Needle Magazine is deep in the veins of Net Noir. It drains its pain. The story below is my homage to The Needle, a Magazine of Noir
by Matthew C. Funk
“Starvation isn’t so bad,” says Izzy Button. Her nose lets cigarette smoke drain into a curtain for her face. “It doesn’t hurt nearly so bad as eating.”
“What’s so bad about eating?” I ask, picking a curve of fried sugar from my beignet. We lounge in Café Du Monde. This is where Izzy Button holds court for her Sunday morning hangovers. She is here because it is famous.
“It makes you fat,” Izzy shivers, thin as a dropping thermometer in her Vera Wang. “And everybody rightly hates the fat.”
Izzy Button says famous people have to belong in famous places.
“So, it hurts to be hated.” Izzy waits for a little girl with a tambourine to pass by before flicking her cigarette butt on the curb. “Not that you would know, Ava, being Miss Perfect.”
I am Ava and that is why Izzy is wrong. I do hurt. I have all the hurt in the world.
It came to me when I was 12 and it came out of the walls with cellophane voices in mass-grave stereo and it spoke to the seams of my brain. I did not listen. It did not stop the voices from speaking their pain.
“I’m not so perfect.” I say but I do not say that the last time I felt perfect was four nights ago. Four nights ago, I did things to let the pain of the world sigh in relief, just for a little while. Just long enough to keep it from becoming too much for the world to keep turning.
“I guess not, considering you’re so full of shit that you make squeaks like that.”
I gave in and listened to the voices when I was 12. It still did no good. And after I was done trying to cut and paste the newspapers into a better shape, I did not feel better. After I painted the television pink, I did not feel better. I burned my bed but it would not make the voices into smoke. I felt the pain of the world and knew something had to be done.
“I don’t like to judge.” I say to Izzy Button.
I did not know what to do. The doctors said they did. They gave me pills to filter the voices into white noise.
“You’re a saint.” Izzy rummages in her purse with wax model hands. I have what she needs in my purse, though. I have the needle for her.
“I just do what I can.”
I stopped taking the pills when I got to college. I was in a new place and I needed to know what to do.
“Like her.” Izzy snaps her lighter alive before her Cadillac-sized sunglasses. Her hands are shaking. The flame shakes as she glares at a young woman swollen by chemotherapy. “Lucky bitch.”
“Why is she lucky?” I ask without affect. Not because I don’t feel pain for the woman. But because I feel every pain there is.
“Everyone feels sorry for her. Whether she’s pretty, whether she’s empty inside, nobody minds. They just feel sorry for her. Cunt.”
I feel every pain there is, and I know what I have to do. I have to bleed that pain off before it builds up so much that the goodness stops. Agony is my salvation.
“I wish I had cancer.” Izzy touches the flame to her cigarette. “Not for lack of trying.”
I listen without affect. Not because I don’t feel Izzy’s pain. But because I know what I have to do. I have the needle for her.
* * *
Later, when I have stolen her from the sorority house and carried her to the abandoned doll factory, I show her the needle.
The needle is longer than any cigarette and it is thin and bright like a frozen miracle.
“Please, Jesus, don’t hurt me.” Izzy says about the needle from where she is bound to the doll-manufacture bely.
Izzy is wrong. I am not Jesus. I am not here to take away the world’s sins. I keep it turning despite them.
I brush the tawdry pigtails from her face.
“Oh fuck, Ava, please, come on, why?”
I use a bolt of doll-dress cloth to bind her head in place over her brow. Izzy’s sobs turn into giggles. Her giggles froth against the smooth surface of my wooden mask—the mask of an Oni, an invisible spirit that does the work of the invisible world.
“And here I used to like one-sided conversations.” Izzy babbles.
And Izzy is so wrong: This is not a one-sided conversation. Her ache flows into me and it cracks me open inside. I am a broken baptismal. My flesh is open from core to crown and I am leaking. My latex gloves are the texture of Bible paper as I point the needle down at Izzy’s eye.
“Stop it!” Izzy explodes with rage.
This is not a one-sided conversation. All I do, I do to tell her that the pain will stop. Agony is the only mercy I know.
“Stop it!” Izzy tries to bang her head loose.
Agony is the only mercy there is.
“Stop, Ava; stop it!”
I aim the needle at the soft pink corner between eyelid and eye.
I am the only mercy there is. I make the pain go on so that goodness can go on, too. But there will be no more pain for Izzy Button.
I drive the needle down just like I saw the doctors do when I was 12.
“Oh God oh fuck oh what?” Izzy is speaking softer now that the needle is in her brain. Maybe she understands. I care for her too much for her pain to go on.
I begin to scramble the needle, wrenching its sharp point through thin fibers.
They go pop, pop, pop.
The genocides will go on and I hear them. The children will starve on Project streets, unheard by their mothers and fathers, and I hear them. The lonely people stare soundlessly and I hear them.
Izzy goes quiet. I keep the needle scratching. Then I stop.
Her pain is stopped.
I stroke her face with the latex gloves. It is smooth as porcelain. Izzy smiles up at me, a perfect doll.
Living to be cared for. Living without pain. Living until death will take her softly by the shoulder.
I have done good work. The world still screams through the seams within me. I put the needle away.
I have so much more work to do.
Photo credit to soldier68w of Flickr