[In late summer 2004, a couple weeks before I left Zendik Farm, a dog named Apache ripped a chunk out of my left calf, while I was diving into the pond. This scene, in which I reckon with the bodily aftermath of that attack, didn’t make it into Mating in Captivity. But I do so love the scab description. So I’ve resurrected my darling.]
Sunday, September 26th. Early afternoon. Four years to the day since I’d wondered whether I’d be lying if I raised my hand and recommitted to being a Zendik. Then, I’d scanned the living room for clues. This time, I was alone.
Cayta, Mar, and Toba were selling in Dupont Circle. I was in the bathroom of the M Street Barnes & Noble, sitting on the closed lid of a toilet. I’d just paged through travel guides for Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, imagining what it would be like to travel again. With the stall door locked, I was free to mull my options in private.
On Saturday night, Cayta, flanked by Mar and Toba, had confiscated my “ammo” and told me to go sit in the car. “You can’t sell like this,” she’d said. “You’re a disgrace. You’re not fit to represent Zendik.” On Sunday morning, she’d given me $10 for food and cut me loose to wander the city—a boon she’d refused me in Chicago, more than four years earlier, after threatening to make me take the bus home.
I knew these hours to myself would cost me. I knew my crew wouldn’t take me back unless I pled, apologized, vowed a change of heart. That is, unless I groveled—but I didn’t think of it as groveling then.
I leaned forward, letting my arms hug my shins. My head hung between my knees. The hand dryer roared on, merging with the whir between my ears. The flat white floor tiles stretched, featureless, as far as my eye could see. The plastic lid I sat on seemed impossibly sleek. What was there, in this smoothness, to grab onto? How was I to grasp what I should do?
I squeezed my knees into my armpits. I rubbed my calves. I pulled up one cuff of my cargo pants, and peered at the luscious slab of scab six inches above my ankle.
I’d always loved scabs—reading their bumps with my fingertips, worrying their edges to test for readiness, peeling them off, savoring their hint of shredded-wheat, letting them dissolve on my tongue like communion. Of course, as an adult, I picked scabs in private. And I didn’t talk about it. But I hadn’t given it up.
This scab—a two-inch strip of nubbly chestnut—promised to be fully ripe in a day or two. But I couldn’t resist. Inchingly, tenderly, starting at the corners, I nudged my thumbnail under the scab’s edges and pried it off. From the swath beneath – pink, luminous, satin to the touch—rose a filament of blood.
The blood I wiped off with my thumb. The scab I cradled in my palm.
Inside, civil war broke out, with the scab as proxy for all I couldn’t have as a Zendik: travel, books, privacy, leisure, men of the DeathKultur. Am I a Zendik, or not? Am I willing, once and for all, to relinquish scabs and other DK temptations, in the name of saving myself and the world?
With thumb and forefinger, I gripped the scab by its thicker corner, then laid it back in my palm and traced its tantalizing ridges, its scaly borders where brittled blood turned to finest skin. I shook my head. It’s such a good one. Probably the best I’ve ever had.
I wrapped the scab in two squares of toilet tissue, then slung my backpack over my shoulder and unlocked the stall. Exiting the store, I turned in the direction of Dupont Circle. At the corner, with reverence and a twinge of regret, I stopped to drop the swaddled scab in the trash.