The Pivot Point
I’m not really hungry just now… she wrote longhand, the first time in weeks, in her journal.
And she thought that odd because she’d been ravenous all throughout her illness, and hadn’t written a thing, but now she felt a shift. She didn’t necessarily like what she intuited lay ahead, but on her life unspooled. A shrunken head, lifeless and truncated, appeared before her again. It floated and shimmered — a self-contained Fata Morgana, hovering above the ottoman in a slow pulsating light. The heavy odor of ammonia filled the room.
“I am the shrunken head,” she said, “and the shrunken head is me.”
She tried to suppress a cough but it scratched its way up her throat, and in a paroxysm she expelled a smaller shrunken head — golf ball sized — which rolled end over end down the marble hallway and eddied below a gilded full length mirror.
The sound of a theremin swelled from beyond the living room and a small red spot of light framed the smaller shrunken head.
This would be her pivot point in life. The one moment by which she would measure the rest of her life. There would be her life after this shrunken head moment, and all the other inconsequential living she’d done up until this singular moment.
A ululation came from the smaller shrunken head — at first like a sweet distant trill, as if she were looking for scarlet tanagers in a clearing at the edge of dark woods — but the sound became shrill as it grew louder. And the bird broke out of a thicket and headed for her, with every flap it transfigured itself: first flap, from scarlet tanager to a pileated woodpecker, with its second flap it became a crow, and with its third flap (making up the distance to her with great speed) it became a red shouldered hawk, and as the shrill ululation began to sound like a fire alarm the bird transmogrified into a turkey vulture lancing at her eyes with its talons.
In this manner she awoke to the original, larger, shrunken head hovering above her bathed in a golden light. She swatted at it, but it was just beyond her range. She let out a meek, “fuck you,” and placed the pillow over her face.
“Today you’ll find and bring me the most beautiful starfish in the world,” the shrunken head said. “I demand it of you. Go!”
After her long illness, it’s what she felt compelled to do…
“What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
It’s a tie: Never surrender (Ken Kesey), and when dragged under, kick. Kick the fuck out of it. They’re not expecting us (Kathy Acker). They seem related to me.”
— Lidia Yuknavitch