It’s in a chamber in Iran, hidden beneath a desolate apartment block and surrounded by the shattered remains of baby dolls. It’s a chair of plain clay, unassuming and uncomfortable, its only mark a pair of wavering lines: the heart of the world.
The room is a clay cube, a too-short ceiling and pressing, urgent walls; the pieces on the floor are clay shards, cloth strips, melted plastic—a thousand generations of toys and idols and fetishes. There’s a duplicate in New York, but you know the real one when you see it. It smells like power.
The chair doesn’t invite. The chair repels. It grabs your mind and squeezes just enough to make you squirm. You start hoping it’s not really there; the part of you that wants this starts lying, spinning some story about pure hearts, but the truth is that you know you can’t make yourself sit. Most people who come down here leave, tense and tantalized, but preferring the light and the uncertain. Even more people don’t make it down here at all. They want it too much. They want it all wrong.
I marked the search by the disappearance of my pills: two is a day, a new bottle is a month. Now I mark it by the vomiting and the little shocks of appetite. Whatever those mark, it’s been twelve.
It’s dark down here, and quiet, except for the pounding, and the shouts of encouragement every sunrise. The more intent they sound the wider I grin; they aren’t going to get in here wanting like that. They aren’t going to get in here if they’re somebody.
Iran; thus, Sumer; the story of Inanna. It’s the key. Every gate had its gatekeeper, and every gatekeeper had its demand. Her crown, her armor, her lapis beads; all the things that gave Inanna form; all the things that made Inanna unique. I read it in the waiting room, and when my X-rays came in I started to understand.
The first thing to go was my fingerprints: acid, Pyrex dish. A razor for my hair, another for my eyes. Then the pills, right outside the door. Open a gate; leave something behind.
I entered the chamber bald and shoeless, blind and stumbling. But my eyes didn’t bleed. My feet felt no pain. I walked to the chair without revulsion, and I sat down in the center of the world.
We’re all the same from this far back; we’re the welcoming lights of a night-time city, the foreboding lamps in an island prison. We laugh, we screw, we hurt. The ones outside this chamber mostly panic.
My doctor is cheating on his wife right now. He’s telling the girl he loves her. My diagnosis was one of dozens.
I sit back, and I feel you all seep in. I’m everybody.
The men outside the chamber start screaming.
I put the razor to my throat, and I pull.