Illustration by Ansellia Kulikku.

Things to Consider Before Using the Epiphany Machine

  1. The epiphany machine will not discover anything about you that you do not, in some way, already know. But think for a moment about surprise. What is surprising is never what is revealed but the grace with which it has been hidden.
  2. The unexamined life is often entirely worth living. If there is nothing gnawing at you, put this pamphlet down and never think of us again.
  3. If there is something gnawing at you, that means you’re delicious. That gnawing is the universe trying to get at the tasty juice inside of you. Your entire unsatisfying life is just the rind. When you look at our device, think of it as a peeler.
  4. When most people look at our device, it reminds them of an antique sewing machine. Others think it looks like the fossilized jawbone of some extinct, single-toothed great cat. We could sit around and psychoanalyze you based on what you think it looks like, but that would take decades and cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Using the epiphany machine takes about fifteen minutes and costs a hundred bucks.
  5. The machine does not tell your future, or even specific facts about your present. It does not know who will win the World Series or whether your wife is having sex with your neighbor. Or if it does know, it has yet to display any propensity to tell.
  6. We limit each user to one tattoo. The device’s value lies in its limits. Any more than one epiphany and you might as well consult the vast libraries that are already available to you and that have clearly not done you any good.
  7. CLOSED OFF is a common epiphany. This is often cited as evidence that we are charlatans. We would argue that many people are closed off.
  8. There is only one manner in which you may receive your epiphany: a tattoo on your forearm. The design demands it; the jaw, as it were, can open only so far. You may want your epiphany on your stomach, but no matter how much you diet, your stomach will not fit. You can argue that the machine is less than perfectly designed for the human body; you can argue that the human body is less than perfectly designed for the machine. You can argue, you can argue, you can argue.
  9. In no way is the placement of the epiphany tattoo on the forearm intended to mock or otherwise evoke the Holocaust.
  10. We do not shy away from tough questions, including those about Rebecca Hart. Ms. Hart murdered her three children about a year after using our device. What the machine told her: OFFSPRING WILL NOT LEAD HAPPY LIVES. This was a logical deduction derived from a reading of Ms. Hart herself, and we certainly take no pleasure in deeming it an accurate one.
  11. This case aside—and despite malicious rumors—there are absolutely no circumstances under which your epiphanies or any other personal information will be shared with law enforcement, direct marketing companies, or any other persons or organizations. Though we are generally agnostic on political questions, this is a principle that we consider sacrosanct. Your secrets are as safe with us as they would be with a priest, therapist, or lawyer, give or take the necessity of acquiring a wardrobe full of long sleeves.
  12. If you believe that you do not need to use the machine, but that your husband or wife or mother does, you may be right. Are you?
  13. Some of you are here because of a lover, parent, sibling, or child. You are here because someone you care about came to us and got an epiphany tattoo that changed or clarified his or her life. You are here to investigate our facilities and prove to this person that the epiphany machine is bunk, that he or she has been, in the term you will probably use, “brainwashed.” (We plead guilty to scrubbing the thick film of self-deception from the thoughts of our users, but this is probably not what you mean.) We welcome you as we welcome all other visitors. We merely encourage you to ask yourself: Why? Why am I so suspicious of the newfound happiness or self-knowledge of this person about whom I claim to care? Am I truly committed to this person’s well-being, or do I miss the comfort of feeling unshakily superior? These are uncomfortable questions to ask yourself, so you might consider asking the machine instead.
  14. We have little interest in defending the device, and less in explaining it. If you are intent today on thinking of the machine as a kind of Magic 8 Ball, then today you will think of the machine as a kind of Magic 8 Ball. We will risk being cheeky by inviting you to ask again later.
  15. One way to think about your life is as an extended free fall. An epiphany may help you see better as you fall. Rather than a meaningless blur, you will see rocks and trees and lizards. An epiphany is not a parachute.
  16. If you believe that the epiphanies you have seen tattooed on the arms of your friends suggest that your friends are better, luckier, smarter, or more virtuous than you are, bear in mind that many disreputable establishments offer counterfeit epiphany tattoos that are no more indicative of a person’s innermost mind than a vanity license plate.
  17. Then again, your friends may simply be better, smarter, or more virtuous than you, though they are probably not luckier. It is unlikely, though certainly not impossible, that the machine will remark on this. While always bracingly honest, the machine does display a certain quality that we might anthropomorphically describe as tact.
  18. Your epiphany may be removed as any other tattoo may be, which is to say: imperfectly.
  19. You already know what the machine will write on your arm. That lie you’ve been telling yourself—you know what it is. That blind spot is not really a blind spot—you’re choosing to look away. Perhaps more to the point, you already know whether you want to see it. You already know whether you’re going to use the machine. So why are you still reading this?

*

It was close to 9 p.m. when I arrived at Adam Lyons’s apartment and rang the unmarked buzzer. I realized as I did so that it was possible, even probable, that the address had changed in the last several decades, or that my grandmother had remembered it wrong. Almost immediately a gruff voice said, “Hello.”

“Hello, I’m here to see Adam Lyons.”

The buzzer sounded and the door opened when I pulled it. Two short men in business suits were drunkenly walking down the stairs, one leaning on the other.

“I’m not DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS,” said the one doing the leaning. “Right?”

What a sad and pathetic man.

Almost as soon as I started to climb the stairs, I could hear music—Magical Mystery Tour—and I could smell pot. Thoughts of the grandmother who had raised me and was now dying, thoughts of the mother who had abandoned me and who had once, long ago, worked for Adam Lyons and his epiphany machine, thoughts of the epiphany machine itself—all these thoughts fell away, and my head danced with the idea that I had found a slice of the secret and therefore authentic Bohemian New York I had been dreaming of gaining admittance to since the first time I’d listened to Rent on CD.

The door to apartment 7 was opened a crack by a muscular guy in his mid-forties who looked like the bouncer he seemed to be, or maybe seemed to have been ten or twenty years earlier. On his forearm was written DOES NOT STAND GROUND. “Password, please,” he said.

“Password?”

“Anyone unaccompanied by an epiphany alum is required to know the password.”

“I’m not here to use the machine,” I said, though all I had been thinking about on the train was using the machine. “I’m here to speak to Adam Lyons.”

“Adam Lyons does not speak to those who have already decided not to use the machine, though he wishes you well in your decision. There is no point in opening a door to a closed mind.”

I thought about pushing my way through, based mostly on a hope that he would indeed not stand his ground. But he was awfully muscular. Plus, for me to believe that he did not stand his ground might be an admission of sorts that I believed in the machine. Plus, he was awfully muscular.

“Maybe I’ll use the machine after speaking to Adam Lyons,” I said.

“Very well. The line is right behind me.”

I couldn’t see very far into the apartment, but nonetheless I could see that the line to use the machine was long.

“It’s Friday night,” I said. ‘Why are so many people here?”

“On Friday nights, people either distract themselves from the serious questions about their lives, or they decide not to distract themselves.”

“And which one of those is drunkenly getting a tattoo?”

“If Adam Lyons’s guests just wanted tattoos, they could find more aesthetically pleasing ones elsewhere.”

“Fine. Look. I’m just here to ask Adam Lyons some questions about my mother. Her own mother is dying and I would like to find her so that they can reconcile.” I hadn’t known that that was why I was there until I said it out loud, but it sounded reasonable, even noble, certainly the reason I should have come.

“So you’re not here to use the machine.”

“I’ll make up my mind later.”

“Why would Adam Lyons know where your mother is?”

“She used the machine and then went to work for him. Then she abandoned me.”

“Your behavior does not flood me with confidence that you’re going to wait in line.”

“My grandmother is dying, I would like her to see my mother before she dies, Adam Lyons may be able to help me find her, and I do not want to wait in line.”

People waiting in line now looked back at me and then quickly turned their heads forward, as though I were the poorly adjusted one.

“Why do you think you use such hostile language?”

“Because you won’t let me in.”

“I’m sorry, but I never said anything like that. I merely asked you to wait in line like everyone else.”

“I’m not like everyone else.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m looking for my mother.”

“And you consider this unusual?”

“I consider it different from being a loser who would actually pay for a tattoo saying that he doesn’t stand his ground. I consider it different from being a loser who would actually hold that tattoo up to people when he’s getting in their way.”

I tried to push through, but he blocked me without ruffling a single salt or pepper hair.

“So you’re saying that you’re not a loser?”

I straightened my shoulders, since I had read somewhere that you should keep your shoulders straight in a confrontation. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“And you want to cut in front of all these people whom you consider losers. Are you sure you want to cut the line because you think you’re better than everyone, and not because you think you’re worse?”

“All right, George,” said the gruff voice I had heard on the intercom. “That’s enough.” A heavy man with close-cropped, mostly white hair and a close-cropped, mostly white beard—as well as unruly and completely white chest hair sprouting from the plaid short-sleeved shirt he had buttoned no more than halfway up his torso—appeared from around a bookcase. He smiled, showing a missing tooth. “You’ve made us sound like a cult,” he told George, “which you want to watch out for. That thing about open doors and closed minds was over the top. And what the hell are you talking about, password? There’s no password.”

It annoyed me that I hadn’t noticed until just now that everyone kept on looking off to the side, obviously at the man whom I had come here to see.

“But I need to learn to be firm,” George said. “Otherwise I’ll never be able to say no to my son, and I’ll keep letting him lie on the sofa playing video games all day.”

“And it’s good that you stood your ground with this kid, a decent stand-in for Ian, though you should remember that Ian has a considerably stronger will. Ian won’t tolerate the cult stuff; you’ll have to win him over with the force and plausibility of the dark portrait you’ll paint of the future he has in store if he keeps doing nothing but play video games.”

“I should be a better father already. I should already know how to stand my ground.”

“Does it sound to you like you’re doing justice to your epiphany? Go home and. . .”

I wedged myself between them. “Adam Lyons, my name is Venter Lowood. I’m the son of Isaac Lowood and Rose Schuldenfrei.”

“I know who you are, Venter. I could tell from your voice when you buzzed up; you sound just like your father, who also had a tendency to interrupt important conversations.”

“I need to talk to you now.”

“You’ve managed to make it seventeen years without doing the due diligence of coming to see me. You can wait a few more minutes.”

“My grandmother is dying and I need to find my mother.”

“It can’t be news to you that your grandmother is mortal. Your sudden urgency is hypocritical.” He turned the hairy back of his neck to me; if I had a razor I would have cut off the hair and the neck. “Now, George. Practice saying no to your son. Go upstairs, and if he’s playing a video game, suggest that the two of you sit on a sofa together, each with your own book, and read.”

“I hate reading.”

“Good! Then stop reading your epiphany over and over again as though it’s eventually going to say something different. Put on workout clothes and go for a late-night jog with your son through the Upper East Side. Run down through the Lower East Side, and across the Williamsburg Bridge. Run all night and come back at dawn. You’ll be shocked at the way you see the city, and each other, afresh.”

“But then what I am going to do tomorrow?”

“What were you going to do tomorrow?”

“Work on remodeling my kitchen while Ian plays video games.”

“And what are you going to do now?”

“Ian likes video games. He showed me an article with convincing evidence that playing video games is beneficial to the mind. I should encourage that kind of active approach to making a case for himself and what he wants to do.”

Some people in line snickered at this.

“Hey!” Adam yelled inside to the crowd. “This is where you will all be after using the machine, if and only if you’re as committed to change as George is. I know you are all frustrated that I am observing George rather than attending to you, but you would all do well to practice patience. If you think you’re frustrated now, just wait until after you’ve gotten your tattoo and you try to improve your life. You think you just get the tattoo and you’re different?”

The crowd was quiet.

“George! Sorry we keep getting interrupted. Just keep trying to be honest with yourself about your tattoo. One common mistake my guests make is to assume that whatever is on their arm is necessarily what they need to change. Sometimes the tattoo points you in the direction of what you most resent about yourself and think you should change, but is in fact the best part of you. Maybe what your son needs is for you not to stand your ground. I certainly don’t know that. I don’t know anything. The machine doesn’t know anything. Only you know. Your tattoo is there to help you know what you know.”

George started weeping with the force of something having been settled or released even though as far as I could tell nothing had been settled or released. He gave Adam a deep hug, and then took slow and weepy steps up the staircase. Adam finally turned his attention to me by putting his dirty fingers over my lips until he heard George’s door close.

“Venter Lowood,” Adam whispered finally, hugging me tightly with his tattooed arm. “Sorry, George is my new superintendent, so it makes my life a lot easier to keep him on board with what I do. Your mother was great with the super back in her day. I used to tell her that she was super with the super, and she even forgave me for that pun. Quite a woman, your mother. I don’t think I understood before she came to work for me that the epiphany machine really does make everyone’s, absolutely everyone’s, lives better, regardless of whether they’ve even heard of me. The ripple effect, you should read about it. God, I miss that woman. Not as much as you do, of course, although maybe I miss her much more, since unlike you I actually knew her.”

There was some grumbling from the line.

“Oh, pipe down!” he called inside. “You’ll get your tattoos in a minute. Ignorance is bliss, so enjoy it while you can. How much time does your grandmother have, Venter?”

“Probably a few days. Maybe a week or two.” The doctor had seemed to think she was going to be fine, but I was not convinced I was lying.

“I would do anything to talk to your mother once in a while. At the very least I’d like to have some idea of what she’s doing. But I have no idea where she is.”

“There must be something you can tell me. You were her confidante, or her confessor, or her boss, or whatever.”

He took a step into his apartment, and when I followed, he put his hand up to stop me. “You know, I caught a glimpse of you when you were a baby,” he said. “It was after your parents told me to go stick my dick in my own machine. Your mother was pushing you in a stroller through Central Park, and I happened to see her and say hello, and then I leaned down to get a look at you. She pivoted you around and started running, furiously but not very fast, like your stroller was a wheelbarrow and you were a bag full of gold coins she had stolen. ‘Never come after him,’ she called behind her. I responded that I would never, under any circumstances, come after you.”

“Let me in,” I said.

He lowered his hands and stepped aside. I looked at the people in line, their hungry and worried faces and their waiting forearms. I looked at Adam’s tattoo and thought of several interpretations of FIRST MAN TO LIE ON. Then I thought of several more. Then I entered his apartment.

*

Adam sent away most of the people waiting in line, telling them to come back later or not at all. Even after the last of them had filed out, I didn’t get to see Adam right away; he agreed to see those who had been waiting in line for ninety minutes or more. So I picked up a copy of the pamphlet “Things to Consider Before Using the Epiphany Machine” from the bar and sat down to read it on a stool in a corner of the apartment that served as a waiting area. Afterwards, I put it down and picked up a book, but my head was too full to read a book, so I put the book down and read the pamphlet again, and then again. Then I picked up a much more recent—though only lightly revised—version that had also been left on the bar. The entry on sharing epiphanies now read as follows:

  1. Our position has not shifted: under NO CIRCUMSTANCES will epiphanies be shared with law enforcement.

Adam had to nudge me awake when he was finished with the night’s final epiphany. As soon as I had roused, this last customer kept me awake by saying: “This is not true! This is just not true. PLAYS MARTYR TO EVADE RESPONSIBILITY! What does that even mean? It’s so general that it doesn’t mean anything at all! I would never have come here if I wasn’t so devoted to you, Amy!”

“Let’s just go,” said the woman I assumed was Amy.

“See what I did to try to become a better husband? Defaced myself. Or disarmed myself, or something.”

“Okay, John.”

John continued berating Amy as they walked out the door. Once they were gone, Adam lit a joint, then looked at me and chuckled.

“There’s no way his tattoo could be that accurate unless you were guiding the machine,” I said.

“Except in the unlikely event that I’m telling the truth.” He offered me the joint, but I declined. The apartment felt very empty, with almost no sound save for a faint whirring that I thought might be the machine but was just the air conditioner.

“So what other steps have you taken to find your mother?’ he asked.

“None. My father and grandmother didn’t want me to find her. My grandmother really didn’t want me to find her.”

“But she does now.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so, actually? But family members are supposed to reconcile when one of them is dying, right?”

“Supposed to? According to whom?”

“I don’t know. People.”

“And why do these people say that family members are supposed to reconcile before one of them dies?”

“So that they can die at peace.”

This was the first time that Adam gave me one of his wild-eyed that’s-the-stupidest-fucking-thing-I’ve-ever-heard shrugs. The Adam Shrug. “You think that seeing her daughter now is going to help your grandmother die at peace? After Rose forced her to raise you?”

“She did not force her to raise me. Wait, how do you know she forced her to raise me?”

Adam grinned. “I ran into your dad once. Manhattan is a small town.”

I looked at his yellow teeth, at the chipping paint all over the room. The door to another room was open, and through it I could see a very unassuming-looking bed, as well as a nightstand on which there was nothing but an alarm clock and a book. A TV and a computer monitor appeared to be propped up on the boxes they came in. If this were an underling’s quarters, that might have made sense. But it was clearly where Adam slept. This did not look like the apartment of a man who had gotten rich peddling lies.

“I’m not going to use the epiphany machine,” I said.

“Nobody asked you to,” he said. “And frankly, I don’t think you should. But it can’t surprise you that most of the time when people say that to me, they’re no more than an hour away from asking to use the machine.”

“The machine is self-help bullshit and it took my mother away.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘self-help,’” he said. “Could you be more specific?”

“Everybody knows what self-help means. It’s something that. . . you know. . . tries to help you make yourself better.”

“And you think that’s a terrible thing.”

“I mean, not when you put it like that.”

“You put it like that,” Adam said.

“Stop trying to confuse me.”

“You’ve been sitting here for a long time, reading that pamphlet when you weren’t sleeping. Your mother wrote the original version. Epiphanies are not necessarily actionable. We tell people who they are. Sometimes that helps people become better. Often not.”

“I don’t care. I just want to find my mother.”

“Do you consider your mother to be your servant?”

“I consider my mother to be my mother.”

“And if she sees herself differently?”

“She has obligations. She wasn’t supposed to just abandon me.”

“And you think your life would have turned out better with the daily presence of a mother who did not want to be your mother?”

“Do you have any idea how angry this is making me?”

“Some. But you’re controlling it well, considering how tired and emotional you are. I’m proud of you.”

“What do you mean you’re proud of me?”

“I mean that I’m proud of you.”

“You’re my real father, aren’t you?”

Adam looked at me for a second and then guffawed. With some difficulty—his joints did not appear to be in the best shape—he crouched down by my stool.

“No, Venter. Your mother was very attractive, and I would have gladly had sex with her, but I guess her tastes ran toward men who buttoned their shirts.”

“Stop talking about my mother having sex.”

“Difficult subject to avoid when you’re trying to establish your paternity.”

I was, I had to admit, relieved. Whatever problems I had with my father, I did not want to stop thinking of myself as his son.

“So my mother has never tried to contact you, and you have no idea where she might be?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die, stick one of my needles in my eye.”

“Then I guess I’m wasting my time with you. I should be spending this time with my grandmother.”

I stepped off the stool and briefly cast a shadow over Adam.

“Why did you come here?” he asked. “You couldn’t really have thought I could help you find your mother, at least not in time for her to see your grandmother.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have to imagine that if you had thought that I had information you could use, you would have tried harder to get it out of me.”

“My grandmother told me to come here.”

“Why? Does she think I know where Rose is?”

I searched his face for any sign that he knew why my grandmother had sent me here.

“She told me I should use the epiphany machine.”

Adam let out some kind of cough in disbelief. “Rose’s mother is doing recruitment for me now?”

“It seems to be her dying wish.”

“I definitely did not see that one coming. Guess I’m not much of a prophet.”

I peered through the foyer into the room beyond, at the far end of which was the purple velvet curtain that shielded the room with the epiphany machine. “Was that curtain up when my parents used the machine?”

“The very same one.”

“Does it have some kind of meaning?”

“Meaning?”

“Like ritualistic significance or whatever.”

He laughed. “No. No ritualistic significance. Although my mother did sew it, so that might sound like significance to you.”

“So when am I going to use the machine?”

Adam put his hand to his mouth, evaluating me. “You’re seventeen.”

“So?”

“Tattooing is finally legal again in New York City, but you have to be eighteen. I’ve found my way into the light of the law, and just as I’m blinking and my eyes are adjusting you’re asking me to scurry back into the darkness. Come back on your eighteenth birthday.”

“My grandmother’s not going to live to see my eighteenth birthday,” I said. I hadn’t realized this until I said it, and the knowledge reduced me to sobs.

“Good,” Adam said. “I’m glad to see you’re upset. Up until now I’ve wondered whether you have a heart at all. To be honest, I’ve been worried that you’re just going to get a CLOSED OFF epiphany, which would be a waste of my ink and your arm.”

“Please,” I said. “Can I just use the machine?”

Adam gave a different shrug, a more shruglike shrug than the Adam Shrug.

“I’m just a boy who can’t say no,” he said.

He led me over and around the piles of books on the floor, and through the purple velvet curtain. On the other side of the curtain was a small room that looked like a medical office. In the far corner there was a dentist’s chair; closer to me were white cabinets that hung above a sink. I noticed that there was a device obscured from my view by the dentist’s chair, and as I walked toward it, I could see that it really did look like an antique sewing machine.

“Do you want the tattoo on your right arm or your left arm?”

“What do most people say?”

“Most people want it on whatever arm they don’t favor. It’s like wearing a watch.”

“I’ll take it on my left arm.” I rolled up my sleeve.

He tugged the device around on its rolling stand and told me to sit in the chair. He hit a button on a CD player and “Instant Karma” started playing. He washed his hands, put on a pair of latex gloves, and unwrapped a needle. He put an oven mitt on one hand. Then he was by my side, lifting up the arm of the device and sliding the needle into it. He pointed to a track on the underside of the arm, and explained that the needle would slide down the track to give me my tattoo. He told me to put my arm on the base and I complied. I was still getting used to the cold feel of the metal slab when he lowered the arm of the device, and then the needle was inside me, hurting me and telling me things. I was the needle and the ink, somehow; together, we were some sort of trinity that had come together to save me. I was also the paper in my own polygraph test. The metaphors were endless and so was the machine. I knew that my epiphany would be LONELY GULLIBLE AND NUMB. Or maybe it would be CLOSED OFF, because it was true, I was closed off, I didn’t know the first thing about myself and I made it impossible for anyone to tell me. Or maybe it would be CARES NOTHING FOR ANYONE OR ANYTHING EXCEPT BEING THOUGHT A GENIUS, and this one in particular seemed so terrible that I was certain it was going to be my epiphany.

Thoughts about myself and who I was were enough to distract me from the pain until they weren’t. I saw what was happening, a foreign object was ripping open my skin and leaving behind a trail of ink that would never come out. The needle zagged and dragged and finally froze.

When the machine stopped whirring and Adam lifted the needle from my arm, the pain did not subside. My eyes were closed now, and I wanted to keep them closed because I didn’t want to see that horrible word GENIUS.

This was what I actually saw when I opened my eyes:

DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS

“No, no, no,” I said. “This is the one I saw on the guy who was leaving as I was coming in. This must have gotten stuck in the machine or something.”

“It applied to that guy, too.”

“But this is the worst possible thing you could say about someone. I’d rather be a monster than a sheep.”

“If Rose were here, she would explain more delicately than I can that the worst possible thing you could think of to say about someone will almost certainly be your epiphany.”

“Why isn’t she here? Why hasn’t she been here all my life?”

“I’ve never been a big fan of mother-blaming, but what do I know?”

For the second time that night, I burst into tears.

“Epiphanies tend to cause the most anguish to the most intelligent,” he said.

“Really?”

And this was the first time he looked at me sourly. “What do you think it says about you that you’re so happy that I just suggested you were intelligent?”

I knew where he was going with this, but I couldn’t take it.

“I’m getting tired of being asked leading questions that are designed to get me to admit that I suck.”

“Good!” he said. “Good. That’s an impulse to cultivate. But be careful, because it can also lead you back into servitude. Now, for the sake of the Christ who never existed, stop worrying about what I think of you and get back to your grandmother. Do you want gauze or Saran Wrap?”

Later, I was to learn that Adam was conscientious about needle protocol, but mostly indifferent to hygiene as soon as the machine had done its work. The room was well stocked with soap and two options for anyone who wanted to keep their tattoo safe from the elements in the hours after using the machine, and Adam intermittently insisted that one of the two options be used, but usually showed limited interest. I would also learn the politics: guests who were proud of their tattoos, or who wanted to appear proud of their tattoos, chose Saran Wrap; guests who wanted to shield the tattoos even from their own eyes (or who were truly serious about hygiene) demanded gauze pads; still other guests were so upset that they fled before either option could even be offered. Adam’s lax attitude should have led to infections, but it was surprisingly rare that infections were reported to Adam. This could have been because, as Adam liked to not-really-joke, “The god in the machine keeps the tats clean,” or it could have been because those who had gotten infections were afraid that if they came back they would have their minds further fucked with, so decided to just go to a doctor and get some antibiotics.

My first instinct, of course, was to ask for a gauze pad. But then I realized that if I asked for a gauze pad, I would be showing Adam that I was worried what people would think about me. And I was determined never to worry about that again.

“I’ll take the Saran Wrap,” I said.

*

Excerpt from the novel The Epiphany Machine, to be released by Putnam in July.

David Burr Gerrard

David Burr Gerrard is the author of the novels The Epiphany Machine (Putnam, July 2017) and Short Century (Rare Bird, 2014). He teaches fiction writing at The New School, the 92nd Street Y, and Catapult. He lives with his wife in Queens, New York.

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