Sacrifice

Shlomo the Fool was a disgraced warrior in a family of insurance salesmen.

On a good day, the men carried blocks of counterfeit bills in garbage bags to alleyways, where they left them in a designated place, beneath a trashcan. As one of Shlomo’s relatives determined by staking out the site from a fire escape, mustachio’d cat-men later slid around the corner holding two cigarettes, the first between their index and middle fingers, the second between their middle and ring fingers. The heels of their pointed-toed shoes clicked on the asphalt as they rustled among the garbage cans and retrieved the bags marked with a splash of neon. Where the bills went after that, no one knew.

The family was governed by a matriarchy. Shlomo the Fool attempted again and again to initiate a new form of government, but was always drawn back to the same primitive web of revenge and baroque excess. The family had incurred an ancient curse untold generations before, and its members could not identify the original crime or perpetrator. In desperation, they decided around the kitchen table, on a night of gouging humidity, to offer a relative every six months as a sacrifice to the curse, whose mouth seemed to grow wider with every new birth, and whose interior voice amounted to a cloud of anxious discomfort in the skulls of anyone who inherited its frequency. Shlomo the Fool tried to knock it out of his head like water caught in an ear, and ended up only breaking a holy idiot’s rearview mirror.

The matriarch selected the sacrifice from a series of Polaroids prepared for her by her closest courtiers, who brought them to her in the back room of a store selling incandescent candles to widows. That winter, with chaotic crystals of frost on the windows and on the engines of a dozen broken-down automobiles disintegrating in the city’s parking lots, the matriarch chose Shlomo as the sacrifice. The family’s sacrifices were performed inside a stadium in another city, known for its demonic possessions and unique lavender fragrance. You entered the stadium, one relative noted, through a side door marked “Vendors” and followed a maze of tunnels, winding around corners, avoiding puddles, and navigating with your hands in the dark along walls plastered with scraps of posters that announced the sacrifice of some member of Shlomo’s family, who was shown wearing a rust-colored lion’s mane and horns.

When the matriarch’s selection was announced, Shlomo had two choices. First, he could present himself at the appointed time, wearing a tuxedo, his hair tinted with henna, a gold medallion hanging from his neck. But he could also call a private limousine service from the phone in his neighbor’s apartment—his own cell and email were tapped by his family’s secret police connections—and have it send an unmarked car to a desolate street corner, where Shlomo could lick his lips and slip a small valise into the trunk, passing the driver an address halfway across the world wrapped around a tiny gold figurine of a woman riding a bull. Fingering the divide in the chambers of his heart, Shlomo decided to do both at once.

Shlomo the Fool rented a tuxedo and crossed a field of landmines to reach a salon to dye his hair. At the edge of the city, he stuck a shovel in the ground, pressed on its shoulder with his foot until he hit the metal lid of a box, and dug up a medallion at the base of a gnarled willow tree tied with ribbons on the branches. From his neighbor’s apartment, stultifying from all the buffalo skins hanging on the walls, he arranged a pick-up by the monument erected in honor of fallen freak show sidemen, composed of a series of iron figures doubled over, holding their stomachs. When the driver arrived, Shlomo handed him the address of the stadium. Sitting in the car, Shlomo’s spirit soared into the ether above, enveloped in triangles of purple and pink, spinning in their radiance of constant birth. There is no way I can die, he said to himself.

At the door to the stadium, Shlomo told the driver to wait, leaving the engine idling, and gave him a fresh slice of melon. Adorned and appropriate, Shlomo preened in the window of the limousine, then entered the series of tunnels and followed the path he had been taught through hours of rehearsal and rote memorization. In one of the tunnels, a grizzled man with a hunched knot in his back pushed a mop along the tiles. Shlomo dipped his fingers in the mop bucket. When he emerged, he saw a stadium full of figures waving black pendants, so terrified of annihilation that they awaited Shlomo’s destruction with ecstasy.

The matriarch and her lackey husband sat at a table on a platform in the center. They took turns reading speeches into the microphone, recalling scenes from Shlomo’s childhood: tears, endless screaming, violent outbursts of frustrated religious emotion, a pervasive atmosphere of physical disgust, the queasy, unbroken closeness of faces in a fearful cycle of unsolvable dialogues, the constant threat of irreparable harm from the outside world. The matriarch’s laughter sparkled as she emptied one glass of champagne after another over her face and down her evening gown. With his arms around her knees, the lackey sang a blessing over a candelabra. A dog scrambled by and ate one of the candles while the lackey tried to shoo it away. In the stands, old men and women with wan smiles remembered being pursued by faceless assailants, and softly shut their yellow eyes.

On the white tablecloth lay a loaded silver pistol with a black grip. The matriarch called Shlomo up to the platform and invited him to speak into the microphone, to express his gratitude and surprise at being chosen. Instead, in a prepared speech, Shlomo spoke in a series of images that passed by so quickly and were so ambiguous they left the audience with the sense of having had their arms pinned behind their backs while their heads were knocked into the side of a police car. But the squad car was at the same time the cradle in which they first experienced the majesty of the world, following the pink beams of sunset through the branches of a tree until they felt themselves merge with the whole, and opened their palms in delight.

Frowning from the speech, the matriarch brusquely handed Shlomo the pistol and told him to put it into his mouth and pull the trigger. Shlomo took the pistol, but then, wheeling back to the microphone, began to describe an image of dozens of heads connected to one another by tunnels like those beneath the stadium. The figure was neither a single head nor a group of heads, but something in between. Were Shlomo to pull the trigger, he observed, the entire group would feel the bullet. Instead, Shlomo proposed that a series of targets be arranged at one end of the stadium, each with the face of a family member. Each member would be handed the pistol and use it to shoot holes in the image of his own face until it became unrecognizable. Without realizing what they were getting themselves into, the audience in the stadium agreed, and began to pour gunpowder into their bullets with stiff fingers.

At that moment, Shlomo slipped a chicken leg from the table, fired a full clip into the target with a picture of his face, tossed the pistol aside, spiked a football in the endzone, and, spinning 360 degrees out the door, dove into a ditch by the side of the road. At his leisure, he walked home to eat a bullet sandwich and sit with the Spirit of Reality at the top of a watchtower, laughing at a joke about a flood of knowledge which fell in love with a flood of warmth, and how they both put their feet in a flood of oblivious change, although both were so scared to do it.

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