Stigmata

by Kathleen Gullion

On our first date you left red all over my couch. I think you’re bleeding, I said. I’m bleeding? Yes, you’re bleeding. Oh, you said. That’s just my hole. I didn’t realize it would make such a mess. You showed me your hand, and there it was: a bloody hole in the center of your palm. No scab. Fresh blood trickled down to your wrist. Should we go to the hospital? I asked. You laughed. No, no. This hole is what will grant me access to the kingdom. Like a key. The hospital wouldn’t understand. Besides, there’s nothing they could do to stop it. 

 

I took your hand. The hole pulsed with a life of its own, glowing red like embers, ready to burst back to flame. I traced the edge of it with my thumb. It pulsed faster. Can I? I asked. Your breath hitched. Please, you said. I plunged my thumb inside. The hole gave, admitting my thumb up to the knuckle. You gasped. Inside was warm and wet. It smelled like flowers, the smell of sanctity. I wished the hole could take more. Not just my thumb but all of me. I touched my own palms and hated them for being smooth. 

 

You took my hands into yours. I can show you how, you said. You just have to believe.

 

That night we started the ritual. I lit a candle. I sat at your feet and I pressed my thumb into my own palm. An hour, two hours, three hours passed. The wick burned. My skin stayed smooth. Am I doing it wrong? I said. No, it just takes time, you said. Can we use a knife? I asked. No, that would be cheating, you said. Your hand was on my head, blood trickling down my scalp. It’s love that flows from my palms, you said. The love of the savior. 

 

Every night for weeks we did this. I got used to sitting at your feet. You told me of my sins, how my want was poison. You told me, it wasn’t my fault, that I was so bad. We’re all bad. I’m bad, too, you said. But the difference is I accept it. Your hole shimmered in the candle light. You looked beautiful. I wanted to tell you you looked good, but I held my tongue. 

 

You told me stories of others like you, ones who bled roses. Two hundred and eighty women and forty-one men. All day in the pew, or strapped to the bed, murmuring psalms. 

 

As I pressed, I willed my skin to burst open. I imagined us touching palms, our twin holes pressed together, blood flowing freely between us. Me inside you, you inside me. I’d always wanted to be known like this, down to the platelets. 

 

But while I was thinking of you, you were thinking of him. You talked of all you had given up, how beautiful it was to be empty. But it consumed you: how you’d never be like him. 

 

I saw you suffering and pressed my thumb into my palm harder. If I could hurt like you, the more I could be like you, worthy to stand at the gates, and maybe you would see me, really see me, all aglow. 

 

The flesh broke open. In the center of my palm was a hole, like yours. But there were no doves, no visions of saints. Just a throbbing pain in the center of my hand. Blood flowed from me, and I felt dizzy. I traced my thumb around the hole and it stung. This couldn’t be right. Instead of bright crimson like your blood, mine was dark and thick, like a clot. It smelled like rust, like rot.  

Kathleen Gullion is a writer based in Chicago. Her work has been published by 39 West Press, Potluck Magazine, and F Newsmagazine. She is pursuing an MFA in Writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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February 2020

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