Blood Linguistics by Evan Sheldon

I have a friend who used to call me in the middle of the night. I would answer and could barely make out his words. He was most likely in a bar when he would call. We were all most likely in bars at the time, really anytime. Even though he now lives several states away, bar time has a unique and well-known time zone. A person who is a bar person always knows there will be other bar people, and you don’t have to feel bad, even if you are the only person in that particular bar on a Tuesday morning smoking Camel Wides and shooting whiskey. Somewhere, there’s another one of you doing the same thing, and if you close your eyes you can imagine taking that shot of whiskey with those people. If you think about it, and examine it really closely, it’s easy to imagine every shot as a form of communion.


Eddie would call and ask the same question every time, “What’s that word again?” I think there are plenty of words that I could have told him at this point, and there were times I thought about making them up. Sangrat. Philomonopoious. Declundity. And when he would say, “Yeah! Yeah! That’s the one!” and then wait until I told him its meaning. That was always what he was looking for.


Our University bookstore had a whole row of white flags printed with red crosses along the entryway. It was an art project or something. But Eddie wasn’t happy with what they sold in the bookstore. Why do they sell eyeshadow called lust and have crosses out front? So, one night he snuck and painted copyright insignias on the bottom of every flag. Look what we’ll sell you. Look at what you can purchase.


Eddie worked at a piercing parlor. That’s what they used to call them when I would frequent such places. Now, I think they call them studios. I’m not sure that I like the change. Parlor has a different sort of ring to it, don’t you think?


Eddie and I had classes together sometimes, but only the ones that happened to overlap out of our different majors. He was an art major. At least I’m pretty sure. I think they kicked him out before he graduated. Maybe they found out who had painted those copyright insignias? Maybe he showed up drunk to chapel? It really could have been any number of things.


The first time I saw him play pierce, my stomach dropped like I was standing on the highest ledge with no handrail. He was sitting in his truck, the small kind that would not do well in any sort of snow, but in California it was okay. I think he was sleeping in it, but there was no way to tell for sure.

I bummed him a cigarette and he pulled out a kit. It reminded me of how chefs carry around their knives in those black roll-ups. He slid out fifteen or so hollow needles and then methodically, ritually, pushed them through the meat of his calf.

I remember thinking that there should have been more blood.


Once, he had an art show off-campus and I couldn’t afford any of the paintings. They all depicted the same human-like figure. In each one, the figure was smoking; one was set in a church, one sitting on the sidewalk, one in a library. The figures all had a massive gash running from the base of their skulls down to their tailbones. I’m no art critic, but they seemed very well done.

I didn’t put the meaning together until much later.


I wasn’t there for his first suspension. Someone else pierced him with the hooks, but he told me later that he had rigged up the pulley system himself, that he pulled himself into the air. “There’s something about being pierced and hanging in the air that everyone should experience,” he told me.


Sometimes we would drink a couple of bottles of wine and smoke a little weed. We would end up talking philosophy, debate early and late Wittgenstein, with a fervor that seemed so real, so definite, at the time.

I bet if I tried to do the same thing now I wouldn’t have any points to make, any hills to die on, though I do occasionally flip someone off randomly; my contribution to changing the world.


He hasn’t called in quite some time, but I find myself hoping he does. I hope that he’s painting still, but that the gash isn’t quite as deep, or maybe it is somewhere where the figure can do more than just feel it. I hope that when he calls I’ll be in a bar, with a whiskey in front of me. I’ll have a whole list of made-up words and I’ll tell him exactly what each of them means.


The story behind the story:

I wrote this one time after having drinks in a bar and I realized I hadn’t heard from “Eddie” in quite a long time. Thinking about him, what he meant to me, and how we drifted apart brought all this out. But more than just that, the intensity with which he interacted and sought connection, sought understanding in a community that often claims to have all the answers is still important to me. Communicating meaning is fascinating, and studying some of the old language philosophers and their stories helped to tie some of the loose strings of this together, particularly the idea of fully understanding what a word is to someone. Eddie used to read all my work. I wonder if he’s ever read this and seen himself this way. I think he would have liked it.

Evan James Sheldon is the author of Children & Their Cages (Twelve House Books, 2022). He is the Features Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at


“Blood Linguistics” was first published in Barren Magazine.

Header photo by Charlotte Hamrick.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: