I fall asleep. I wake.
I fall asleep. In the privileged bathroom of the adults she stands, dripping, on a plush pink mat, reaches for powder from the basket above the toilet, dips a pad to press her body. She towels her fine hair, wraps it in terrycloth, and, reaching for the hairdryer, points the nozzle at the dark, curling puff between her legs. The hairdryer is on. White noise, mauve shadow, pubic musk. I neck my nose into god’s cunt and breathe. There is a portal there, hiding just behind her cervix. Before I can cross the threshold, I wake.
I fall asleep. It’s raining in the hallway. “Someone should bring in the peonies,” says god. I wake, wet.
I fall asleep. A mushroom grows in the corner of a tiled bathroom that isn’t mine. “Where am I?” I say. I wake.
I fall asleep. I stand on a bridge. Cars race by behind me. It’s always raining here. I’ve had this dream before. I look down at the river below. I wake.
I fall asleep. I bite into a pear. I wake.
I fall asleep, but I wake too early. At the toilet I make no violence: after only three strokes on the back of my tongue, my vomit comes out pale green. Unlike my mother, my gag reflex is always listening. When I stand, I feel euphoric. Sparkling. Pure. I fall asleep again, and pass the entire morning wrapped like a corpse in a tomb.
I fall asleep. We are at a boardwalk. The wooden roller coasters cartwheel over our heads into the clouds. Our flip flops slap. “No,” says god, her face wearing a warning look. I wake.
I fall asleep. I sit in front of my mother’s mirror. I suck my stomach in, and out, and in again. “I’ve eaten all my points already,” I say, sorrowful, in a voice that isn’t mine. I wake.
I fall asleep, and eight times out of ten, I am a man. The other two times I am an idea. When I wake, I am something else.
I am awake. All day I ache; all night I sweat, sour, hyperventilate. The gland in my throat is rotting, but I don’t know yet. To pass the time, I play with an old flip book I once found at an estate sale. “Girl Walking Towards Woman, Carrying Flower – Plate 184,” in Sharpie; “Flip back to front.” A woman wearing fabric that has fallen to her waist kneels on the ground, smiling at a naked child who bears a bouquet of flowers and trips toward her open arms. I flip the pages. The woman reaches out. The child moves closer. Now the flowers meet the hand. Two smiles widen. The woman tugs the child towards her bare bosom. When the final panel arrives, she kisses the child’s cheek. I fall asleep, flipping.
I am awake. My back aches too much to walk, my voice disappears for fourteen days, I’m tired in the way that pilgrims are tired: doggedly chased by the footsteps of faith. I cannot fall asleep.
Half awake, I turn on the light and read about Chernobyl. In Chernobyl, you are not allowed to set things down: they may stir up radiation, the moss might release dangerous radioactive spores if disturbed. Everything must stay in your arms, held, like a breath. I fall asleep, choking.
I fall asleep. I smell garlic. I wake.
I fall asleep. Her mouth is moving. One of her words is a vomit bubble. “What?” I say. Terrified, god eats the vomit bubble before anyone can notice. I wake.
I fall asleep. We’re in the car. We’re driving too slow for how late we are. “I take my chances,” sings god. “I take my chances every chance that I get.” The hairs lift on my arms. I feel music like an orgasm. I wake.
I fall asleep. A girl I loved once stands at the other end of a meat factory. All around us are slabs of pink meat, lurching on their hooks as a machine moves them towards a guillotine. I try to say her name. She recoils. I wear a donkey’s skin. From my donkey’s skin comes a donkey’s cock, weeping white onto a butcher’s block. I embrace it with joy. The face of the girl I loved marbles with grief. She looks a little like my mother. I wake.
Half awake, I turn on the light and read about taxidermy. “Nostalgia cannot be sustained without loss,” says the book. I fall asleep.
I am awake. I scratch the skin off my head so hard I bleed. Stigmata scalp. Each flake, I flick out the window. A trail of skin and blood sheds behind my car, my mother’s genes and mine. There’s little chance of her coming all the way down to the stretch of highway between Buda and El Paso, of her breathing our braid and storing us in the locket of her lungs. But just in case, I fall asleep.
I fall asleep. God holds a key. There are doors on the walls, the floors, the ceiling. One door is red and right beside me. It bleeds from its hinges, from its lock. “Now that you’re my bride,” says god, “you can open any door but the red one. Here is the key to open the door.” I take the key. I hang it around my neck. I wake.
I fall asleep. I run through a house. I turn and the walls change. I look down and the carpet beiges. Now we’re on the floor. God is laying on top of me. Neither of us are wearing clothes. “Shhhh,” she says, “or he’ll hear us.” Then her face becomes my own. I wake, unable to walk.
I fall asleep. I bleed from my palms. All around me, mushrooms breath, their exhalations braiding a bridal veil of spores. “Mom?” I call. I wake.
I am too awake. I turn on the light and read St Teresa, who felt embarrassed when her body levitated from her sick bed: “If I said that the soul is continually being torn from the body, it would be nothing, for that implies the destruction of life by the hands of another – but here it is the soul itself that is tearing itself in pieces.” I fall asleep.
I fall asleep. I hear bells. I wake.
I am awake. I am in a bar made from a train car. My girlfriend who isn’t my girlfriend yet sits in front of me, clutching a Lone Star, while old couples doing the Texas Two-Step whirl around us in every direction. “Mary Chapin Carpenter,” answers my not-yet-girlfriend. “I take my chances,” I reply. “Passionate kisses,” says my not-yet-girlfriend. I’m out of breath. I am awake.
I fall asleep. I fall asleep. I fall asleep. I fall asleep. After the fifth time I fall asleep, I find myself inside a prism. The light changes too fast to name colors. I touch a shard of blue. The ripple I make turns all the red light purple. The light solidifies, weaves, wefts, becomes fabric, forms sleeves. I put it on. The rainbow coat fits. I wake.
I am awake. I have been awake for days, and will be for one more hour before –
I fall asleep. Her wide back is to me, a deep cut the length of my forearm running its width. Her hands hold a tube of medicinal salve. I remember she’s had skin cancer, and now she has a wound to treat. “Your father doesn’t like to do this,” says god. I take the tube of salve and squeeze some onto her wound. I rub it in. Pus and blood ooze out of the portal. I wake.
Half awake, I Google “mushrooms in Chernobyl.” Two years ago, scientists discovered a strand of fungi that feeds on radiation in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Cryptococcus neoformans: a yeastlike fungus. From the Greek krypto (“I conceal,” secret, hidden). The name of this fungus was birthed from the same Greek root as the word for the art of writing and solving codes (cryptology), for the study of unknown creatures (cryptozoology), for death vault (crypt). I fall asleep, mouth full of word wombs.
I fall asleep. I hold the key in my hand. The red door before me bleeds. I put the key in the lock. I wake.
I fall asleep. Piss runs down my legs and soaks my oversized uniform skirt. All around me a ring of girls I know holds hands and sings a song I can’t remember. God, on her hands and knees, looking up at me with scorn: “You have got to be kidding me.” I wake.
I am awake but I feel asleep. My mother is crying. “I don’t want to lose you,” she says. For the first time in my life, I want to hit her. I don’t. I fall asleep.
Half awake, I read the soothing sentence structures of a medieval trial of a heathen named Menocchio.
INQUISITOR: It appears that you contradicted yourself in the previous examinations speaking about God, because in one instance you said God was eternal with the chaos, and in another you said that he was made from the chaos: therefore, clarify this circumstance and your belief.
MENOCCHIO: My opinion is that God was eternal with chaos, but he did not know himself nor was he alive, but later he became aware of himself, and this is what I mean that he was made from chaos.
I fall asleep. I am stretched out, pear of anguish in my cunt, and with each turn of the handle the mouth of me widens until I leak chaos all over the mattress. I wake.
I am awake but I feel asleep. “Stop,” I scream at my father, who is poised to strike, his teeth bared. I turn to my mother. “Make him stop,” I beg her, but she steps away from me, her hands turned up, her face bathed in golden light. I am awake. I am awake. This is happening. I am awake.
I am awake but I feel asleep. I look down and remember I am in the shower. I’ve been shaving my shin, but I’ve shaved too much. I’ve shaved to the quick. Pink lines of blood run down to my ankle. A sentence of skin is missing. I am awake.
I stay awake for three days.
I am awake. “It’s just your thyroid,” says the doctor, bored with me. My thyroid: my mother has given me the same disease-riddled butterfly gland that lives in her own throat. Now I’ll have to swallow two radioactive pills and hide away in a crypt for five days so that I don’t kill my cats or my girlfriend. “Are you pregnant, Miss ----?” says the doctor, my old name dead in her mouth. “What?” I say. “You’d better not be pregnant,” says the doctor. “I promise I’m not pregnant,” I say. “Well you’d better be sure,” says the doctor, “because this procedure could kill it.” “Doctor,” I’d like to say, “I’d sure hope so.” I am awake, I am awake, but please god, put me to sleep.
I am awake but I feel asleep. I look up and remember I am in a church. The church is new. The ceiling is blue with heaven. Worship hangs thick in the air. The Virgin Mary watches me kneel, like my mother taught me: deep, low, and pregnant with rage. As my knees hit the pew, my back spasms. I faint.
I fall, at last, asleep. We are sitting on my bed. Her face changes but the feeling stays the same. There is a book in our laps. She is reading the left-side pages out loud, but I don’t know the book. I open her shirt and drink from her breast. The milk runs down through my gut, fills my feet with electricity. Jolted, I get up and run and run and run. “Come back,” says someone somewhere. I wake. I fall asleep. We are sitting on my bed. Her face changes but the feeling stays the same. There is a book in our laps. I am reading the right-side pages out loud. I still don’t know the book. She opens my shirt, bites holes in my chest, and drinks the blood. I watch my blood run down through her gut to fill her feet with lead. Deadened, she sinks into the mattress until her face becomes an impression. “Come back,” I tell someone, somewhere. I wake.
I am awake. I look at my mother’s name on my phone screen. I can feel the vestige of a cancer cell fluttering its wings wetly in my neck. “You gave this to me,” I say. “And now you’re not even here to help me.” I throw my phone and watch the screen splinter, clear as etymology. I stay awake.
I am awake but I feel electric, I will never sleep again, body mashed into the mattress while my girlfriend fucks me so hard and fast that I cry, laughing, insides as jellied as a pear. After, she holds my head and pumps her cock into my mouth, and she watches me kneel, deep and low, to lick us both clean. I fall asleep, the first deep sleep I’ve had in a month.
I fall asleep. “I am killing our bloodline,” I tell her. “I am carving out my womb.” Her face turns blade. I wake.
I fall asleep. The key is in the lock. I take a turn. The red door opens. A wave of blood comes cresting out, soaks my hair and my white nightgown. When the tide subsides, I step inside the room. Slabs of pink meat dangle from hooks on the ceiling. Each is branded with a name; one of the slabs bears (one slab bears) mine. I wake.
I fall asleep. The lake is black as pitch. My mother’s godly hand sticks out of the mud. She grabs my ankle, radiation creeping up my shin, while all around us the fungi cheers. I beat at her with a shovel until, mangled, her hand recedes back into the soil. I wake.
I am asleep. I am asleep. Come on. Be asleep. Please. Be asleep. My throat is a crypt where once a gland soured. I can still feel its lumps. No I can’t. The doctor or the patient, the meat or the hook, the mushroom or the poison, the pear or the knife, the saint or the god, the mother or the child or the lover or the bridge where once someone’s child thought of jumping in the rain to sleep forever beneath – Whether I am asleep or awake I am only ever pulling each face off their form, asleep or awake I still have to open the door, I still have to open the goddamn door, I will always open the goddamn door, as long as you let me live I will use your banal tchotchkes to open the door and no matter how loudly you yell I won’t leave well enough alone, I’ll carve the meat till it bleeds into the water, I’ll beat the hand until it recedes back into heredity or my back spasms or I wake or fall asleep at last for good.
I fall asleep. I wake. I fall asleep. I wake. I fall asleep. “Why are you doing this to me?” says my mother, says god, says my lover, says me. I wake.
I fall asleep. God shoves a hand inside me, makes me puppet. I dance for my god. I dance for my mother. I dance for my lover. I wake.
I am awake. “Here I am,” I say. “Here I am.”
Carter St. Hogan is the author of One or Several Deserts (11:11 Press, April 2023). S/he is also the author of the fiction chapbook Little Animal (Awst Press, 2016) has short stories published in Best American Experimental Writing, McSweeney’s, Puerto del Sol, FANZINE, and more. They live in Austin, TX, where s/he performs trans bluegrass, grows okra, and works 8,000 odd jobs. Learn more at cartersainthogan.com.