“God of the Number Zero” By: Marc Goldin


The liquor store sign glowed yellow from across the street through the plate-glass of Revolution Tattoo. Tracks from a later Melvins’ cd provided an ambiance behind the drone of the needle gun as it sent its darkened payload sub-cu. Corona at an amazing fucking price, he noted, as well as Miller Genuine. He considered how long he’d been in the chair and realized it had been four hours on the clock, though it really hadn’t felt that long. He had willed himself into a kind of suspended animation and, though the time had slipped by, there were brief moments when it seemed like he’d been there for decades and had known these people easily as long.

Omar was rattling on, talking at length of various band and musician trivia and factoids – he heard two-thirds, maybe – just stared out the window at the bright liquor store sign in the wet night. The needle from the tattoo gun kept jabbing relentlessly, more annoying than painful, but at a certain point, the whole site was numbed and he felt mostly pleasant behind the vague endorphin rushes, the pleasure chemical not dramatic but more as if he were on a controlled i.v. drip of the stuff.

When it was done, he got up from the chair shakily – more from just sitting all that time – and looked in the full-length mirror at his left shoulder. He wasn’t ready for it. The work exceeded his expectation. He’d been knocked out by the image when she’d found it in the book for him but he had not expected it to look as mysterious and haunting as it did. He continued to stare at it in the mirror until he forced himself to pull away, realizing that Omar and a couple of others in the shop were politely beginning to clean up and close up the shop. He paid, thanked Omar and went home. Later, when he slept, his dreams felt like those of someone else.

Dawn was breaking and he felt himself surrounded by strong bodies. He couldn’t make out faces nor could he work out what was being said – it was gibberish. It was like he was being bundled into some kind of netting and struggling against it. Trying to break free. He woke sensing a certain menace.

The days and weeks trudged on – he tended to the tattoo wound site with an almost religious attention to care and detail. All the phases, red infected and swollen to just scabbed over and tender. Early on, a yellowish fluid seeped from the spot. He woke one morning with his t-shirt stuck to his shoulder. Peeling it away, he was startled to see a reverse image on the cloth, outlined with traces of ink, fused there like some latter day Shroud of Turin. Gradually the scabs came away, revealing sections of the Mayan god-head. Like an archaeological dig, the image becoming revealed in sections.

The dreams continued, confusing, their outlines usually sharp but other times blurred jumbles of sound, color and sensation. Frequent jungle settings segued into primitive urban street mazes and he felt himself to be on the run from something or someone. He’d wake from these disoriented and clammy, sometimes with traces of blood and semen on his shorts.

He went back to the book in which she’d found the image – he was floored by the concept. Death God of the Number Zero. What exactly was that? Further reading of the text only made it more confusing. What kind of entity was this? Obviously, the death/sacrificial handle pointed to brutal Mayan bloodletting rituals with fatal endings but also represented the concept of the number zero. That in itself was confounding. Mayan mathematics had early on conceived of zero as a number, not the nothingness of western thought. The deity as zero also stood for the end of cycles, of a sort of completion. Searching, he found no name for this god in Yucatec. He caught himself staring at the photo of the image, some days for hours, drawn in by the terrible beauty he saw there.

One day, she came home, having pierced her tongue for no special reason, just because she’d felt like it. He suspected that somewhere, she was trying to stir that in herself that had become insensate. Two days later, as she tried to eat something, she bit her swollen tongue and the blood flowed copiously for some minutes. He looked up as she came into the room to show him her bloodied mouth. The book he’d been looking at falling open to a page showing a carving on Lintel 24 of a Mayan structure. Depicted were two figures from the nobility; a king named Shield Jaguar and his wife, Lady Xoc, both dressed to indicate their royal status and the bloodletting ritual. She was kneeling, looking up at her husband, her hands on some sort of rope. As he looked closer, he noticed that the rope was studded with thorns and she was pulling this through her bloodied tongue. The look on her face spoke of pleasure worlds in remote galaxies.

The curse of a bloated civilization on the wobbly legs of borrowed time? Abundance and sterility gradually shutting down the familiar neural paths and byways so that all who dwelled there became lost and unable to reckon their collective course homeward. It was a weak sun that now shone on the once golden fields of desire, the pulse of a land barely palpable.

He was watching a soccer game on TV, Mexican Primera division, Chiapas clearly dominating the visiting Toluca. Movement back and forth for a while, Chiapas’ defense slipping up, almost allowing a goal. The home crowd roaring its disapproval and a million eyes glaring at the hapless keeper, mentally decapitating him. The Mayan texts spoke of a type of ball game that was played, without hands and sometimes to the death – the loser as sacrificial victim, literally ripped apart. The blood lust in the game was overwhelming. That night, he had her savagely for hours, held down slave-like by the wrists. The unearthly sounds that emanated from him were more jaguar than human. Afterward, while he slept, she lay panting and frightened as the first light of day revealed itself over jungle mists.

They followed the rituals gleaned from the texts and pictures of carved murals as they re-enacted the various bloodletting scenarios detailed there. While he stood in front of her, she knelt, pulling a piece of knotted thread through the hole in her tongue. He grabbed her up in his arms and had her on the spot, tasting the blood that flowed from her mouth while she zoned out on the endorphin rush.

The next time it was his turn and he did it by the book. The text under the picture said, ‘A seated lord, who is cutting his penis with a sharp blade held in his right hand, sheds drops of blood onto blue paper. The rope collar he wears symbolizes his acceptance of the role of the penitent; he is a lord, but for this rite he has taken on the symbolic trappings of the lowliest of humans, the captive whose destiny is to die in sacrifice.’ Looking at the picture of the figurine, he admired the sense of stoicism articulated onto the clay man’s face. He’d earlier found a piece of gleaming black obsidian and used this to make the ritual cuts on his own penis and watched the blood drip. He did not cry out. She came to him later and tended to his lacerations while he lay in a blissed out state. Neither spoke. She pleasured herself after dabbing her little finger in his blood.

As the days wore on, he thought about the two of them, how strangely ritualized it had all become and, despite the excitement, he found he couldn’t shake the inexplicable feelings of melancholy. They had wandered so far away from what had once been that there seemed to be no return. He lay awake one night unable to find sleep at first but eventually slipped under.

An arm encircled his neck from behind. At first he thought it was she trying out a new scenario but, in a trice, he knew differently. It wasn’t the glance over his shoulder that determined that but a muscular, tattooed and scarred arm that held him fast. Still groggy, he beheld the countenance of his Mayan god of zero. Dark nut-brown face staring at him intensely – headpiece resplendent in feathers, the deer horns and rattlesnake skin bespeaking a royal status. He struggled but could not get free, knowing how it would end. Oddly, he felt no panic, just the stoicism he had observed. The Mayan god had him completely restrained, a captive rope around his neck and would take him soon enough. Millisecond pause and then he was entered, plunged into a warm surf with waves breaking on him and then receding. A scream from somewhere – his? Ripping through time like the blast from a conch shell. Once more, he looked into the face of the Mayan and saw the eons carved there and also the terrible beauty. Over and over, he was taken in ways he never could’ve imagined and in the end; his soul was flayed off of him and worn as adornment.

Rain was lashing the plate-glass window of Revolution Tattoo as Omar was consulting with a prospective client. A young guy, going for his first, flips through a book displaying Omar’s work. The guy was unsure as to what he really wanted – seemed to be leaning towards the tribal or primitive. He lingered on a few in Omar’s Mexican Day of the Dead series, a procession of skeleton figures in various poses but that wasn’t quite doing it. He paged on, stopping at an intriguing one here or there but nothing. About to close the book, he landed on what appeared to be the head of a Mayan looking figure. The name really confused him – God of the Number Zero? He stared at it for a long minute before inquiring as to the possibility of that one.

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