You hear the tiny woman’s chants and songs and recitations as if she were your heartbeat. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting down to a midnight snack of potato chip pie, bending over a drinking fountain, or looking at a spreadsheet, trying to convert data into something other people can understand quickly—she’s there. The tiny woman spent a month saying “fat ass,” over and over which was almost funny, then annoying and slowly an almost poem. For six weeks now, it’s been, “brain pancake, smashed throat,” and it is more than enough to make you think the hyena cure is right for you. Let them dig and scratch. Let teeth and claws find her tiny home.
Daacad told you back home, across the ocean, people do this all the time. Usually their families help arrange it, they see their child, their uncle, is suffering, and find the men who house the hyenas. They prepare the person for the process: the hyenas’ keens, yips, and giggles. They tell their loves ones, “You will be bitten and it will hurt, but after, all your suffering will be gone.” He tells you he knows someone who does it over here.
“You could die,” he says, but in a perfunctory way.
“The hyenas will swallow the spirits. They’re from the same space,” Daacad says. You want to correct him and tell him that you don’t believe in spirits or devils, you just want the tiny woman gone, brain pancake. But he is being so understanding and his face does not change when you tell him about the voice and how long it’s been with you and all the things you’ve tried. Daacad promises to help you set things up and his eyes are so dark and shiny with compassion that all you do is nod and squeeze his hand while the tiny woman says, “smashed throat, smashed throat” in a low, sweet voice.
On the day of what you’ve started calling the ceremony, you call Daacad and ask if you should do something special. Should meat be smeared on the places where the tiny woman lives? Her home is maybe in your upper left thigh: a cottage filled with rocking chairs and knit blankets in the muscle and fat. It could be a tiny submarine, pinging through your veins and arteries, possibly housing microscopic nuclear missiles. If she has a mansion, you know for sure, it isn’t in your brain—you’ve taken enough prescriptions, drank enough gin, smoked enough weed to completely vaporize her—and it’s not somewhere easy like the ears or nose where the tiny woman could be blown out or forced loose with a Q-tip. You imagine yourself taking a shower where ground pork and beef come out in long pink and red lines and the image is so gross and almost funny that you laugh for the first time in weeks and think about cancelling.
“Brain pancake,” the tiny woman sings. Her voice takes on a country-western twang, “Throat smash.”
“Meditate. Come prepared for pain,” Daacad says. But you can’t meditate so you do the closest thing you know: putting on a large pair of headphones and listening to snare hiss, Coltrane’s saxophone like pulling a body through a beautiful maze where flowers bloom and transmute dandelions to lilies to daisies to orchids and sadness sprays like a sprinkler on a heavy summer day, and the piano and drums smash and push you forward toward embracing it all with spread, eager arms and everything vibrates with life, drowning the tiny woman out, even though you can feel her trying to shout through it. You write in your journal, not knowing who to talk to about this whole thing and your pen wavers until finally the words come out in cursive. If the hyenas kill you, hopefully heaven, the afterlife, whatever, will be like cool jazz where hearts are always in throats and the brain is something golden and honey-sweet.
In the car, Daacad has you lie in the back and wear a blindfold. He does not offer to get you out of this.
“Let the spirit take over,” he says. “The closer it is to the surface, the quicker the animals will come.”
So over the bumps and stops and starts of the car ride, you let your voices join in unison. “Brain pancake, throat smash,” you whisper, tapping out the words’ rhythm on your chest. You let it rise and fall and somehow you fall asleep.
Upon waking, the blindfold is gone. You are in a large cage in a very big room in what looks like an abandoned warehouse. Hyenas sleep on the other end, curled into balls. The concrete is cool through the shorts you are wearing. You could be anywhere. A tiny bit of light shines in the darkness, but you can’t figure out where it’s coming from. Daacad could be anywhere. The tiny woman is silent, but there are her tiny breaths, downbeats on your own breath’s rhythm. Your brain says, “a love supreme,” and you wish they had rigged up a sound system, let you listen to it over and over through the night. Maybe that would’ve been enough.
Hyena eyes glow green. They shake their heads and it’s still too dark to see if they have spots or stripes. And for just a moment they could be your childhood cats, grown large, meowsing around the house, looking for drawers to open and cardboard to scratch. And then one opens its mouth. And you are ready for teeth and claws and fear. You just weren’t prepared for the smell: ragged, rot.