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Michael James
Short Story

Pilonidal Cyst

Apparently it’s pretty common with certain professions, hairdressers for example. Also, if you’ve gotta sit down a lot for your job, they think that might be a factor. Long distance cyclists get them because of the tight pants and a lot of sitting down as well. And then there’s the leg shaving. A lot of possible reasons. They don’t completely know. It’s so gross and shameful.  If you’ve never heard of it before you assume there’s something wrong with you. But really it’s just mainly bad luck, getting a pilonidal cyst. It’s not something people are gonna go around talking about, is it? So, you don’t even know about it till it hits you. Maybe skinny jeans were partly to blame though?

There’s this gap before you notice something really serious is going on. Something growing or withering away. A pimple. Your skin’s clear one minute and then a red, swollen, pus-white head the next. These things silently grow, swell, fill, deepen, second by second, minute by minute, and you have no idea at all. It’s your own body and yet you have no idea. Numb to your very self. So much of us is made up of microscopic bugs and other life forms, with entirely different DNA,  we are  like a mobile zoo. An ecosystem. And you rely on these things: symbiosis. If you could actually disinfect yourself completely, you’d die, probably. Maybe literally disintegrate. There’s a short story idea there: what kind of inhuman being would be created if you removed all the microbes and yeasts and bugs and viruses. Maybe that’s how monsters are made. That’s why you should eat yoghurt, those teeny tiny bottles of Yakult, feed your stomach flora. Someone said human beings are in fact two things: a stomach and then the creature that lives around the stomach.

He’d noticed this sore spot on his arse, the top of his arse, the base of his spine. But it was nothing, a bit painful, a bit itchy, but nothing to make him worry too much. But the little hair was growing deeper, deeper, growing and penetrating, driving and thrusting further into his flesh. Mindless, masochistic, suicidal, hard. And his own body was fighting against his body. Alien, invader, trespasser. And as his body fought against the hair, secretly, undercover, unknown to him the whole damn time, it began to eat away at the tissue around the infection, filling the cavity with pus. Deeper, fouler, fuller.

The prickle of panic behind his ears, his scalp, the back of his neck. Something was really not ok. It’s hard to get a good look at the top of your arse from a wall mirror. But he could see something. And it was not right. It was red, puffy, shiny. So, he used a shaving mirror. Yuck. Looking at yourself that way is a mindfuck. Seeing yourself as a thick, meaty, object. Shivers all over, creepy crawly skinquakes. Something was really, really, really not fucking right. The white blood cells rallied to fight the infection and the skin around the hair died and fell into a béchamel blend of bacteria, white blood cells and dead skin. And the cyst got bigger. Sinus is just a word for a cavity, a space. You can call this cavity - caused by the burrowing hair, dead flesh and pus - a sinus. I don’t know why that’s gross but it’s gross. Cavity is gross, too. Cyst. Sinus. Cavity. Abscess. Pus. Cheese-like substance.

By the time he got it operated on, it was bigger than a golf ball. That’s fucking repulsive. White blood cells fighting the infection had eaten away at so much of his insides that there was a golf-ball-sized hole in the top of his arse. A golf-ball-sized cyst. Filled up with pus: ‘a foul-smelling, cheese-like substance’. These are the kinds of stories doctors bring home to their families or tell at parties to gross people out. Disgusting. So, they had to operate. They stuffed the hole (the sinus, the cyst) with surgical gauze. And it dried and stiffened inside his body.

‘Just pull on the dressing, as you are able. Take your time. Just gently pull as much as is comfortable.’ He soaked in a warm bath of medicinal tea, watching a tail of bandage emerge from between his legs. Like some kind of birth. Emission. Tissue. Evacuation. Purge. Catharsis. Effluent. The gauze was brown with blood, yellow and beige with pus. The slight gluey resistance, when the dressing tugged loose of the coagulated mass, was both nauseous and satisfying. Soon the whole Elm Street bath was full of metres of writhing gauze worm, stained with his own dissolved filth. Would it ever stop? Metres and metres and metres. The horror. Leaving behind a dead cavity, like the hollow rib-cages of pig carcasses in a butcher’s cool room. Senseless empty nothingness.

Never wear skinny jeans, I’m telling you.

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Michael loves ambitious art and things that mess with form, style and genre. Michael graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tasmania in 2002, majoring in philosophy and French. He has published in Overland Journal and produced several podcasts, including Australia’s only rollerblading podcast—Mad Beef Rollerblading Podcast. Michael loves cooking; is a passionate reader of fiction and non-fiction; and although in his forties, is still learning new tricks in the halfpipe on his rollerblades.

On the motivation behind the story, Michael says:

‘Illness and infection create a distance between our sense of self and our sense of our own bodies. The need for the medical withdrawal of unwanted, unpleasant matter from one's own body, and the need for the withdrawal of surgical gauze from one's own body can make one alienated from, disgusted by and even feel vulnerable to the fragility of one's body in a powerful way. This little piece of body horror is not intended to be dualistic or gnostic however. There is a tenderness throughout. For all the shame and repulsion at this tale of withdrawal, the act of telling this story, of speaking of these things, recognises that this is a part of human experience.’