AGNI Online
  Subscribe      Donate    Stay Connected    Submit      About Us  

Caffeine

by Anne Germanacos


This is a conversation with my insides. The instigator? Pain. Some days it’s worse than others; most days it’s just above neutral, persistent, yet almost not there at all.

This tedious pain must be either to cleanse me or prepare me. But for what?

*

Sometimes the pain is invisible; sometimes it outlines the parts of my body in a white light. Some days it feels like trapped air. Other days, I imagine lacerations, like a rug burn. Occasionally I feel like sticking a long pin into the place where throat and stomach meet. Something is awry, needs help.

A small white pill opens a door and very gently escorts the pain outside. The lit-up parts of me go dark, unseen, forgotten.

For months before discovering the pill, I couldn’t fall asleep without my husband’s help.

*

I pop a few roasted soy beans in my mouth. Their skins are like parchment, or flower petals left too long between the pages of a book. I crush the beans with my teeth, hold the skins on my tongue.

I’m trying to understand the way something I hold in my hand or mouth becomes part of the hand, the mouth.

*

Dreamt that a thick layer of my tongue was coming off. A tongue, used for speaking as well as chewing.

*

What was it with those Sweet 100s? I ate one tomato and another and another until the basket was empty. Like tear-drops, or fresh-water pearls, something precious to take inside.

*

Appetite fires you to eat all you can without a modicum of measure, then you’re punished by digestion’s slow torture.

*

Greedy enough to swallow the whole earth, you experience a moment of deep fear: How am I edible? What greater thing could eat me?

Human, animal, weather-pattern, god. All of the above?

*

With sickness concocting me, my best stories are all broken. I used to be able to say: When I was young. And: In the days before our children were born, my husband and I.

Now, only one story remains, the tale of sickness, greedy to upstage any other: this pain where stomach meets throat.

*

This is how you reach nirvana: Quit drinking coffee for two months, then fall off the wagon. Three sips and your mind sees shapes it’s forgotten existed. It hums with song, color, and the immense realization: you hold the thread that sews the world together.

*

I remember the city of my birth at the winter solstice. We walked beside the ocean, the full moon rising. We crawled inside a dune and ate each other up. (With such a meal, eating and digestion are seamless.) Afterward, we held our hands above a bonfire, backs damp with wind-borne salt water.

*

You take three small sips of coffee and scan for results. (Any additional gut noise, a touch of thickened saliva?) This is an inversion of appetite, watching x-ray-like as the things descend.

Do you really think your brain can control the way food is digested, the way the body incorporates parts of the world? Will obsessive watching let you swallow the universe? Isn’t this your aim? To have everything inside?

*

The incessant gurgle of acid eating away at my insides, followed by pain, forces me to realize that I must stop drinking coffee.

Coffee fine-tunes my psyche, jump-starts my brain. Without it, I can’t manufacture an audience.

No listener? No point in talking.

Without speech, I’m stuck with all the quickly-swallowed, undigested chunks.

I’ll miss my high-flying brain.

*

This is the draw of a café: stoked on caffeine, you make the world as you watch it.

*

Green tea: a drink that tastes of the dark sea. Nothing close to coffee’s bitter earthiness.

*

Dreamt I was stuck in an elevator with a mass of words stuck to my tongue. Unable to spit them out or swallow them, I prayed the door would open on a familiar face.

*

I picture the pained parts of me huddled together, full of desire, hungry and uncomfortable. They call to me like small children, impossible to ignore. Throttling them won’t work.

I can’t take pills the rest of my life; neither can he fuck me to sleep every night.

*

Infinity: the narcotic promise I can’t resist.

*

I encourage my mind to fall apart in my hand. How to put the pieces back together?

*

I drink yerba mate, a tea from another country. It tastes of saddles and animal sweat. One sip takes me to another century. For several days, I find relief, then the pain begins again, more insistent than before. Historical-remove provides no answer. I can’t escape my century, my country, my life. (My stomach.)

*

I digest my days with words.

*

Unwritten days feel dammed. Occasionally, the dam breaks: all the uncooked things come loose. I drown in the undigested dregs of my life.

With a caffeine-stoked brain, I can turn the handle at my own pace, let water through the floodgate to equalize the pressure. Between written and unwritten, told and untold, real and imagined. How else to hold a life in your hand? How else to say your prayers?

*

He leaves for a night; I wake up twenty times and then stop counting.

*

We all have to put up with our minor aches and pains. But why the desperation to make them into minor works of art?

Fumbling generosity? Awkward substitution? Of milk, for instance, and a mother’s arms?

*

When my mother falls on the carpeted stairs of her house, she tells me on the phone that the injury is only slight.

I buy small things for her, aiming for a less that means more: five miniature chocolate bars, a tiny glass globe, a plastic watch.

At her house, I see that her hand is very swollen, with a bluish gash. She says: “It’s only my circulation.” She smiles: “Or lack thereof.”

I give her the things, knowing they don’t come close to saying what I mean.

*

Hands trace feeling along muscles and nerves, release pain, send it downstream, like a feisty fish. My massage therapist tells me she gives the massage she’d like to receive. In this way, I come to know her particular aches and pains, and desires.

I know she likes to have her shoulder blades pulled away from the back, as if they’re wings. She likes all the fascia between to be pressed and pulled. I like this too, her desires meeting my own. Like a small rebirth, a non-sexual fling.

*

She works as if she’s cooking: pinch and fold, stir and mix. She exerts pressure that reaches a variety of levels: nerve, muscle, bone, cell.

After the massage, I eat a donut, iced. Each bite a taunt, a test of my stomach’s health.

*

Need all pain be significant? Only to those who believe in the efficacy of an intellectual unravelling. Is this cerebral voodoo? High-minded witchcraft? Or simply the luxury of one fortunate enough to have a minor pain, rather than a drastic, insupportable one?

*

I requested deep, hard. For the duration of fifty minutes, he made me hurt.

*

These places I go: a tiny closet office, big enough for a wooden table and a smiling Buddha, where he pummels me. His hands call forth colors I usually never wear, but there’s relief in being dressed this way, naked beneath his hands. He keeps me too long and I rush away, dropping three stiff twenties on the table.

*

Can thought be nourishing? Can one grow fat on thoughts?

*

Ethereal pains are the most difficult to describe. A twinge, then nothing. A quick stab and it’s gone. Like our awareness of mortality. Even when steeped in it, the comprehension never exceeds “slight.”

I cradle the pain in my mind, and it dissolves. When I see how this works, I think of my mother, and know how badly I want to give her something good.

*

I dream things I haven’t thought of in years: intense summer blues, infinitely tall pine trees, the yellow of corn on the cob. Images leak back to their holding place beneath my diaphragm.

*

My mother and I happen to be in the same market at the same time, but I have to shout before she recognizes me. She’s looking for peaches; I’m buying lettuce and carrots.

I notice that the gash on her hand looks better—relief.

*

For a week, I conjure the pain—like a punch to the esophagus—with thoughts of a double espresso. Eventually my stomach realizes how it’s been fooled: there’s nothing to fear from a thought.

*

I sip strong coffee, trying to condition myself. When the bitterness hits, I’m already at that place, soothing the part with mumbled syllables—things you’d tell a dying parent, a crying child. Words like healing hands.

*

Early morning thunderstorm. The clarity of the light makes you want to eat the sky.

Perform tiny surgeries on your body, watching and feeling at once. Cut, bleed, suture, staunch. Notice the intricacy of your stitch-work, the miracle of its ensemble.

Inhale the light. Practice waving to your mother even when she can’t see you.

Know how caffeine’s an alibi.

 

Anne Germanacos completed an MFA at the Bennington Writing Seminars in January 2003. She's had stories published recently in Black Warrior Review and The Florida Review. A story of hers was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Greece and San Francisco.


End of Article
AGNI Magazine :: published at Boston University ©2008 AGNI