“Live! And have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.”
“Live! And have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.”
“nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy.”
God does remarkable things in times of hardship. The ability of my body to slither down the banister then back up the mailboxes like that to deal with untoward events that I could not possibly predict: passersby blowing joint smoke right at me and leering, good samaritans palms out, rocks on the sidewalk catching the bottom of my shoe, unlevel pavement, time passing and leaving its scratch on my pallid skin. What’s more, God is the master of all fate, deigned to be creator and destroyer and me in my limp, laughing out loud at having thought I could fight her. Me, salivating despite having no, not a drop of water, the body, God doing miraculous things. She is presenting me with these angels, these incredulous stares and hands, mine slapping them, scared of palms then and now. Me, rejecting then and now. Me in my gallantry and sore runner’s knee suddenly on death row mile. This is now. I am at 32nd and Hamilton walking towards the bridge. Somehow by miracle, not crawling even though my body had a steady tilt towards the left as if it was going to topple. By miracle, no folks interfering though I felt them lean in, felt them pause with their bodies full stop for seconds to wonder, does she need me? Does she need someone else?
This is a flashback or something close to it, perhaps just a memory but vivid here, like an inscription: a text actually sent that said I need you unreturned. As if one chance is all the world had to requite it. This is a memory but also a moment happening as it happens and recorded in my mind like I am speaking it into a tape recorder. I am dictating each move now unsure if I am dictating out loud for my audience or just thinking. Smile. I smile at the jogger. She should not be out here alone. A strong urge to push her passes. God is remarkable. This is a flashback or something close to it, perhaps just a memory but vivid here, like an inscription: a text actually sent that said I need you unreturned. As if one chance is all the world had to requite it. This is a memory but also a moment happening as it happens and recorded in my mind like I am speaking it into a tape recorder. I am dictating each move now unsure if I am dictating out loud for my audience or just thinking. Smile. I smile at the jogger. She should not be out here alone. A strong urge to push her passes. God is remarkable.
I am filled with an unimpeded violence and in the middle of a frozen lake turning to watch my sister begin to come after me.
Time had come to a screeching halt or a moving shadow depending on how you saw things. I saw things in threes, perhaps always but more now; my hand on the knob, my hand on Kamelia’s, my hand on Kamelia’s back and then etching the star on the ground at the bottom of the well.
“Where am I?” I accidentally say out loud.
Smile. I am smiling. Sam is looking at me, side-eyed and I am regretting most everything but mostly the day of the well.
“I am worried about my sister,” I blurt out.
“You left your luggage.”
His hand was still gripping the handle but he turned away from me. He carried that three flights up. I am sure I was grateful but all I could manage was, “I have to get to the well.”
“Are you sick?”
“Yes, no..we both are. I am sorry. I am fine.”
“Do you need help?”
“Just put the luggage here, please,” I pointed by my foot.
Reluctantly, and that is a look I saw across everyone’s face that day, reluctantly he stepped three inches closer and past me to place the luggage on the floor. I said nothing and felt a deep surge rise inside of me, a deep wave and soon I would be on the floor.
“Are you sure you don’t need anything?”
“Positive.”But I didn’t look at him. As I stood, hand on handle, my heart racing, I remember a dream I had once where I had to go to my old neighbor’s apartment, the one that lived here before Sam, to ask them to help getting a demon out of my apartment. It was Christmas. I had cat eyes.
“What does it mean?”
I don’t think words were coming out just echoes of thought reverberating around the inside of my mind. I meant to say things. Or I meant to smile. I was halfway down the stairs when I realize I didn’t have my keys. That’s ok. You probably didn’t even close the door. Godspeed, Genevieve. Don’t eat all the wet food. It was one minute from my door to Sam’s and another two before I was in the lobby. I was right: three minutes on a good day. Even though my eyes went black when I opened the front door, I made sure to lean on the door frame and a new phenomenon took over: a fainting while standing, like sleeping. In my dream, I walked out of the mirror with my cat eyes back and I said out demon out! But then I laughed, mocking my childish ritual: a deep bray of prescience. There is no out here; only a switching of places.
“Well get on with then,” Lilian pushed my back.
That was years ago.
No, that was now.
No, that was hours ago at the beginning of the hike.
“Get on with it, geez, your stories, Kat, really so meandering.”
This story will be written in English so my brain can comprehend it though sometimes I hear things differently.
That’s what she had said. Meandering.Windy. No, winding. I think. This was hours ago when we first started the hike. Her real name is Liliana but we called her Lilian for short because she preferred it and was bossy so what she preferred took precedence. Once stealing money from a British man in cards, she learned quickly how to feign his accent to charm.We are thirteen. We are cunning and unabashed at times. We are ruthless investigators of all things in our small town and we are friends, not sisters. We are young when this happens but I am still seething. Rage never leaves you. It just transforms. I cannot express enough though that Liliana Meszaros iis not my sister nor is she my friend.
This was hours ago when we first started the hike.
“You always tell such circular things, such winding things.”
Even though I was in front of her, merely because I knew how to get to Loga having been here longer, she was leading. Been here longer in age by nine months. She was younger than me. Thirteen, but nine months younger.
“Could have been my sister,” I used to say.
Kamelia was eleven.
Kamelia was my sister.
Kamelia was dead.
No, my brother is dead.
This was years ago.
“Hours ago,” I say to the mirror.
My brother is dead is written somewhere in this apartment so I can remember.
Grief doesn’t leave it just transforms.“Well, what can I say we aren’t all as charming as you, Liliannnn.”
I felt her smack my back but I also heard her laugh. I was freezing. It was freezing and dark. The middle of a storm. The ground covered in white soft powder and us in our black parkas.
“Like little witches,” she said.
“Shh,” I smacked her arm. “Don’t let Kamelia hear.”
Kamelia is my sister. Dead like me. Dead cuz of me. Something grabs my arm to try to pull me up but she is (dead cuz of life.”
“No, dead cuz of me.”
But I pull myself up.
And to the mirror, I say, finally with fervency, “Kacirek. Your name is Kamelia Kacirek. Well get on with then.”
And I am fast opening my front door where I see Sam with my luggage.
“Trust me,” he says; which in itself has never been a talisman, carries no guarantee.
But I snatch at it, this offer. It’s all I’m left with.
Laura will say at the end, I suffered seizures on and off as if she had any idea what was happening in that well. She will say she wouldn’t let anyone help her and with pity, a frown. She will adjust the straps of her dress and scowl and say so beautiful.. She will say tragic as if there was a stopping. She will talk about my looks for an unknown amount of time. She will claim a bond we never had.
I arose swiftly despite the convulsion, almost like the shake produced some kind of electricity and I charged to the room ripping the sheet down, knocking my painting of two flowers off the wall and the first thing I did was spit. Well, I tried to spit but nothing came out. My mouth was sand dry again. The second thing I did was bang my fist against it and the third thing I did was charm. Incantantion.
“Your name is Katarina.”
Laura will say when I said it in my sleep she thought it was proper English.
But then sometimes she would say things like “coat, hand me my coat” and it would sound Australian.
Maybe European English, you know when someone is learning English they have that undetectable accent.
Or New Zealand.
It was still kind of British.
She kept saying she was going to cause a wreck but with flair. Dramatically. Like in an English accent. Cauussee a wreck. And slowly.
And the mirror sung back, drool sliding down where I had licked it to mark it like it’s mine to own.
“Sweet, Katarina. I found you.”
Weak, my fingers slid off the top of the lake following the other hand as my body became a cannonball.No one offered me a hand up. Why would I think they would? Weak, my fingers pressed firmly into the snow. Weak, my body being suspended in air like that. Weak, now from hours of walking and waiting and terror.
“Feeble,” Lilian had called me. “You are never prepared.”
That was hours ago. That was when we were friends. That was when we quarreled with giggles; pettish yet with a foxes smile. Laughing. This now; where we are now; this is gritted teeth and chapped hands and insurmountable tasks. You were never friends.
“We were never friends,” I stand shaking, facing her.
She backs up instinctively. Despite her air of prescience still afraid of me. After all this.
“Of course we were.”
“Of course we were,” I mock her in her British accent.
“Of course we were,” I murmur to the mirror in a British accent.
This is betrayal.
She mentioned betrayal. And she had already slapped Camille claiming Camille slapped her. Called her Lilian. She called herself Catarina.
“Walk, Katarina. You do remember how to walk don’t you?”
She pushed me. As if this wasn’t enough, she pushed me as I hobbled past. And they all stood by her: petulant and horse-faced and neighing like that, nodding.
“Bitches,” I let my cheek rest against the mirror. “Petulant witches.”
“What’s that, Cat?”
“I said I will do it.”
And I slid to the carpet arms spread out for crufixion, eyes wide to the sparkles on my ceiling: yellow and green strewn about from some previous tenant’s happiness. Like constellations. She came in the room all black and imperious, towering.
“You will do what?”
Her left foot near my air and her right foot sliding slowly heavy towards it
“I will walk across the fucking lake.”
Laura would tell people I was out of line. She would say I started hurling insults at the driver, calling him insolent, negligent. Now, he did pull up to the curb fast and she had been sort of twirling absentmindely. Or not really twirling but like rocking you know which she had normally done sometimes to self soothe anyway. But I was watching her. But I was also trying to look up urgent care.The bumper may have grazed her. But not hard. I feel like as he pulled up, she stepped into the curb. I don’t remember any of this. I remember bleeding through my shirt. Or, sweating through my shirt but I saw blood. Laura said I was crazy.
She accused me of calling her crazy and pushed me when I let her o,ut of the second Lyft. I wanted to help her up the stairs. She has three flights. When I tried to dial the doctor, she leaned over and whispered, girl, don’t do it. I’ll send them to you.
I vaguely remember a veiled threat at someone, finger wagging, the pretzel girl maybe but Laura said I told the Lyft driver to back the fuck up and watch your life move into wither like a clock turning backwards which I said sounded “beautiful” though everyone at the party agreed it made no sense. I repeated it to myself in the mirror that night.
Laura will tell people I shivered nonstop and sweat through my tee shirt. That I threw my sweat shirt on the ground outside of the car and left it. That I dropped my luggage twice and finally left it. That she made the Lyft wait then ran after me to pick it up. She will tell people I embraced her suddenly but I remember only a bare wrist touching rime, spurning rhyme to catch it; the clock being reset to ruin itself before wither, touching frost and then falling fast into it.
Some days I can’t look in the mirror at all. In fact, some days I tape them all up. Wrap a sheet around them and tape the four corners and leave them like I’m packing them up. Then, when night finally comes, I unwrap a corner and peek and if it’s pleasant enough, I will keep going. Before I left, I had covered all the mirrors. I suffer from epidodic dysphoria and won’t look at my face for days. Even in summer when I am ripe and freckled to perfection, it’s too much. My coordination was off so I crawled up the stairs leaving my bag in the lobby excited to return to this hole.
Paying attention also to what I was saying out loud.
The first to plunge was the bone-white wrist and had it not been nearly frozen, heavy on the nearly as I suspected from first dare, I would have felt the ice tear the skin like broken glass but instead
I crawled up the stairs. Gruesome. Thankful, no one opened their door to help. It took minutes. Possibly fifteen or more to reach the top. Normally, two minutes total unless I am lugging wooden furniture which is all I have: antique, used, like the mirror. The carnival mirror I call he4r. Someone else’s vision piercing mine. I need the mirror.
“I need the mirror.”
Laura will say somberly, she had no idea of her own power. Or beauty.The apartment slanted to the right which was usual but today it had more of a tilt to it, like one of those moving walkways in the funhouse. The first thing I did was exclaim, close! The second thing I did was vomit on the kitchen linoleum, but not the carpet! was the second thing I exclaimed. The third thing I did was lie on the bedroom floor and let the cat walk on my face and contritely murmur sorry softly, tenderly, the only love being exchanged for miles.
When I was up again, it was dark. My cat had pissed next to me out of spite.
I hopped up pleased to discover the proper spelling. A wind passed through me. I went to the cupboard and opened five wet cans and placed them near Genevieve’s bowl.
“Don’t eat it all at once,” I whispered and pat her head.
I got up to walk towards the side room; the room with the carnival dresser and the altar and noticed I never closed the front door. A lucid thought passed about my baggage but then a deep undulation passed up my spine cracking me in half so I was face down and shaking. And my forearm slid through the water with my bleeding wrist passing up my tricep and shoulder and in vain, the right arm gripped the top of the ice as if I had a chance.
“But you will do it.”
“But I can’t do it.”
“But you will.”
And she took her boot away.
In times of trial the body operates on some kind of auto pilot. It is how people survive torture, war, their own deathbeds. Functions change, adapt as necessary. You may be breathing differently but still breathing nonetheless; staggered, coughing, dry or drowning, gasping. The lungs contract, expand. Hands reach. .Time continues to move, arms swing in time with legs to maintain stasis, tongue clucks to swallow or speak at the guard and whatever the five women were doing to me to get me through the turnstile was working. Pushing from beyond with taunts, no mercy, but great indignation. They say I am jealous but there are five black winged crones with their dust tongues pressed against a corpse’s teeth trying to inhale the light. I could see them peering over the escalator handles, perempory gazes veiled only slightly by their adorning capes.I could see those high-handed brows from behind the trees: yellow-eyed and low to the ground.
“I want a pretzel,” I said.
Before Laura could stop me, I wandered off alone to the kiosk. Gurgling, my stomach had been begging for hours or days. I had lost track of time. My brain finally giving in to the inveterate hum of its empty vessel devouring itself with need shot or the first soft thing it saw. Teeth still clenched, chewing was a hardship. Some habits, even in derangement when all is lost, are automatic, ineradicable. My mouth watered and agape, some drool fell out.
I stood slack jawed in front of her unaware of myself.
The attendant was young, surly, inefficient I could tell. I have an eye for these things. Preternaturally gifted with judgment, yet beaten by my peers to doubt these assumptions, I was usually right.
“I guess with about a 98.6% accuracy,” I told her.
She was engaged with her phone, absent from the exchange but kind of eyed me without looking. If I hadn’t felt so volatile inside, I may have felt intrusive just asking for something. That’s what my peers had done: guilted me. I heard a snicker behind me. The women were laughing.
“One pretzel. What do you think?”
The girl was still holding the phone in her hand but squaring me. A misstep of mine. I had already forgotten what I said but I could tell by my tone, it was wrong.
“One pretzel please.”
I smiled and extended my left arm robotically, the debit card clutched yet again between index and thumb. I had no recollection getting it out but I was grateful. Catarina, one of them said.
Smarmy. I had been trying to think of a word to describe myself for days. During my most piqued, I can mask, armor in unctuous servility if only to maintain some relation. So as not to erupt. Something less than charming but more than obvious, however, could be ingratiating at times. When pressed, I am smarmy unable to contain all resentment but southern still.
When she handed me the pretzel, we locked eyes for seconds which is long considering our culutre of disposability. Neither I nor her was afraid of death, that was clear, however, it seemed I was closer to it. I was the alpha indeed. As she yanked her hand away from me, disgusted, I wanted to whisper it’s not contagious but i wanted to spit on her too.
I threw up half the pretzel but didn’t tell Laura.
In the bathroom, I could see my eyes had dark circles under them like I was a raccoon. Even though I had slept for twelve straight hours or more, (there are no clocks here), if I knew Laura wouldn’t possibly call the police on me for my sudden vitriolic fits and fainting and skin changes, I would have curled up in the sink and fell dead back to sleep.
“Yes,” I said aloud as the woman to the right of me backed away from me, not taking her eyes off of me until she had to turn the corner to leave the room. Not totally afraid but not comfortable around me. “Yes,” I repeated. “Not transmissible.” And I spit on the mirror.The rest of the ride was nothing. We had no layovers so no obstacles. Well, that’s not true. It was an obstacle in course, in fact. My nausea was unnerving to Laura and I spent a good chunk of time bent over the toilet but didn’t make a sound. So as not to u n n e r v e her. Stay quiet. I ran the water even though nothing came out. Luck though (Luck! You are on an adventure! or maybe it said Look), we were in the second to back row and Laura gave me the aisle seat.
“I’m petrified,” I said to her, returning.
“What? What is happening?”
But then as if that never happened, I fell soundly asleep.
That I recall but no other words were spoken. Laura would tell people all sorts of rambling I’d disown had I been at the party to share my version. Had I been invited.
She would say, it was harrowing.
There they all were in their black cocktail gowns and partial masks, their wine spritzers and garrulous cheer. Some with their amber beers. Some with their magic brownies. All in their festive adornments and fangs and just so much laughter bellowng from them. She would say she kept moaning about the snow, about the tread of her boots and not being able to, Laura would stop to adjust one of her left straps as she realizes mid story that the dress fits improperly and she is now self conscious about wearing it even though it looks good in fact. I would have told her it looked good. I would have said your tits look great, friend and smacked her back like a football buddy. She would say she wasnt going to be able to cross the whole thing. Laura was gesturing to the party that I was tossing my head side to side and speaking matter of factly, I will not be able to cross the whole thing, no, I can’t. And she would do it in an accent. A sort of London accent but not really. Like when Europeans learn English. Or kind of New Zealand.
“That’s how you sounded,” she said to me.
That was the second thing I said. First I said, I’m petrified. Then, I said What?”
“I can’t cross that,” she held her hands out, which I did apparently. “Do you remember? You said it just like that. In that accent.”
Scrunching my face up, I turned away from her, let my cheek rest back against the seat and let the wave swallow me first, then the black of the hole, then the women in black boots, toes facing me as I shuddered from deprivation .
We waited to get off plane in silence. I was sweating profusely again and Laura whispered, “I am going to call you a doctor when we get outside.”
Groggy, I nodded, compliant. In earnest surrendered but also still smarmy. Southern, just politely pleasing each mistress with no intent. Fall. I wanted to collapse.Had I been sleeping standing? I felt Laura’s tepid fingers press my lower back when everyone started moving and I too began to move. Why I didn’t bite her after she ignored my first warning is between me and God because I wanted to. But I also wanted to fall.
Laura and I boarded the Lyft inconsequentially though she would tell it differently.
She began screaming so the Lyft left us. I had to call another. And I was frightened of her. Her skin had become sticky and kind of gray. Waxy. Normally, she’s kind of dark. And this is July, so tan. I was scared to touch her not because of catching it, whatever it was, but I was scared of her sudden rage. She had an unimpeded violence pouring from her.
I don’t think she said unimpeded. I think that’s what the woman said.
“You will walk across the frozen lake unimpeded.”
“But I can’t.”
“But you will.”
The woman had an unimpeded violence pouring out of her. Her black boot coming down on me but playfully, almost with love or almost with remorse.
Camille pulled the hair tie off my upper arm. Things were getting blurry but I could see the round impression left; like a worm wrapped tightly around the tricep, left to remind me: danger. Danger is here. Unintentionally, I moaned when she pulled it down. Reprieve from the strangle and I had not been able to move my arm on its own in hours.
“How the fuck…”
“It’s yours, Lilian,” I interrupted lunging, using my left hand to propel me.
I remember spitting on her then. I remember her reflexively smacking my chin without letting go of my wrist where the band had temporarily landed. I remember telling Laura that she put the band on my arm, pointing at her and moving to the other side of the bed once she let go. And even in my growing infirmary, I read faces and Laura gave Camille a mirthless, pleading look but she also eyed me with some sympathy. Almost like she believed me. That anything was possible when you witness it. Then I was being dragged up. Cackling.
“My arm almost fell off,” I say to the mirror.
“We should take her to the hospital. Forget about the flight.”
“I don’t have health insurance!”
Lucid in moments, more fleeting now, but still lucid enough to reason. Any sane person would have called 911 but I said.
“I’ll refuse and they will have to leave.”
“You’re a danger to yourself, Ava.”
“You’re a danger to everyone, Camille.”
It must have been her name that did it. Since I didn’t call her by her real name, Lilian, but her here name Camille and lucid. I possessed moments of true ferocity. They’d seen me worse, or at least heard me on the phone worse. They’d seen me crawl my way out of psychosis and depression. Seen me eat only baby food for a week in bed. Seen me talk to the walls before. Seen me perch on illness, make mountain of it, climb. Here I am, a trekker. They each had me by my upper arms; Camille on my right now, away from the sore. And when I did look over, I could see Laura staring at the imprint curiously. Yes, we should all be so curious now. Then Camille in front of me at the bottom. I felt no one near me. She was wearing a cloak.
“Yes, I told you it was cold.”
Behind Camille, two more cloaks, yet was I being ignored? Did I crawl down the stairs? Did anyone hand me a handkerchief to wipe my chin? Had I showered the bile off? It is amazing what the body will tolerate. Amazing how pliable one becomes in illness; a marionnette being taken and held, bounced, and forced to walk, wake up, swallow. What it remembers: the mechanics of chewing, swallowing, bending knees, gripping hand railing. Memory. Sometimes memory goes first and that is a blessing. Would be better to rot in blank space in a rocking chair in the corner watching the wayward girl make faces from the branch. But memory works to help you hold the handle of your rolly bag being led by three cloaks until one forgets and you drop the suitcase in the driveway. You are now staggering in mid air. You are now in a net in mid air. You are now in the snow.
“I should have a cloak too.”
When I sneezed, a little blood came out but no one noticed.
Deathly silent in the Lyft. Some part of my body understood I needed to be quiet, to be good, to get through the gate to get home so they wouldn’t call the police, to get back to my living room floor and to get back to my sparkle-drop ceiling where I can lie languid, unbothered. Let the hoods come when they come.
“I’m glad I slapped, Camille,” is all I say the whole ride.
My head is cooling on the window, now aflame. Before, when the breeze hit my body I chilled like I had been dipped in one of those cooling pools at the spa: suddenly. Now, I was sweating. I had demanded I wear my sweatshirt the whole ride and my entire forehead was perspiring. I could see the driver in the rearview glance at me every so often but mostly I watched the five women galloping alongside the car with me, on white horse. Don’t tell them.
“Who?” I say out loud.
Well, I said two things the whole ride. I leave a streak on the window when I peel myself away at arrival. Laura didn’t say anything. She didn’t say anything when I said I was glad I slapped Camille and she didn’t say anything when I called her Lilian and a vituperative cunt. She didn’t try to take my sweatshirt off. It is cold on the plane,I overheard her say to Mac on the way out. She didn’t say anything else to me most of the time and I was in better company now. She just took my hand and walked me up the curb and watched me with my roller bag, giggling, sweating profusely, saying ok a lot as if I was agreeing to some internal proposal.
“Don’t tell them you have the flu,” she nudged me.
“Girl, I don’t have the fucking flu.”“Pull your hood off.”
“But everyone else is wearing a cloak.”
She sighed and did it for me and that look, the look I saw back at the house, that terror-struck freeze, mouth slightly ajar, eyes mollifying, almost submitting to the horror on instinct began to come over her again. I was pinching her wrist with my nails tightly as I grabbed them and it was hard, getting harder to stand there without falling over so for one moment part of it was for balance and the other was trying to parse my lips apart; so dry they had stuck together to say something in seeth. Her lips drew back to her teeth as a piece of my bottom lip was ripped carelessly, now hanging from my top as I spoke. I could feel it, unbothered.
“Don’t fucking touch me again without asking me, you wench hot bitch.”
When I laughed, I remember everyone turning to look and from the side, I could see her, still stuck in a moment already passed like a statue.