebook of my doodles. I just then realized that tattoo my designs have been filled with violent images of gore, babies with their eyes taken out and women with snakes bursting out of their uteri. Amazing imagination, too rich for the soft bourgeoisie palates. I flipped the pages in frantic fascination until a heavy whisper broke my calm.

I reeled back and waved my hand about my head to chase it away. Some more unnamed emotions flooded my skull and made me uneasy. The weak me was done vomiting and he was standing in the bathroom door, shirtless, staring at me like an idiot. His white chest was so narrow and reminded me of a turkey on Thanksgiving.

I picked up a large French knife and took a step towards him, but he was gone. Another me was writhing in bed, but I decided magnanimously to let him live. I put the knife away and moaned with pleasure. Reality was mixing with dreams and it was a good feeling, but I needed to make sure constants remained constant.

I opened the fridge and crouched by its soothing light. Wrapped in transparent plastic, there it was, the prettiest item in my fridge. And if cared for properly, it would remain beautiful for weeks. I had gotten rid of the body, but the tattooed arm was right where I had left it.

After Three Years

I just found out my girlfriend has the annoying habit of eating raw parrot meat. It is making her sick and I can tell her hair is beginning to fall out. I put my paper away and said with concern:

“How can you do this? It is not only disgusting, it is also bad for you. Science has proven time and again…”

“I have always done it, ever since I was a tiny little girl. Parrot meat just seems so succulent. And it helps me wind down after a hard day. Besides, there is nothing I can do. I have tried.”

I went back to reading my paper, irritated with myself. Why had I not taken the time to know this person over all these years? Do I lack the respect for her is it just me being an incorrigible dreamer again?

Another Thrilling Day

Natalie was sitting at the hotel cafe enjoying a light breakfast when she saw the familiar broad shoulders clad in a fashionable bright jacket.

“Jacob,” she called out, “My favorite fellow expatriate,” and she looked at him from above her Audrey Hepburn shades. He turned around and flashed his whitened teeth in a joyful smile.

“Natalie, do you mind if I join you?”

“Not at all,” she said. She reflected upon her own posture and it was perfect so there was no need to sit up. Her mother would be proud. Nothing left but continue the conversation: “I haven’t seen you in a couple of days. How goes business?”

“Fine, I’ve had a lot of meetings all over this crazy town. Have one in just thirty minutes, in fact, so I only have time for a quick coffee.” He called the waiter and placed his order.

“A wonderful day,” she said, “I might take a trip to the country in the afternoon.”

“Good for you,” he said and she wondered whether he was being polite to her the same way he was to his customers. Whether he really liked anybody on this earth or just played the part all the time.

“There are some rather picturesque ruins nearby,” she continued, “And I am told they are quite inspiring.”

His coffee arrived. He took a sip and smiled without showing his teeth. How studied, she thought. He then made a few jokes about trips to the country, one of which she laughed at honestly, as for the rest she could appreciate the humor, so she laughed out of politeness.

“Well, my customer won’t wait, so if you excuse me,” he said, getting up, “Enjoy your road trip. And make sure you take some good photos.”

And he was off to conquer the world. She wondered at how a lowly pursuit like money could fill one’s life with meaning. But then she was faced with another bright summer’s day full of sunshine and laughter, and people just waiting to make a meaningful connection with.

We Seven

I just got into bed, getting ready for a good night’s sleep. I was alone, my wife had gone on a business trip, so I figured the whole entire bed belonged to me. I shuffled to the middle of the bed and lay with my arms and legs wide.

And I touched something foreign. Something I was not expecting there, so I flinched and a cool sweat covered my back. I pulled it out from beneath the covers and took a good look. It was most definitely a man’s speedo.

The most obnoxious thing that could ever exist, a speedo. A used one. And one that was definitely not mine. The conclusion was simple – my wife had a secret lover.

I jumped out of bed and prowled about the house, looking for more evidence of infidelity and before the clock struck four a.m. I had found plenty.

A torn condom wrapper in the garbage.

A toothbrush tucked away in the medicine cabinet.

A half-eaten bacon sandwich in a kitchen drawer.

A book of Jeremy Clarkson quotes.

A short grey hair in a box of noodles. (My hair is brown!)

The toilet seat up.

There they were, right in front of me, seven pieces of evidence proving betrayal. Seven, like the seven dwarfs… And then it hit me.

What if each of them was evidence of a separate betrayal? I wept and wept, until I had tears no more. If they were the seven dwarfs, then who was I?

The Doll

I bought a doll from an antique shop on Upper East Side. It had a white china face and beautiful silk clothes. It was centuries old, but extremely well preserved. I brought it home to Victoria.

“Thank you,” she said with a broad smile, “You’re so sweet. You always know what to get me. Where do you find such beautiful things?”

“I have an eye for beauty,” I said and she kissed me long and warm, and then loosened my tie, one of her many ways to initiate love.

When we lay awake later, staring into the skylight, she said: “The doll will keep me company when you are away. It will inspire me, and when I cannot write, it will comfort me. We will wait for you together.”

“It belonged,” I said, “To a French merchant’s daughter in the eighteenth century. He brought it for her from Switzerland. She was the first in his family to be born into luxury, you know. He was a self-made man.”

“Just like you,” she said.

Later on, when I knew the apartment would no longer bear witness to our love, I saw the doll on the shelf where she had left it. Long forgotten, part of an array of her possessions. Tokens of my devotion.

The Holy Cave

Brian was finally allowed to enter the Holy Cave. After the bumpy flight with bad food, the mix up with hotel reservations, the long ride on a crowded bus, the endless wait in line, he was now at one of the most sacred places of all human culture. A hub of five religions. The site of human communication with God.

The cave offered a breath of cool air, so important on a dry hot day as this one. The cave was peaceful and quiet. The cave was lit up by hundreds of tiny candles. (Who lights them up? Are they gas lights?) The cave was manned by polite priests in ancient robes who showed the way into the main chamber.

Brian stood at the center of the main chamber and he opened himself to the world of the divine. He ignored the drawings on the wall, they were made by those before him, and he looked at the black hole in the middle of the ceiling. This is where the prophets and the witch doctors saw God and fell to their knees listening to His voice. Brian trembled in anticipation.

“What went wrong?” he kept asking himself on the way out. “Did I get distracted by the trivial matters of everyday life? Did I not meditate enough in preparation for this? Perhaps I am not worthy?”

When he reached the exit, the light of day blinded him and noise flooded his ears. He saw an ocean of pilgrims waiting their turn, living their lives at the precipice of the divine. Selling chickens out of wheelbarrows.

You’re Embarassing Me

I was playing Xbox with my friends one evening. It was already dark outside and we were getting into this new game, even though all of us were pretending like it was not such a big deal. We sat around the couch, chair and floor all jaded and whatevered as we discovered the new features and DLCs.

When it was no longer my turn, I passed my controller to Jason and sat back. That is when I began to smell roasted nuts.

“Hey, your dad must be home,” somebody said, “He’s cooking something. Smells good.”

“Oh, boy,” I said, “Here we go.”

My dad slithered in through a crack in the door and said nothing, just showed off his blue face for a while. The guys stopped playing and looked at him, mesmerized. Then he spoke: “Would you boys like some roasted nuts?”

“Sure, Mr. D.,” said Jason.

“Stop it, dad, you’re embarrassing me,” I said.

“Let me get them for you,” said my father ignoring me completely. Then he rose to the ceiling slowly, operating in his own weird time dimension. It took an eternity before he touched the white plaster and stuck to it with the antennae of his dead fingers. Clung to it like a wet rag. Crawled all over it like an intrusion of cockroaches. Sang like a choir of schoolgirls on a Sunday night. Then floated to the floor slowly and produced seven (exactly) bowls of roasted nuts.

“Here you go, boys. Enjoy,” he said from outside the room.

“Your dad is a cool guy,” said Jason, “I mean, he’s okay.”

“Yeah, he’s an old dork,” I said.

“You’ll learn to appreciate him one day,” said Jason.

Secretly, I knew Jason was one of my father’s stupid selves. I just hoped the other guys had not figured that out.

Everybody Loves My Baby

Matthew rushed over to his fellows. It was a hot night and they were taking air in the garden just outside the dance hall. Their jackets on the railings, their shirtsleeves rolled up, they were smoking and talking in low raspy voices when he appeared.

“What is it, Matty? You look like you just seen the devil himself.”

“It’s nothing, I have to get back in there,” he was smiling, his cheeks were red. “I asked the band leader to play Everybody loves my Baby. I’m gonna ask Louise to dance with me.”

“Easy there, Matty, you’ll huff yourself to death,” and they all laughed at their own youth an  vigor. But all he could think about were her black hair and brown eyes.

It was the last night of summer. The next day they would all ship off to Berkeley, Brown, Harvard, and West Point.

Help Me, Rhonda

Jim thought he could find his way in a European city but he did not take into account the insane street plan that grew across the ages like a schizophrenic tumor, very few of the streets perpendicular and none of them parallel. He spent hours navigating the maze until he gave up and entered a cafe which was tucked away far from the routes frequented by tourists. He took a seat in the corner and ordered the local coffee specialty.

Returning to the hotel was his main fixation because he had a call to dial into. An early morning in his corporate headquarters was an evening in this holiday retreat and he still had two hours to get there. Nevertheless, it seemed very abstract in his current situation, in this dark cafe.

He found himself lost in thought looking at a painting on the wall in front of him. It was a girl in a white blouse and red skirt, dancing one of the hot dances of the place where he was vacationing. He imagined her come here, to this very cafe, late in the evening, to dance to the music of the local bohemians. He imagined her in love with one of them and several of them in love with her. He was sure she spent longer then necessary preparing to leave her home, eager to get there, yet desperate to make them wait. To make them desire her.

He tried to guess her name, but all that came to mind was Rhonda, which did not fit. The name brought his mind back home, to the land of gasoline, abundant in lawnmowers and bowl-a-ramas. He thought of the afternoon call again, so abstract and distant a second ago. He wanted to return to the reveries about the girl, but he could not, so he paid his bill and left in a hurry.

He was scared the girl’s name would be printed at the bottom of the frame and he would glance it by chance. He became jealous of the painter who made his love for the girl immortal.

An Evil, Evil Man

Emily was so lucky to be married to Lord Havisham. She was scared at first, when mother told her she was to be betrothed. But then he arrived at their estate in a brand new automobile, she was smitten. They were wed on a May day.

He was older, his hair was sprinkled with grey, and she was only fourteen. But he was gentle enough to wait until the night of her fifteenth birthday before deflowering her. He was the kindest of husbands and hardly ever caused her any pain.

But when she was nineteen, she began to notice a frightening change in her beloved husband. From time to time, he would snap at her. He was oftendays irritated, locked himself in the study and did not speak to her, nor did he dine with her on those gloomy days. He would make comments about her talking to younger men, guests at their house as if he was jealous.

One day she saw him angry with one of the workers in the field. He screamed at the poor fellow and then gave him a good thrashing. She was so terrified that she ran back into the house and cried. She knew there and then her husband’s core had become corrupted because of lack of church-going and too much focus on Money. He was no longer kind, not as kind as Hubert or Humphrey. She could no longer see herself spending the rest of her life with him.

However, she could not imagine life without him. So she wept some more.