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The Elbow

Today I woke up to find an elbow sticking in my face. It was just a normal elbow at the end of a bent arm, kind of rounded, kind of knobby, with a slight white dryness to the skin. It actually squashed my lips a little bit. Pulling back my head, I cupped my hand around the elbow and crankily pushed it away, preparing to confront whoever was sticking their damn elbow in my face while I was trying to sleep. But no one was there. So I got out of bed and made coffee, sitting down at my desk. There was a flicker in my peripheral vision and I looked to the left just in time to see the elbow sailing at my face again. It zoomed in quickly and then stopped short inches away, swaying slowly, in lazily precise figure-eights, like some kind of probe. I could almost count the little hairs on it. I shoved it aside roughly and turned back to my computer, intent on finally getting some work done. I typed for a few minutes before I felt the soft pressure of something moving up my thigh, and looked down just as the elbow rocketed up under my chin, pausing just as its tip pressed into the soft flesh there. I grabbed it with both hands and hurled it away. But after a minute or so, it floated up right between my eyes again, as if it had been hiding in my lap. It started to come back more quickly after that, from every angle, as if I’d pissed it off; sneaking around my body and squinting right into my face like a creature that was both nearsighted and indefatigably curious, pink and tuberous, something from underground. Now when I shove it away, it reappears almost instantly. Even as I push it to my right, I feel a presence falling over my left cheek, and the elbow slides right back into the center of my vision. I can see fragments of the room in the corners of my eyes, but the elbow shifts with my gaze so I can’t see over or around it to find out whose body it’s attached to, although I have the vague impression of a body behind the elbow somewhere, a mass of flesh and attention. I’m just learning to live with it.


Now, I have to mention, this isn’t an allegory for some existential condition or the conventional assault upon individual agency, like that Russian number about the nose, although I can definitely see how it could appear that way. I’m using this first-person, “it really happened!” rhetorical strategy because it’s convenient and legible, and there is some pleasure to be had in watching systems elaborate themselves to their logical conclusions. But you really shouldn’t read anything into it. This is just a rather dry description of a reality in which an elbow imposes itself upon one’s face, and does not leave. It only seems metaphorical and strange because I’m writing myself into it, rather than just being there, where the notion of a ball of fire pulsing down from the sky, vanishing and returning without fail, might seem as allegorically potent and strange and contrived as the simple reality of an elbow floating in one’s face. That would please me. But this isn’t about that either. These systems are pretty random and don’t mean anything except what they contain. When this notion came to me–“wouldn’t it be strange if that were my reality, an elbow always floating into my face”– at first I kept trying to see something behind it, like what does this idea about the elbow mean? When I should have just kept my eye on the elbow, like the entire scenario was telling me to do. I’m just saying it’s funny, how far out of my way I’ll go to make things that are obvious seem mysterious, things that are ineluctable seem diabolical, things that are physical seem metaphysical. And yet I still worry whose face my elbow might be in.

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