Mark’s Maladies by Eli S. Evans

Intending to shave the upper part of his upper lip, Mark instead drags the razor across the inside of his nostril, slicing the thin layer of flesh stretched across the septum. Blood flows like water from an open faucet, most of it pooling up in the sink (appropriately enough). After recovering his bearings, he crumples up a piece of toilet paper and stuffs it into the wounded nostril to stanch the flow; there it stays during breakfast and while he dresses himself for the day. When he removes it, damp and the color of drool from the mouth of a halfwit sucking a strawberry candy, the bleeding has subsided but an angry red line is visible where the blade inflicted its damage, and each time he sniffles the upward current of air is like salt in the wound. 

Mark, as it happens, sniffles quite often, because the same septum he cut with the razor is, in the argot of the Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist who has shined a light into his nose on more than one occasion, “deviated,” as a result of which condition one nostril—the one on Mark’s right, looking out at the world through Mark’s eyes—always feels, although it more often than not is not, as though it is clogged with nasal matter. But it always feels like it is, so over and over again Mark sniffles, trying to clear away that absent nasal matter like a melancholic trying to overcome his grief over what? Nothing. When Mark sniffles, his face contorts Tourettically—which may or may not be an actual word, but either way the people passing him on the sidewalk always step aside. 

Mark is too old for pimples, or so they promised him he would be, when he was pimply adolescent, by the time he reached the age that he is now. All the same, a pimple forms on his chest, amidst the areolar glands around his right nipple. By the second day, the pus inside of the pimple has gathered into an iridescent little whitehead, but when Mark gives it a pinch, intending to force it out of his body, it instead retreats, and the pimple hardens into a shiny cyst approximately the size, shape, and pliability of another nipple: a third nipple. The advantage of having a third nipple, Mark thinks, is that this would give him three nipples to twiddle, and as it turns out Mark thoroughly enjoys twiddling his nipples—so thoroughly that sometimes, forgetting himself or simply overcome by the temptation to do it, he twiddles them in public. The disadvantage of having a third nipple, of course, is that it would represent a departure from the norm on the basis of which Mark might become socially ostracized in much the same way that twiddling his nipples in public has caused him, in certain situations he’d prefer not to dwell upon, to become socially ostracized. 

This, however, is not the end of the story about Mark and his nipples. Mark, it so happens, was born with a mole underneath his left nipple, within the dark circle of the areola and therefore even closer to this left nipple than the aforementioned pimple to his right. “You need to keep an eye on that,” his mother would sometimes say while regarding him shirtless, or: “I don’t like the looks of that thing.” After he began twiddling his nipples, Mark twiddled the mole as though it were, as a matter of fact, just such a third nipple, moving his twiddling fingers—always the thumb and middle finger of his left hand, regardless of the side of the body on which the twiddling was taking place – from nipple to mole and back again, twiddling first one and then the other for, under certain circumstances, and in the privacy of his childhood bedroom, as long as several hours on end, while with his right hand he did his homework or read his comic books or masturbated into a pair of dirty underwear. 

One day, while he was twiddling it, the mole just up and fell off—dropped like a dry lentil into his lap and sat there until, his heart in his throat, he flicked it away. The incident was painless and bloodless, the flesh from which the mole had fallen as smooth as a baby’s rosy bottom in its absence. But it’s not like life to let us off the hook that easily. Someday, Mark thinks, a cancer will surely bloom, right there where the wound should have been. Every day, that day draws one day closer. The thought of it hangs over Mark like a schlocky chandelier.

Two copies remain of Eli S. Evans' recent chapbook "A Partial List of Things I Thought Might Kill Me Before I Started Taking a Daily Dose of Benzodiazepines", published with Analog Submission Press. If they are not purchased soon, they'll be incinerated, so he hopes you'll consider it. A longer book of stories, Obscure and Irregular, is forthcoming in collaboration with the literary journal Johnny America, if the interested parties can manage to get their acts together at the same time. Other recent work can be found at X-R-A-Y Lit, e*ratio Poetry Journal, Berfrois, Drunk Monkeys, and elsewhere. Eli is a former longtime contributor to N+1, but then again, aren't we all?