Michael Grotsky currently lives in Montreal where he is completing his first collection of short stories, Spinning the Sensualist, which will appear in 2020. He has written fiction and non-fiction for various literary reviews, including the Berkeley Fiction Review and the Berkeley Poetry Review. He wrote the introduction to Dah’s “Something Else’s Thoughts.”
Doctor End, I Presume?
Pain drives you to the chiropractor. Morrison couldn’t take anymore so he decides on the new place by the massage parlor on Divisidero. He enters a shabby storefront studio through an Indian gauze curtain, several people waiting on plastic chairs by the door, a half-dozen more lying on chiro tables loosely lined up along the sides of the room. Dark foreboding landscapes in oil cover the walls, a partly gnawed wax sculpture of a fornicating faun sits on a faux-marble plinth by the bead curtain in front of the pisser, from which emerges a tall, thin man with greasy black hair, pale blotchy skin, threadbare jeans, T-shirt with paint stains on it. He comes up to Morrison, proffering his hand.
Without warning Doctor End, the host chiropractor of this madness, wraps his arms around Morrison’s back and performs an immediate chiropractic bear hug – no paper work, no personal history, no inquiries whatsoever. End pops all the vertebrae in Morrison’s back, then a quick rip of the head from side to side makes sharp cracking sounds in his neck like dry twigs giving way. Morrison gasps just as End and his assistant, the hawk-like Miss Flint, with her predatory nose and spiky black hair, a slip of a grin on one side of her mouth that might or might not be for you, swing him onto a table by his arms and legs. Doctor End makes him two inches longer by yanking top and bottom apart with a quick jerk. He and Flint roll Morrison over, removing his shirt, and in a flash, a dozen suction cups are drawing the skin from Morrison’s back in some sort of yin-yang circular motif, or from another point of view, a surfeit of targets. For two weeks afterwards, he would wear a pattern of round, multi-hued bruises, like fallen autumn leaves overlaying the deep purple rings sucked onto his back.
End and Flint go out front for a cigarette while the cups suck Morrison’s skin up hot and firm. They’re talking about mediums and Morrison wonders if that’s the next step. He asked for it and he’s getting it. Fast. No chance to hesitate or flee. End and Miss Flint come back in. End comes up to Morrison, slides him half off the table, reaches around and undoes his pants. Out of the corner of his eye Morrison sees Miss Flint through a thin veil, preparing the man at the next table in the same way. Just then End takes Morrison’s pants down, slides a greasy calloused hand between his legs, and starts massaging him. Before Morrison can react he slides firmly inside. Morrison’s gasp can be heard a block away. It instantly unblocks his chest and throat – third and fourth chakras – and he feels his chest fill with a rush of heat. End reloads and bangs three times more, then lets his weight drape over Morrison. A blinding flash shoots up his spine and out the top of his head like a spray of champagne. A soft groaning oozes involuntarily from his throat, like a motor idling smoothly. He feels light as light, no tension, no pain. That hasn’t happened since he was nineteen. In his euphoria, Morrison vaguely notices that End is about to mount the guy next to him. A girl is next, and two or three other willing souls wait, Miss Flint preparing them (all) the while. For End, apparently, one size fits all. It occurs to Morrison that End has the beginnings of what might be a cult following.
Hugging the table, Morrison sees that by using the element of surprise End evades muscular and mental defences and makes a sudden assault on stubborn, habitual enemy fortifications. With a literal surge, End blows through any resistance and clears the channels. “Master,” Morrison calls him, but End reminds him that he is but one of many that Morrison will meet should he pursue the path of opening. To be free of him Morrison will have to devour, then delete him. The first step is to see beyond the master, to see him merely as food, and therefore, to simply digest him. This, End explains, will multiply his own energy through his transformation at Morrison’s, and many other, hands. Thus the rice cracker and the chalice of wine that Miss Flint is offering on a silver platter as she moves among the faithful. End as host.
As Morrison makes to leave, having re-entered his body, Miss Flint points to the donations jar, and anticipating the question that is forming on his lips, she winks and says, “It’s sleight of hand.” She leans towards him. “A strap-on.” She hands Morrison a saffron-colored business card. On one side it gives End’s hours and address and indicates that the first visit is free. Sundays, End offers “alternative” painting and sculpture classes from 11-4, fair trade accepted. On the backside of the card, bold black lettering proclaims The Way to Happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind free from worry. Live simply. Expect little. Give much. Fill your life with love. Scatter sunshine. Forget self. Think of others. Do as you would be done by. Trust God. Thank God for all your blessings. Do all you can for people without thought of personal gain. Spread happiness. Try this for a week and … YOU WILL BE SURPRISED!
Morrison slips some money into the jar and turns to ask Miss Flint a question, but she is gone. Only her cigarette remains, balanced on top of an empty beer bottle, a smoky question mark floating into the air from the lit end. He glances back through the gauze curtain into the muted, groaning light of the studio and watches for a moment as End and Flint perform their routine, moving steadily down the line of clients in shadowed silhouette, groans and gasps of relief rising above the dry brittle sounds of joints cracking one after another.
Over the door hangs a poor imitation in oil, mostly in orange and black (foreshadowing the bruised colors on Morrison’s back) of a seated skeleton, head supported on its bony hands, cigarette dangling from its lipless mouth. Doctor End’s chiropractic logo. Bruises or not, Morrison feels himself floating well above the strange chaos of End’s studio in the near rapture of physical release. The way to happiness? Relief from pain is a great place to start – wherever you can find it.