Neckties were invented to cut off circulation to the brain. Silk squeezes the carotid artery. Your mind goes slack and numb.
Work didn’t have a dress code. She did. She packed my lunch and cinched my tie.
I was choking.
Every morning. Get up, shower, here’s your lunch, how’s that, fine. Every day.
Here is how to turn your basement into a fiery vision of hell:
1. Knock out all dividing walls. Save the better lumber and wear a mask to smash through plaster. Shatter her pictures and the blue vase she got from the Kyrgyz Republic. On a budget, save and straighten nails.
Tuesday, after finding out my wife was a whore, I took off my patterned tie.
My scalp hummed like a reattached limb, the blood pumping through fallen veins, a blizzard of whiteout pricks. Then I could see it, my life stretching out from flat feet to the smog and rat choked coast. It was a lot like that elementary school where the boiler exploded: splintered brick and childhood dreams scattered all around.
2. Dig a lot of pits. Rent a jackhammer to rip out the concrete floor. Start digging. Make a series of excavations around the room, leaving walkways between. Build the ground up higher at one end. The rest of the dirt can go in the backyard. Do some landscaping, or throw it on the garden.
I pulled all my ties out of the closet. I put them in a box and wrote LATER on it with a black marker. I set it on the table and left to get a sledge.
The first guy I didn’t know. He was an art student at the college. She was flattered someone so young and beautiful could still lust for her.
Of course he lusts for you, I said.
The guy could do an amazing pectoral dance, had a segmented snake tattooed down the length of his torso, one link for each of his lost loves. A snake, he said, because love was eating him alive.
He’s twenty one, I said.
It must have been an earth worm. If I had that tattoo, it wouldn’t fit. I’d have to paint a mural on a barn and then drag that around with me. I’d put it on wheels or something.
3. Make sure to cover exposed wood beams near the floor. Insulate the ceiling so your upstairs carpet doesn’t melt. Consider ventilation. A simple air exchange system can be built with ductwork and cheap fans, but results will vary. To guard more fully against asphyxiation, consult a professional. However, a proper solution will cost thousands of dollars, so remember — the more noxious the fumes, the more realistic your design.
To get the jackhammer into the car I smashed a window. Shards of glass on the blacktop caught the piled sky as a plane leapt past in a scatter of disjoined reflections. My knuckles bled and I wrapped them in a shirt. The shirt was hers and halfway home I couldn’t take the smell. My lungs squeezed themselves limp. I threw it out. My clenched fist dripped blood down the face of the steering wheel.
4. You’ll have to buy a goat. This is for sacrifice and blood drinking. Start shopping early -check the papers and for-sale ads online – but if you can, hold off buying until you need it. Keep in mind, the longer you own a goat, the longer you’ll have to feed it and the more of your shit it will destroy.
At home the room filled with dust and I couldn’t see. Things went gray and throbbed. My skeleton ran in a confluence of hair-line fractures, I was sweat and clacking teeth. The muscles of my back and neck wound tight, hunching me, as my brain slammed back and forth inside my cracking skull.
Later, I stopped to eat salami and a jar of pickles, dripping over the kitchen sink. The doorbell rang. A cop. A neighbor had complained of the noise. It was four in the morning. I explained I was remodeling my home.
“In wingtips?” he asked.
I turned to the hall mirror and found an ashen face. My office-suit was gray with dust, fine flakes of it clung to my hair, balanced on my lashes. I looked down and saw a hand caked in blood, a thick trail running to my elbow.
“My wife slept with a sherpa,” I said.
The officer gave me a look. He had this bushy mustache, like someone carved him out of hedges with a pair of shears. He was thinking I’d murdered my wife.
“Would you like to see?” I asked. “Come and see for yourself.”
Hand dropped closer to holster. “You lead the way,” he said.
We went down, the stairs creaking under our weight, and I showed him.
“What are all these holes for?” he asked.
I’d meant to diffuse the situation, but this wasn’t helping. “Not for burying people,” I said.
The officer gave me that look again, his arms out like he wanted something heavy to lift.
“Look,” I said, “she’s staying with a friend in the city.” I pulled a post-it note from my billfold and handed it to him. “This is her number,” I said. “Check it out if you want.”
He stood there, looking. It felt like being thrown down hard on a block of ice. Finally, he sighed and took the paper from my hand, his shoulders falling, posture relaxed. He grabbed my jaw, firmly but without violence. He looked me in the eyes, turned my head, studied the curve of my face.
“You know,” he said, his voice soft, “there’s something romantic in a broken man.” He dropped his hand. “I’ve seen it and seen it,” he said, “but it strikes me every time.” He turned and showed himself out. When he was gone, I crawled down a pit and fell asleep.
5. Build or buy a throne. Furniture makers may take a lifetime perfecting their craft, but a table saw and sander will set you on your way. Use lumber saved from the walls or start browsing rummage sales and antique stores. Modify a rocker or recliner. Just make sure it looks imposing. Let your imagination roam free on the design, but here are some ideas to start with:
Dye it dark red and let the varnish run so it looks like dripping blood. Buy a pair of animal skulls from a taxidermist and attach them to the armrests. Inscribe something evil sounding on the chair back. Translate it into Latin, or, for the less schooled among us, Pig Latin.
When finished, place it where you piled up the dirt. My wife had very dexterous toes. When the phone rang because her mom was dead, I watched them contract and grip the blue shag carpet. Between jobs last autumn, she would sit on the couch watching daytime TV, working on a dreary watercolor with one foot reaching out from beneath the blanket, holding the brush deftly between two slender toes, the nails unpainted, black from working barefoot in the garden.
6. Fill the pits with charcoal. Buy out grocers and hardware stores and steal it from your neighbors. Dress in black and crouch down low. If a dog barks, run away.
The goat’s name was Grogan and I tied him in the corner. A tattered ear and hair all matted with shit. I talked and worked, shoveling pressed black bricks of coal.
“Shut up, goat, you’ll wake up all the neighbors.” He was bleating dull, falling cries that bounced through the darkened halls.
“I’ll be glad to slit your throat and drink your blood,” I said. “I’ll grin at the stink of you cooking on the fire.”
Grogan flashed me square eyes and ate some hay. My hands were cramped tight around the shovel, blisters torn and bleeding. I worked my fingers loose and went upstairs to get an apple and some warm milk. He liked it best with a swirl of honey.
With the fridge door open, cool light bleached my naked gut.
She said she’d always had this thing for Henry. Henry, my best friend since fourth grade Beaver Camp. Henry, who’d had a million things for her. In high school he stole her t-shirt to sleep in, spied through windows, swore he saw her breasts hanging pale and firm. I giggled and almost believed him when he told me. Late nights with my father’s Penthouse magazines, he rolled in agony. He’d never feel the smooth curves of her thighs, so softy they could have vanished into mist. But Henry felt them, caressed them when he fucked my wife. And she left for three months to sleep her way through Asia, came home to say she’d made herself a whore.
7. Open the box that says LATER. Take the ties from the box. Begin sewing. Stitch up their backs and stuff them with dried beans. Attach plastic eyes and a sliver of dark red felt.
My hands shook as I set them free among the rafters, slung them over the high back of Satan’s throne. I could only find googly eyes at the hobby shop, so now they leered at me with cross-eyed hate. I’ve made you what you were, I thought, constrictors. They writhed above me, taut flesh covered in dots, or little bats and gloves.
8. The details sell it. Bolt a pair of shackles to a wall. Cover everything in blood, clear away the tools and knock out all the lights. Let the coals soak a day in lighter fluid. Strip naked and rub yourself with gore. When you are sure you’re ready, when the mood is right, when night comes and you feel hollow as a leather drum, strike a long-stemmed match.
Heat rose, darkness and jet-red glow and the waved-black curve of heat. Fields of combustion dried out flesh, red towns of burning rock sent up sable plumes of smoke and ash. Space squeezed, closed-in with the clear-eyed demons that flew between ripples in the stifling air. A hazy black form descended, sat there smoldering where I bid him. I dug my toes into the dirt to get away. I coughed and spit up ash. Snakes hissed from the rafters and something snapped in my chest. I fell to my side in the dry earth, grinding my forehead black, chest rising up and falling down. There are moments of heat that can kill you. Not open flame, but dead, unflagging heat. It will dry you out and leave a calcium shell.
My cell phone rang.
I sat up, slipped from a shackle, rubbed my eyes.
There was a moment before her voice came, small and tinny through the line. “Hi,” she said.
I sat still and held my breath.
“Where are you right now?” she asked.
“In the basement.”
“Have you been crying?” Her voice was soft. No corners at all.
“My goat died today,” I said.
“Oh,” she said.
“I didn’t kill it. He got loose and chewed through a wire.”
She exhaled softly. “That sounds awful,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. I drew a circle in the dirt with my toe.
“I’m sorry, Honey,” she said.
“I love you,” she said.
I got my face down close to the dirt, keeping away from the fumes.
“The police thought you might be in trouble,” she said. “They called here.”
Lying down in the great heat, with the red coals and the black smoke, I twirled my cowlick between two fingers.
“Yeah,” I said. “The neighbors heard Grogan.” I stopped a moment, wiping at my cheeks. And I stole their charcoal,” I said.
“Honey?” she asked.
“I love you.”
“I know,” I said.
“I want to come home now,” she said.
I hesitated. There was something swimming in my guts.
My head pulsed and I needed air.
“No more ties,” I said.
“Ok,” she said, as I began to break and cry. “Ok, ok, ok…”
Geordie Williams Flantz was born and raised in southern Minnesota. He currently attends Oberlin College in Ohio where he majors in English and Creative Writing.