Chapter –

It’s a tired you can’t sleep off. A pain you can’t massage away. A hunger you can’t eat through. A thirst you can’t drown. A light you can’t see. But it’s there all the same. Unending. Blinding.

Poe sits at the edge of his bed, facing his work desk and the blank canvas on it. It’s well lit, a hard white in his otherwise dark room. How long had he been playing music? Poe searches for his phone on the bed, but he can’t find it. He didn’t have any other clocks, either. Only thing on his nightstand is a bottle of gin, a bottle of pain pills, a leather bound bible that belonged to his mother, and a couple random pens he had found.

He lifts his right arm to rub his face, forgetting the hand isn’t there anymore, and as if the void of not touching his face is as shocking as actually touching it, he quickly brings his left hand up to brush the sleep from his eyes. It ended at the elbow, but had the weight of everything that should be after it. Trying to change dominant hands, trying to train the other one to be as smart as what his brain is wired to be, is proving to be a steep learning curve. Habits are hard to break, but the habitual repetition of mundane routine borders on autonomic. Like fighting your own shadow, there is a possibility of success, but time is everything. And time is a motherfucker.

Poe looks back at that white canvas. His eyes then trail over to the inks waiting to be used, the oils with brushes sitting in them, and even the slow, drying watercolors he got ready when he was feeling braver. It’s there still: the potential, the paint. He just has to reach out and take it. One stroke is all it will take. That’s all it’s always taken—just a single streak of color, and the rest would come rushing in to him. You don’t need to shatter the dam to break it open; you just need one good, solid and strong crack to open the entire thing. You can flood a valley with a single blow. It just needs a single drop.

“One last time.”

It takes him a moment to realize he isn’t holding glass in his right hand. He can feel the bottle between his fingers, against his palm, and in defiance he squeezes harder, flexing the small muscles in his hand, forcing the tendons tight against his bones, his knuckles white and the veins popping higher and higher from under his skin.

The glass surrenders, shards pushing in and cutting the flesh, drawing blood slowly, being forced deeper and deeper into his hand. It starts growing like a crystal, like some jagged rock, popping and bursting out along the track of his bones. He can feel it. He can feel all of it.

But his right hand isn’t there. The bottle can’t be in his hand, because there isn’t anything there, despite how much of his own hand he can feel. The sensation means nothing in the face of seeing nothing.

He drops his head, trying to breathe, and lowers his arm back to his side, before remaining very still. His left hand grips the gin bottle, the top already off, lost under the bed a few days ago. The liquid goes down, making his eyes water, but it doesn’t burn. Poe doesn’t stop drinking until he can feel it starting to seep out of his pores, until his vision gets blurry, and when he stands up quickly, it’s not a rush of blood to his head that almost takes him out—it’s the booze dripping down into his knees. Bottle’s empty enough now that when he tosses it to his bed it doesn’t spill—just sort of threatens to rise to the edge, like a wave pushing against the shore. It doesn’t go past, but it looks like it could.

Poe steps towards the canvas, his steps heavy, his breath heavier. The watercolors are wet again. The oils don’t stick as much. The inks, like wet velvet, stain the canvas first; they start to soak into the space of his fingerprints, erasing their uniqueness. Next, the brush strokes come down more like lashes, like he could tear right through the canvas. But he doesn’t stop. He can’t.

The music is banging now, the bass rude, beating behind his eyes, and he starts harmonizing with the chorus, letting the oils blend in and bring out the watercolors. The bone forms first, too stiff to move on its own, so he rips open a purple acrylic, and adds thin lines to the canvas. The muscle comes next, but comes slow and in fits—jetting out, not attached to anything, almost hanging from him before curling up and around the bone. A few chunks of wet flesh get left on the board; a few drops of ink blood get left in the watercolors. Holding the brush is agony, until the skin finally decides to make itself known and cover his exposed and screaming nerves. He ignores the pain, obviously, too lost in the flow state to let anything slow him down, and narratively, the pain crawls into the painting itself, at first frantically forming fragmented and fractured, before fermenting with his flesh, and finally blossoming into a fresh field of freakish tranquility. He almost takes his own breath away.

He rolls his wrist for the first time in what feels like a decade, each tiny movement sending out loud snaps and cracks that outplay the music by several octaves.

“I think this might be my best piece yet.”

“Of course you do,” the gin bottle comments from behind him.

It’s fairly easy to paint when you have both hands.

Cover photo by Javier Padilla Reyes

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Placeholder.