Pluck – Vivian Chavez
March 10, 2021
My dog’s tail was shaped like a pig’s. The curl wasn’t perfect so it was more a compressed furry lump than a spring, but if you felt around you could make out the shape of the bone, two and a half swirls or so. In one of these creases the hair grew in the opposite direction. Every time I touched this cowlick the hairs seemed wrong, too thick or coarse, bristles that would also be better suited on a pot-bellied sow than on the family dog. When I was walking to school, then hours later when I was walking home, if the neighbor kids didn’t feel chatty my mind would wander to that clump. I could remember the exact feeling on my finger tips. How I would tap and stroke and press and pull just a tiny bit, and she would turn and look at me with a placid and trusting curiosity.
25 w g, when w = 8 and g = 39 wobbled out of my mind every time I tried to toss it back in. It would fall into nothing from the podium of my thoughts, replaced by that area of dog. There couldn’t have been that many of them. Twenty or thirty hairs in that awkward spiral, twenty or thirty that didn’t belong. Did that spot itch in a different way than the rest of her? I remembered her flat face, her labored breathing, and I decided that’s just her life. She knew nothing different. But I could help her.
Joseph leaned over and slapped my arm.
“Wake up and stop daydreaming about Ms. Reed’s ass. If you fail the test and get grounded this weekend I’ll shoot you in the balls.”
I failed the test and was grounded, but I didn’t worry about balls or bullets. Or airsoft pellets. I stared at the popcorn ceiling, at the lines I had scratched up as a little boy, jumping on my bed, watching the white specks fall all over the room. I sat up, opened my bedroom door, and whistled.
Pixie announced herself with the jingling of her collar and the plodding of her squat legs on hardwood. She was quick to sit down next to my bed and cock her head to the left while our eyes met. I didn’t usually let her in here, as even her casual animal presence felt like a threat to my pubescent privacy. I lifted her up onto the bed and ran my hand along her back, scratching and patting along her ribcage until she laid flat next to me. Felt appropriate to have a few minutes of this to get her comfortable.
I had a pair of tweezers on the nightstand ready to go. Some sense of sinfulness made me prepare, made me plot out the steps I would be taking to do this right. I pushed my finger into the knuckle-thing her tail formed and shivered when I brushed against it. I spread the fur out and got to work. It was as simple as it sounds, and I had such a clear distinction between which hairs were normal and which were weird that I didn’t hesitate at all. I set the removed black strands on my lap, plain to see on the green and white of my basketball shorts. Pixie twitched a bit, but she made no effort to get away, she didn’t growl, she didn’t whimper. I left a grey, stubbly bald spot. It felt like a callus, and while she was leaving I realized you could easily see the centimeter or so where her coat was not.
Later that night my mom asked what had happened to Pixie, and I came clean with an unenthused tone of voice. She looked at me for a while with her lips tight and told me to never do it again.
I read somewhere that you could never go wrong with a black v-neck and a nice pair of jeans. Nothing ever convinced me differently.
I was standing in front of the mirror and rotating around, examining my posture, how my clothes looked on my frame when I was relaxed, when my back was straight, when I held my shoulders out in what I believed was a subtle exaggeration of my muscles’ mass. It was not. The reflection of me nodded with a polite acceptance.
The weather was warm enough that the search was quick. Lots of exposed skin, and the sultry coffeehouse-by-night atmosphere left enough light for investigation, and for people to read and write their novels while enclosed in burgundy faux-leather booths.
She had an uneven bob, black and silky, sleepy eyes in an inviting way, and dangling gold hoops that harmonized with the honey hue of her skin. While I counted the moles on her upper shoulder I found myself appreciating the lacy white top she wore. Seven. One that stood out, wide and textured with a little protrusion. A grove that rises from the mottled mound. I would count the foliage too, but later. Deep breaths. I approached and as she turned to me with a smile, I trapped my eyes away from the beauty mark by her lip.
She didn’t notice her drink fizzing. I was sure she had drifted deep enough and set her down with a certain gentleness.. I took a moment to fumble with my phone’s flashlight. I had established this ritual the first time and I’ve kept it up since. I refused to get complacent.
Her back brightened under the beam, my eyes strolled along her skin, taking the scenic route. I tweezed a smaller hair first, the bulbous mole that lined her shoulder blade bulging up as the hair worked out of the follicle. Saved the best and thickest for last.
The gradient of color, the irregular shape, then the nature of her growth sank in. The possibility at least. Would it continue to get worse? Would the unnatural strands that protrude from her body get more numerous or more obscene?
I wondered if I could keep her around for a while. Keep an eye out for more. Go steady.
One coiled in so deep I had to make a slit with a razor blade pretty close to my eye. I felt like a boxer.
Maybe they were trying to spring out in new places, to greener pastures.
The scratching tickle got worse by the second and the twitchy way I dropped my weight from foot to foot probably looked like more than excitement. But that’s all it was. The cashier was a ghost. I bought the most expensive one I could find and I couldn’t stop clearing my throat.
The plastic packaging was a bitch to get open. But this was a special occasion. It was worth the fancy tweezers. Fresh and new.
I was naked in front of the mirror, the one thing in my place I always kept perfectly clean. I looked at the patterns of bumps, acne, and scars that made up my skin. I haven’t missed a spot in months.
I leaned into the mirror, opened my mouth, and stared down the curl that coiled around my uvula from somewhere deep below. I could feel it strangle every time I swallowed, an overhand knot slinking from my belly through my throat. I took a deep breath and the air made the fucker tickle my tonsils.
Suckling my knuckles, trying to untie the knot with clumsy pokes and prods. My hand jerked with the loss of patience and the noose got free by pinching off the bottom half of my uvula. The chunk tumbled into my depths and I froze my swallow reflex with every bit of discipline I had. Cold sweat dripped down my back.
My fingers held steady and closed the tweezers around the hair. There was a pause, then I pulled. A sensation deep inside me, somewhere in my pelvis, resistance from the follicle as I felt the thing tear free. Goosebumps cascaded along my body. My stomach boiled over, my lungs sagged.
I worked it out, and felt it slither, and surrounded it with groans. Collecting debris along the way, snaking up my digestive tract, cutting into the tender and numb tissue of my organs. White noise fluttered from within to without and I fell to my buckling knees. I held out about a foot’s worth from my lips and still it unraveled in my belly with every pull, like working a bucket from a well.
This was it. I would trample this wyrm beneath my feet and be done with this. All the impurities it dragged in its wake scrubbed out of me. I tasted bile, tar, tonsil stones. The salt sugar and umami of all that ails me. My eyes rolled back and I couldn’t shut up. I sat in the wetness between my thighs and the colors of the room danced to flashing whites and encompassing blacks. It just kept coming.