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September 26, 2013

The Jugulars

Sarah Rose Etter

The Jugulars photo


When it is time to get the jugulars, we move our bodies out into the streets with our best cleavages bared. We move as one woman, but it turns out we are one dozen women from the same neighborhood. I won’t know that until later, until I get to the house, his jugular nestled in a black bag, bleeding through the fabric onto my hand, the hand that did it.


I’m not sure why it is the jugular when a body is full of so many parts. Before it is time to get the jugulars, I consider the other parts, their values.

A Consideration of the Shoulder:

Offers both protection and potential for biting. In addition, the shoulder serves as the central method of sexual hoisting, and the most important part of nuzzling and spooning.

A Consideration of the Inner Elbow:

That wide expanse of arm, the center of bending, that soft, vulnerable skin, thin enough that blue veins rise up and then down in the way of whales.

A Consideration of the Jugular:

A power center, a throbbing red universe, a giant round galaxy in the center of the throat, ever moving, even when still, destroying nearby orbits, consuming so many stars to grow, expanding ever so slightly forever.

I balance the parts on gold scales in my mind, comparing their attributes, their functions. In the end, Marcia was right. In the end, the jugulars are worth the most.


It started last week There was a letter in the mailbox in the afternoon. I pulled the white envelope out of the red mailbox. I tore the letter open.

If you do not bring a man’s jugular to my home on the night of November 7, I will take your jugular from you. Go get a man, and bring me his jugular. It is time we make things even. Ask no questions.



I thought of Marcia, from up the street, a woman who was thin and tall and tough. I must have kept walking because then I was inside of the house, up the stairs. I stood in my bedroom, holding the letter.

I imagined Marcia conducting a violence against me, which made my teeth tremble inside of my mouth, created a fear rhythm inside of my skull. I sat down on the bed and wrapped my hand around my own throat, that thick hard pulse coming through my flesh.

I pressed harder and imagined the flesh slit, split open, blood gurgling up out of me as if I were a slow fountain. I pictured a life without my jugular, a black void where it should be, all that silence.


I had seven days to get the jugular. The first days after the letter were white squares. I kept turning the idea over in my head, the thought of that red damage. I read the letter over and over and over again, until the phrase It is time to make things even burned into the curves in my brain.

I thought of my jugular. I thought of a man’s jugular. I pictured my hands using a knife, I pictured Marcia’s hand using a knife, those images playing on a loop in my mind. By the fifth day, I could feel it in my blood. By the fifth day, I knew it would be my hands with the knife.


I went after a man down the block. I put on the right clothes. I didn’t ask for a cup of sugar. I didn’t need a cup of sugar. Instead, I was direct when he opened the door, me standing under the glare of the porchlight.

“Hi there. I need your jugular,” I said.

I said it with my eyes popped all big, looking vulnerable, one hand on his arm, a gentle squeeze. He took me in quick, arm hot around me, the way each man that touches you creates his own heat with your temperature, that’s what I felt, our special burn, then the new trill, that wild electric.

In the bedroom, I pushed fabric from our bodies, eliminated buttons, relieved zippers, shed small silk. In the bedroom, I didn’t call him a name, he stopped having a name, we were in a place where names didn’t matter, a place where all that existed were moist, desperate sounds, the kind often muffled, this time not.

After, I laid against him. After, our heat ebbed. After, his breath was salty and so was mine, I was sure, but I didn’t care. For a moment, I let my head go balloon, let it float up to the ceiling with the pleasure and the joy and the wrongness of what we had done with our bodies. Then I thought the word “jugular” and my head was violently back on my body, my mind violently back in my head, and I knew what I had to do again.

“Give me a minute,” I said into his shoulder and moved my body from his, reducing our warmth. He let out a soft, sad sound, maybe he was half asleep, maybe he only missed the heat.

The knife was in my purse. I held it in my hand, the weight of it, I could picture myself sinking, that’s how heavy it was, holding onto the knife in a pool and ending up at the bottom of all of that rippling turquoise, my mouth hanging open, my body eventually giving up, the last piece of me just a slow stream of bubbles that eventually quit.

On the way back to his bed, I chanted to calm myself. My mission is the jugular, my mission is the jugular. The phrase made me feel strong, reinforced my spine, I could feel each vertebrae reflecting the energy of the stars above us, which were radiating down a power that had waited millions of years to reach us, the patience of that light bouncing off of my bones, turning those bones into moons glowing under my skin.

Asleep, he looked like a healthy dead man. He was so very still, minus the breathing, but there was the breathing, I could see it moving his Adam’s apple, could see that fruit heaving. Parts of my body wanted the first thing again, the pulsing of our heat again, but I repeated the phrase and the phrase stopped those parts from thinking individually, made me go whole.

A whole woman can do almost anything, up to and including get a man’s jugular. I looked down at his, which was moving, which was clearly in use. I said the phrase, I said the phrase and I moved the getter, then it was the blade and his skin and the soft wet thick of the flesh there, the slow, agonizing motion through it, the strange small sound he made in the minute between waking and dying, the way it felt to take it all, to get he jugular, to lift it up out of him, to take it, the last sounds of him.

I stood over his still face. I said something like thank you or a prayer or something that felt final but wasn’t. Then I put his jugular in a black bag, pulse slamming in my veins.


I am different after the jugular. I park the car and sit in the driver’s seat, staring at my pale limp hands, those weak white birds, confronting the new landscape of sadness that’s appeared  inside of me, new stretches of deserts of blood red sand, endless burgundy skies above, terrible terrain.

The radio keeps playing like it matters. I turn off the music and get out of the car, numb as I walk up the driveway, his jugular in the black bag in my hand, all of my insides cold and numb now. I know everything is changed now. Once a new world opens up inside of you, there is no way to close it.


Marcia’s house is pitch black, all the lights out, but the front door is ajar. I walk in and follow a shard of light on the hardwood floor. The light gets bigger and I am in Marcia’s glowing kitchen. No one is speaking, the room is hush. Marcia nods at me, and I am terrified by her eyes, by the depth of what she wants, by how strong she is vibrating in the room.

There are a dozen women in the kitchen around Marcia. The women, for the most part, aren’t strangers. They are also neighbors. I have seen them carrying groceries, have seen their sons and daughters in sprinklers. They hold their jugulars too, in an array of dark bags, standing silently in Marcia’s kitchen.

A thought parades into my head, I think the words: One dozen throats. I think of one dozen men, of their jugulars, lined up. I think of their voices and lives, their red universes gutted from them, these pieces carved out of their bodies. The air feels cheap and my lungs heave, I can’t stop picturing the hurt throats, I want to vomit. A sweat breaks out on my skin. I look around the table for understanding, the jugular so heavy in my hand. But the other women don’t seem changed.

Just when I am on the brink of fainting, Marcia speaks in the lit kitchen. Marcia says:

“Thank you for fulfilling your duties. You have made this easier on yourselves than you know. Follow me into the backyard.”

I want all of the women to resist, to be as scared as I am, to feel the jugulars throbbing in their hands and know true guilt. Instead they move their bodies through the kitchen and through the sliding glass door, and I do too.


In the backyard is a hole Marcia has dug a wide, deep hole. It smells like fresh soil, broken glass. We file around the hole and stand in a circle with our jugulars, their jugulars, the men’s. I wonder what the other men look like, who else in this town has no throat. Is my man dead now? Has he bled out onto the sheets and into the mattress? Does the letting smell, has his blood changed the air? I can almost feel his voice coming through the jugular, through the black bag, up my arm, radiating through my body.

Marcia makes a signal and we all seem to know what it means since it cannot mean anything else. We lift our arms and throw the jugulars into the hole, the throats of men airborne until they are useless, gone down to the bottom.


“Thank you for your commitment,” Marcia says, “This was necessary, and you’re all very brave,” but I’m not listening, my blood is lioning in my veins. I’ve taken a jugular. I haven’t been the same since. I’ve sawed a piece from a man’s body, I discovered the way to take the blade through him, the array of sheets left damp and red, that piece of him resting at the bottom of the hole.

I think of him, how he moved his skin against mine, then slept his deep sleep, how I became a hand holding a knife.

A form of regret I’ve never felt before enters my heart and my lungs and they all contract at once. I think of his shoulder, the softness of his inner elbows, his jugular, of his sleeping innocence. I want to find his jugular and take it back to him, fit him back together, an old flesh puzzle, put rightness back into the world. Could he walk through the world that way, part rotten on the outside?


The women around the circle are applauding softly at Marcia’s speech, which is over. Down in the hole, the jugulars are getting cold, I am sure of it. I think of the varying temperatures of the men cooling off, becoming the same chilled, and it sends a hard fear through me, my mind whirring, my mind saying Keep them warm, keep them warm, as if I were their mother, as if they sprung from me, my red children.


The hands are still clapping when I jump, when I take on the air, when I dive. My body slams into the dirt at the bottom of the hole, some of the jugulars beneath me, I can feel the softness of them, I pull the rest near me, bring their thick heavy softness near the heat of my body.


Above, the women are whispering loud down at me, hissing, asking if I am OK, saying Get up, get up. But I’m not listening, my ears are full of clouds, their mouths move for no reason. I am listening to a new sound, and it is true and good, it rings like silver through me, my hands sifting through the jugulars and the dirt, until I find his, a shape my fingers have memorized.

Above, the women are almost screaming now, their voices hinting at sirens. In the hole, my red children rest against me and we look up at the moon. All of the men in the hole are silent now, black gaps where their voices used to be. In the hole, I gather the pieces of the men around me. In the hold, I hold his jugular closest, up to my own throat, the best place I can think of to keep him warm.

image: Aaron Burch