Sacrifice is good. Self-sacrifice is better. Self-punishment is best.
That is my mantra. Those are my beliefs. I don’t care what you think.
Having said that, I suppose I should clarify; it’s not sacrifice in and of itself that is good. It is not sacrifice for its own sake that matters, it is sacrifice for the sake of another. I make my sacrifice for love. I make my sacrifice to love.
I live alone, in an empty apartment. I like to describe it as my ‘cell’. I enjoy being thought of as ascetic in my austerity. My frugality is semiotic. I have a table and a chair, a bed, a malfunctioning cooker and a neurotic fridge. I have a copy of an old Russian Orthodox tryptic on the wall. It’s not very attractive, that might be part of its charm, if it had any.
There is a certain smell to it, you would expect that, a sacrificial smell as of meat left out too long. Not yet charnel, but gamey certainly, toothsome to some.
One cannot sacrifice the unimportant. A trivial sacrifice is no sacrifice at all. I live and die by that. If you’re going to make a sacrifice, make it a self-sacrifice. Sacrifice of self, of something deeply personal, is what counts, and after that, always, inevitably, there comes self-punishment.
That’s where the rubber hits the road. With the kiss of the lash comes submission, and pain of course, and ecstasy. Payback.
I eat sparely. I am parsimonious in my use of ingredients. For a long time I survived on tinned sardines or pilchards and a large sack of Bulgarian cracked wheat. I do not invite people to dinner. I do invite people to meet at my place just as I am finishing dinner, before we go out to some hedonistic hell hole. I have become something of an expert in one-pot cooking. Self-denial and abstinence add zest to my epicurean experiments.
The taste is good, no matter how subtle the castigation or chastisement may be. The flavour rolls around on the tongue, redolent with penance and the penalty to come. It is a flavour enhancer, Monosodium Glutamate for the soul, the promise of a reward.
There is a certain flamboyance to sacrifice, done right. My beloved must know of my sacrifice. Whether the object is to trigger guilt, to witness even for an instant the downward curve of her lip or a sudden widening of the eyes in recognition of the gift, or even if, instead, the intention is to impress the beloved with the sincerity of the offering, either way, my beloved must know, and I must know that she knows.
She knows. I know she knows. I revel in it, her knowing, in the invasion of her mind with the certainty of my pain, the corruption, if you like, of her self with my pain and disgrace.
Sacrifice has a certain look though. You would be aware of that. Whether as an heroic attempt to maintain self-respect, to keep up appearances when all is lost, like a Salaryman long since terminated, or as an oh-so-subtle demonstration of rights waived or advantages foregone. Sacrifice is down-at-heel, definitely. Reproach veiled.
I dress plainly, in a manner evocative of some early protestant sect. I do not overdo it. One does not want to look like a caricature. Sometimes people think I’m a medic of some kind, perhaps a palliative care nurse. Well she is my ‘charge’ in a sense, and I am her ‘carer’. I presume I must give out signals. Maybe it’s the mark of Cain. Whatever.
Sometimes she bites her lip. The gesture is ambiguous. I am uncertain as to its meaning. How should I interpret it? Sometimes she will stand, pale and fragile, sweet scented, a camellia blossom, browning visibly, threatening to swoon for want of sap.
Perhaps she is impressed. Perhaps she realises the depth of my commitment, the totality of my vow. She should do. It is plain enough to see – if she would just look. If she would just for one moment open her eyes and take a really good look. There it is. Laid out upon a fresh clean damask tablecloth for all to see. There is my love. There is my sacrifice, and there, and there.
Does she look? Does she see? I am in an agony of self-doubt.
Perhaps she is ashamed. That could be it. Perhaps she knows what she is putting me through and is wracked with shame. Or guilt – better still. Perhaps remorse fills her. Perhaps she is mortified by my pain and suffering.
I do not know. I can’t tell which.
Perhaps she is disgusted. She is sickened by the growing realisation of her part in my misery.
Well I hope it is guilt. I hope she is drowning in a lake of repentance and regret. My torment, a throbbing stigmata in her mind. Occasionally I glimpse the shade that lives forever behind her eyes.
No. I cannot say that. I must not. I cannot be the author of her suffering, although that would not be the worst thing.
Even more hateful than the stigmata is the cicatrice, the sign of healing, the scar tissue forming over a closing wound. Sacrifice entails injury of course – injury to both. It is not enough that the priest should suffer, the deity must suffer too. That knowledge is evidently secret, no one must ever know.
She must not recover. There can be no recuperation. I do not want to see her ‘on the mend’, ‘recuperating’, ‘getting better’. I want her impaled like some stupid English tourist in Pamplona, gored, naturally, but alive.
She has good days, when she wants to, when it suits her. She has days when one might suspect there is nothing wrong with her at all. On these days she will make some comment or other, some explanation will be forthcoming to explain her unexpected perkiness.
‘People have been so kind’ she says, ‘on days like these I feel I really may be on the mend.’
‘Mend-schmend’ I think to myself, ‘by evening the bitch will have had drifted back into a decline.’
I do not mean that. I am overwrought, that’s all. I would never hurt her. I could never hurt her. She is everything to me.
My apartment is silent, other than the hourly chiming of a plastic East German cuckoo clock someone once gave me. It may have been a joke. I’m not a good judge. It keeps good time.
There is a grittiness to my reality, like fine sand on concrete under bare feet or the high contrast black and white of some old found-footage from before the war. She is complicit, you knew that. Whether consciously or not, she aids, even if she does not directly abet. She has seeped into the fine grain of my life. Every sensation burns when I am with her, corroding the nerve endings, there is fire in the softness of her breath on my cheek – when she sleeps.
She is my cilice, and I hers – though she is unaware of that.