Slam door, toss keys on kitchen counter, get hot water running in sink (it’ll take at least five minutes to warm up — note: call plumber), read directions on side of box. After heaving a pile of dirty dishes out of the sink and starting the water, you bring the cardboard up to your eyes. “Namaste,” it says. “Thank you for choosing ‘Ancient Secrets® Nasal Cleansing Pot!’ Before embracing the life-altering yogic powers of Neti, please, for your safety, consult the following directions:” A column of text runs down the box like an unfurled scroll. Beside it, a small, black and white instructional photo shows a woman properly inserting a Neti pot into her nose. As if swaying to music, her head is tilted, her hair hanging at an angle. Her nostril wraps eagerly around the spout and her mouth, agape, is smiling an inscrutable smile. Her eyes are wide — crazed, almost. They lack focus, staring past you as if into an abyss. Water pours out of her unoccupied nostril.
The directions call for a couple of teaspoons of non-coarse, water-soluble salt, to be stirred into the warm water. You set the box down and throw open the doors of your kitchen cabinet. You push past boxes of soggy Triscuits, shove a jar of Skippy out of the way and throw an expired can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup into the trash. You fish around for a while in the darkness, but your hand is met only with the back panel of your cabinet. Is it possible that you don’t have salt in your house? Desperate, you yank open the spice drawer, fully expecting to find it empty. Instead, a plastic grinder, nearly spent, rolls forward. The label informs you of the cylinder’s contents: Morton brand sea salt. There should be just enough left for two teaspoons, but — that’s right — you don’t have measuring spoons, so you set the grinder down next to the box and wait for the water to warm up. You drum your fingers on the countertop as the water swirls down the drain.
You glance at the box. As the woman stares past you, you are struck: It is yours; you own Ancient Secrets® Nasal Cleansing Pot. Take it out, hold it in your hands. You tear at the cardboard, but it’s sealed with tape, so you grab a knife and cut it open. You pull out the pot. The ceramic, a glowing white, is cold to the touch. You hold it up to the light. Look at the elegant lines, the tranquil curvature of the spout — the shape is equal parts sculptural and functional, a paragon of eastern sensibilities. You turn it over in your hands. On the bottom, three words, printed in a simple font, declare the product’s authenticity: “Made in China.” You flick the side of the pot with your finger; a pleasant sound rings out.
As if pulled by a string, your head is lifted upwards, your gaze now directed towards the window above the sink. Outside, the weather has suddenly turned — thunderheads are collecting just beyond your backyard. The day is gray. Here, staring out of the window, clutching your pot, you imagine the clouds scattering as — look — The Great Lotus Flower crests over the horizon and pries apart the sky, its nine petals unfolding, spiraling outward in an eternal, pink dance. As it hovers, some kind of golden escalator emerges from its center, glides downward and touches down right in the middle of your yard. You hold your breath; silence for a moment. Then, as if giving birth to a whole new race of peoples, the Flower spews forth row after row of beautiful women, who descend the escalator and assemble into a circle in the grass. With a flourish, they turn in unison and look intently back to the Flower, waiting. A parade begins. An army of loin-clothed men lead the way, scattering rose petals and laying down palm leaves on the steps. White horses follow, their bridles studded with rubies and plumed with blue feathers; then pachyderms, lumbering, their backs fitted with carriage-pavilions overflowing with laughing people; now more women, gyrating, pirouetting; now Saracens, brandishing scimitars and pennants; now children; now more children; now waves of children, all of them herded along by their beaming mothers; now nothing: the procession has stopped and the escalator is cleared and your yard is filled, brimming with costumed people, all of them staring back up at the Flower, mouths agape. Silence again. The elephants shift. The pennants flap in the breeze. Suddenly, an ivory palanquin appears at the mouth of the flower, carried by four men. It slowly descends. The sea of bodies parts, and the palanquin sidles right up to your window. A purple veil obscures the carriage’s interior, but, squinting your eyes, you manage to work out the silhouette of a woman swaying inside. A white arm slips out from behind the veil and beckons. As if prompted by the gesture, the entire Ancient Secrets® line of products appears in the sky, forming a halo around the Flower. The people rejoice. Suddenly, from all corners of the earth: music. It fills the air. It is unlike any kind of music you’ve ever heard before. It is subtle, gentle, fluid, like a babbling brook.
The water’s still running. You test it with your finger — it’s hot. You fill the pot to the brim, and, defying gravity, a couple spurts leap from the spout. Now, salt. With only a few turns you empty the grinder into the water. You rinse off a dirty spoon and use it to stir. The salt refuses to dissolve; granules collect at the bottom of the pot and scrape against the spoon. Remember, though: You are determined. Mimicking the lady on the box, you tilt your head and lift Ancient Secrets® Nasal Cleansing Pot to your nose.
Coarse, salty, hot water — too hot — immediately fills your mouth and flows down your throat, burning your tongue, your esophagus. You splutter into the sink.
Deep breaths. You reposition your head — better be more careful this time. Better concentrate on the woman, mirror her movements exactly. Again you lift the pot to your nose, but nothing comes. Sighing, you tuck your chin in towards your chest. Still nothing. You twist your spine, hang your head at an impossible angle. Nothing, nothing. Is this what happens? After it all, this? You’ve been like this for so long, always the same, nothing changing, everything broken — this is what happens, isn’t it?
With one last bit of grunting effort, you manage to lift your right leg onto the countertop. Leverage, you figure. With your foot up, you stretch out horizontally and press your cheek against your shoulder. You tip the pot. Water floods into your head as if it were a hollow vessel, a mold. Water fills your brain. Water spills out of every orifice, every pore. It sprays out of your mouth, out of your ears; it streams from your eyes and bubbles out of your nostrils. You’re coughing, now gagging into the sink. Mucus is coming from somewhere, thwacking into the metal basin and lingering at the drain. You try to breathe; you can’t; more mucus; now more water; now, for whatever reason, flecks of blood. You drop the thing. It goes skidding across the tiles, unscathed. You’re crying. Why are you crying?
You decide to visit your mother for the weekend. It’s been a while since you’ve made the trip out to see her, and God knows she’ll jump at the opportunity to take care of you, so you catch a train on Friday evening.
She hugs you at the door, forces you onto the couch and feeds you chicken soup for three days. At one point, as she’s drifting through the living room, she asks if you got the chance to try out a Neti pot. You answer yes. She seems happy to hear it, but makes no comment. She goes humming out of the room.
On the train ride home, you sit facing backwards and watch as the landscape flits by in reverse, hoping to feel, if only for a moment, that you are erasing yourself.