“It’s the gray areas that…”
Killing Jar: La chasse aux papillons
It’s the gray areas that are the easiest to destroy: the drips of matter that seep from gunshot wounds and flutter across ceilings and walls. That, Sheila, is a dash – how much brains escape the skull after severe trauma.
Sheila found her own ways of dealing with that troublesome gray matter. She molded it and sculpted it to forget the pain, the regrets: that boy who broke her heart in the second grade, removed; not saying goodbye to Lacey that morning, edited away; all of the people’s lives she had changed with her careful hands, erased. She learned to shape those pliable gray areas with drugs and fingers and scalpels. She spent years removing parts of her memory. Years spent carving until her brain was more poodle-shaped than brain-shaped. Until she only remembered the good, and the bad was stored away in jars of ethyl acetate in her freezer.
You can’t change the past, Sheila, but you can learn to move on. She kept souvenirs in those jars: perfect melon-balled spheres of grayish white. Pinned butterflies under glass stay better when undisturbed. Twenty-five cent supermarket bouncy-balls frozen in suspension, holding secrets, hiding truths. Carefully labeled in serious handwriting: Lacey’s fifth birthday party, summer camp with Lacey, first kiss, last kiss, Lacey’s graduation, Lacey’s smile, Lacey’s cerebellum, Lacey’s murder, gray pieces of Lacey strewn across a brick wall. Sheila’s head was empty, her freezer full, and a lopsided wig covered the incisions and gaping holes from missing bone. Her left eye no longer focused properly, and she could never remember why she entered a room, but the pain was gone. Memories were siphoned down a malaise trap, carefully chosen and preserved. She took them out and left them behind and learned to move on.
She had accidentally removed her sense of smell by the time she was discovered. Her wig had slipped during Sunday night dinner with her parents. The moonscape of her bald, scarred scalp had horrified her father and caused her mother faint from her chair and lose consciousness for almost an entire minute. And even though Sheila’s sense of smell was residing next to a brick of frozen spinach, the tangy copper odor of fresh blood struggled through her limping neurons and unmyelinated axons directly to a hazy memory. Lacey face down on reddened concrete, crater in her skull. This is for the best. Her father wrestled the steak knife from her fist before she could add another notch to her unprotected head.
The only thing they let her have in her room was a mini-freezer full of her collection. It will help her adjust. She had stolen a spoon from the cafeteria one night and had managed to remove the memory of her parents’ betrayal before the ward nurse noticed the blood seeping from her scalp. They wouldn’t let her keep that piece.
She got hold of a paperclip once and managed to weave it through her ear and into her head before she found herself strapped to a bed. The CAT scan shows a brain like a minefield. There was a war in her mind of lost emotions and missing memories trying to fill the gap like ghosts trapped in a bottle – Lacey’s ghost, banging against the walls with the flurry of delicate wings.
She emptied the freezer. Set the little glass jars in a line around her room and listened to them whisper and hum. Do you know who Lacey is? Coin-sized thoughts laughed and cried, shouted and sang. They were proof of Lacey. Proof of existence. Proof of life. Lacey is a friend. She sat cross-legged in front of the jars for what seemed like eternity, listening to secrets and confessions, stories and lies. Sheila stood and collected her jars from the floor. An armful of life, collected from a wounded mind. An imaginary friend. Sheila climbed to her bed and sent glass shattering to the floor. Soul-shaped balls of gray scattered around the room, a swarm of pinned butterflies racing toward freedom. A figment of her imagination.
nt - 2/19/10
Notes: In insect collecting, jars are filled with ethyl acetate in order to kill specimens with minimal damage. These are called killing jars.
*Prompt taken from The Write Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer