Harriet's Armpit site on website including full text of medical memoir CANCER PATIENT; site includes full texts of stories, novels, a military SF novel and passages about how to write.

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One of a suite of blog entries about the aftermath of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, including brain damage and eyesight damage; a survivor's account of the aftermath of cns lymphoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the large B-cell variety, in the author's case cancer of the brain and the spinal cord.

Part of

        When Harriet got married, she didn't know quite what to expect. Her upbringing had been very prim, and she had never been able to bring herself to play the "instructional videos" that her well-meaning parents had purchased for her in such quantity. However, she figured that Jack Porn had enough experience for both of them; he had, after all, been in jail for the past twenty years, and jails are places where you learn things.
        What Jack had learnt in jail, unfortunately, turned out to be the adoration of the armpit. Harriet couldn't say that this was wrong (she didn't have the necessary background in reproductive engineering) but she did get the feeling that it wasn't exactly right.
        True, she took a certain amount of pleasure from the sheer physical intimacy involved. She liked the way Jack smelled, particularly when he hadn't had a bath for a couple of weeks. And she liked his body warmth, too; that year, the winter was viciously cold, and they didn't have the money to fix up the windows that Jack's brother had shot out during that disastrous housewarming party.
        But, while the adoration of the armpit had its consolations for the adored, Harriet really didn't like the way that Jack's ragged fingernail cut into her flesh. Any time he chose to molest her armpit, he always used the ring finger on his right hand (the only finger he had on that hand, all the others having been cut off) and that digit terminated in a long, vicious fingernail which was never manicured into an acceptable smoothness.
        Additionally, Harriet was troubled by the fact that Jack's adoration was not symmetrical. Why only her left armpit?
        Although they were physically intimate on a regular basis, Harriet was increasingly conscious of inchoate desires, of unappeased yearnings, the source of which she could not quite pin down. She eventually came to the conclusion that her lack of radiant satisfaction had something to do with the loneliness of her unvisited right armpit.
        "I have a hypothesis," she said to herself.
        Harriet tended to talk to herself rather a lot, since Jack was not much of a conversationalist. Not, at least, until he had put half a bottle of tequila inside himself, at which point he was likely to say things that were not entirely pleasant to hear. That long, rambling nose-picking story, for instance. What kind of civilized person wants to listen to a story about nose-picking?
        "My hypothesis is," said Harriet, "that the human body is symmetrical, therefore our satisfactions should be symmetrical likewise. It is unclean to use only the left armpit, since it is an abomination of the purposes of the body."
        Although Harriet was not aware of it at the time, this was the first of her Theological Pronouncements. The Moment was drawing near.
        "Jack," said Harriet, "I want you to do the right armpit as well."
        "Don't do right," said Jack morosely. "Right is unlucky. Jinx your stiffness, that will. Turn you into limp spaghetti."
        Well. This could not be tolerated. Rather than endure the eternally unsatisfactory, Harriet would prefer to settle for nothing at all.
        "I see how things stand," said Harriet, pursing her lips as she came to a decision. "Very well then. I no longer wish to continue with our physical relationship. I wish ours to be a purely spiritual union. A union of the mind."
        Jack looked at her for a long moment, then he spoke.
        "Mind has a body," said Jack. "Body is the basis of Mister Mind. You know. We're animals, you and me. Appetite beasts. Eat dead animals, eat bits of 'em. You and me. Gnawing bones. But that's what we build on. Social sacraments, that's what the minister always used to say. Jesus broke bread with the disciples. The animal act is the basis of the social world."
        This made sense, almost. In fact, this was the Jack Porn whom Harriet had gotten to know and to love from the prison letters. (Ah, and how she had loved!) This was Jack the Philosopher, the philosopher king of Tier Three. This was Jack the Deep, the suffering intellectual who had courted her ardently for the last seven years of his period of incarceration.
        "We got souls," said Jack. "Don't doubt it. But we also got bodies."
        Harriet thrilled to his words. This was a moment from the marriage she had imagined, the marriage which would involve sitting together for long hours, sharing deep thoughts about the relationships of their souls. This was a moment from the marriage she had yearned for, the marriage of deep conversations, of soul-sharing, of reciprocal intellectual pleasures.
        "So, Mister Finger," said Jack, "he has his needs. And what he needs he gets."
        Harriet's moment of satisfaction faded. Really, she could not agree with what Jack was saying.
        "I don't think your rhetorical stance is entirely appropriate," said Harriet. "I can't agree with the proposition that we must build our sociological universe upon our biological imperatives. In saying this, I do admit that you have a point when you argue that much of human interaction is predicated upon shared biological needs, eating being a case in point.
        "However, I believe that this reliance upon the biological represents an intermediary evolutionary stage which we should strive to transcend. Now that Jesus is in heaven, I'm sure he doesn't do anything as physically gross as breaking bread. Far less eating it."
        Jack looked at her with unfocused eyes then, abruptly, started to snore. Evidently, another of his narcoleptic attacks was upon him.
        "If this place were to accidentally catch fire right now," mused Harriet, "then Jack would sadly be burnt to death."
        So he would. Furthermore, his accidental death would leave Harriet considerably richer, since she was a great believer in life insurance.
        One life insurance payment later, Harriet sat down to write invitations to everyone she knew.
        "You are invited to the Banquet at the Start of the New Life of the Sinless Revelation. Wine will be served and deceased fish also, and we shall dine upon the flesh of swine and upon the scalded meat of slaughtered oxen, and of the flesh of our children also we shall eat."
        The initial response to this invitation was disappointing, but, after Harriet followed up with phone calls (the organizational skills built up in over a decade of lobbying for prisoners' rights were coming to the fore) she was able to boost the acceptance rate considerably.
        On the day of the banquet, the guests who assembled in Bright Deity Hall numbered seventy-five. They took their places at the long tables and Harriet smiled, and spoke onto them.
        "Friends," said Harriet. "We are gathered here today for a social sacrament. That sacrament is the sacrament of the shared meal.
        "On the basis of our biological needs, on the basis of the fact that we are appetite animals, we have established the framework for the intercourse of our pure human souls.
        "We have gathered together today to feast upon burnt tubers hauled from the protesting earth, to suck the blood of animals slaughtered in our commercial murder houses, to drink the juices of fishes which screamed in convulsing agony when they were dragged from the sheltering seas to suffocate in the unkind air.
        "That is the basis upon which, up until now, our social intercourse has been founded.
        "Today, however, we are going to take a new evolutionary step. The gross motives which brought us to this place will be transcended. We will have the union of the soul without the encumbrance of the grossness of the body. We will satisfy our yearnings for the true fellowship of souls without debasing ourselves by feeding upon dead things slaughtered in torment.
        "We will have the joys of the true union of like-thinking minds without enduring the horrors of the friction of the finger. We will not have to suffer the snagged hair, the jabbing fingernail, the merciless motion of swollen flesh within the ungreased receptacle. Discarding this, we will discard, also, the eternal yearning of the unsatisfied right armpit.
        "Abandoning the flesh, firmly setting our polymorphous perversity behind us, we will have, instead, the trueness of each other's purity, knowing each other as one soul knows another.
        "Friends: greetings."
        At first, the assembled guests were inclined to think that this was some kind of joke. However, as it became clear that Harriet was serious — that the satisfaction of the gross animal needs of empty bellies was not going to be forthcoming — Bright Deity Hall started to empty. Fast.
        In the end, the only people left in the hall were Harriet herself and Jeffrey Doe, her second cousin once removed.
        Jeffrey, at the age of twenty-six, had just been downsized for the second time in six months. He was having one of the worst weeks of his life. He was depressed, confused and bitterly lonely. He was not going to run away from the opportunity to talk.
        "So," said Harriet, smiling at him brightly. "Would you cut off all your fingers if I asked you to?"
        Three and a half minutes later, Jeffrey had fled the room too.
        "Still," said Harriet to herself, undismayed. "A start is a start. We have learnt something, have we not?"
        So she had. From her experience with Jeffrey, Harriet had learnt two things:
        (i) If you sift the many, you will find the few; and
        (ii) When you find the few, it's important not to go too far too fast.
        "I suppose," mused Harriet, "we could start with real food. It's what they're used to, after all. The satisfactions of the spirit will remain satisfactions even if they have to take time out for a tad or two. Yes, let's start with free food. Nobody ever turned down a free meal, did they?"
        That was a powerful thought, and demonstrated that Harriet had the smarts to get where she wanted to go.
        And that is how the Apocalyptic Purity movement got started. A pity about how it all turned out in the end, although I must say that, viewing the building from a strictly architectural perspective, I myself was no great fan of the White House.

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