I don’t remember much that last day and a half in New Orleans except I was a cannon ball; the bed swelled around me like a cradle. Falling deep in, the line the ripe earth yawns daily and swallows me whole floated around my head which was full of water like a well. Go down the well, Catarina. Could visualize the words on the pages in their circular motion and their staircase mime and the way they trickled off the paper enticing you to crawl towards the depth with them. They said I slept most of the time. Bones wrapped my muscle like vines and stuck to the indentation of the mattress with sweat. Caged there, twisted, beads hooked to the linen like curled fingers jumping from my skin. At one point, I drew my knees close to my chest and felt goosebumps prickling the entirety of my calves. My arm fell asleep a couple of times from laying on it for hours. When I coughed, which was every so often, a putrid smell escaped my breath like I’d eaten my own shit and regurgitated it. I had not brushed my teeth in twenty hour hours. Someone fed me toast with vegan margarine. Stomach was hollow and gurgling, folding in and over and rising with air. They said I had a fever. Sometimes a weak moan escaped my lips. They said I was mumbling and tossing my body in phases then so deathly still Camille would check my pulse. Laura asked to checked the sheets. Turned over and saw a drop of red on my white pillowcase from my chapped bottom lip. They said I picked at it with my fingernail in line waiting to get into terminal so long it turned black. The person checking my boarding pass asked if I had been in a fight.
“Don’t say you have the flu,” Laura nudged me, whispering. Laura didn’t believe it or else why would she keep touching me? These things are not contagious just spectacular to witness. Decay. Rancor. Disintegration of esophageal motility first, for years, then the shock of the loss of brain matter. Then the swiftness in which it enters through a cavity. Your previous worries seen as naive, only to yourself but matter of factly ignorant, thinking it would come from the gut or a crashing car or a leap from an overpass and then deftly, a tiny trickle. A small wave.
“I’m opening the window,” Camille burst in the evening before to throw it open with aggression, as if she was angry. Usual. As if this was personal. “It’s sour in here.”
When I breathed loudly, I knew I was alive. Like fresh manure. They said I slapped Camille’s hand away when she tried to put the blanket on me. Said I tried to bite her index finger when she fed me toast. Said I called her “Lilian.” Said I’m fine with aggravation. Said no. I don’t know how I boarded the plane. Laura led me by the crook of my elbow most places.
“I feel fine,” Laura came to get me up to pack my suitcase the morning of our departing flight. We were going together. It was 7:30 am and I was shivering from the breeze.
“It’s eighty degrees in here.”
No one closed it. I was on my left side with my right hand and forearm back under my cheek, the appendage numb, staring at her, vapid save the few lines floating through my head. From books. Notes I wrote to myself. Perseverations. I am comfortable in devotion. Push Lilian in the well. First chill-then stupor-then the letting go.
Laura paused, a black and pink tee shirt in her hands, something I had bought the first day of the conference when I was feeling better. I don’t remember what it said. A statement of unity, liberation, clarifying a position to the public. Advertising yourself, politicizing yourself, making spectacle of self.
“A spectacle is me,” I mumbled.
She didn’t look directly at me, just side eyed, “Once, we get you back, I think you should see a doctor”
No. Not sure if I said it, moaned it or blinked it.
There she is hanging from the tree.
Laura was folding the shirt neatly into squares, each tinier than the last with great consideration that in a better state I would have thanked her for. “Where?” she didn’t look up.
And I was lost in a stare in the mirror hanging on the back of the door, shut for our privacy. Close it, I had hissed when she came in with a steaming mug at 7 am. When she cheerily announced she had gotten ginger lemon tea from the store.
“Ava,” my eyes were set on the mirror now so I couldn’t see her scowl, but she had a maternal tone to her, reproachful but caring. She knew best here. A disappointed caretaker. A concerned guardian; punishing but tender, coddling, clutching clammy palms with pride at the feeble thing learning to behave.
“No, I’m Catarina.”
And the girl in the white dress waved to me, not sullen today but enthusiastic, beckoning, racing on her perch with glee. . I would have waved back if when I lifted my chin to salute her back I could feel anything in my arm.
“Holy fucking shit, Ava.”
My mouth was wide open. I was sort of leaning on my elbow but barely keeping up. I could feel drool hanging from my lips but I couldn’t see it in the reflection.
“You can see her, Laura?” I asked, voice lowered, stern, purposely masking my excitement. A drop hitting the metal railing below; a new fixation for my eyes to follow. My saliva in bulk pouring out, leaving me. Something was leaving me. Parts of me.
She had always made her opinions clear with her face, at meetings, out in public, in general. Like Camille, any disdain was visible, any confusion marked with a squint, her distaste for men apparent in every room we occupied, the two of them teaming up and glaring. This, i looked back at her slowly, this terror was a fresh emotion to witness but unmistakably present in her body. She shrunk, recoiled, pressed her butt lower on the thighs she was sitting on almost as if she was going to lie down on the floor. This was horror. This was the way you describe someone when you say “they witnessed a harrowing event.” Smaller, retracting, wanting to slink backwards out of the room to make sure the thing doesn’t chase it. Doesn’t infect it. This is non contagious. This is contained by force of fate.
“Your entire arm is blue,” she said so softly and strained, like it almost didn’t want to come out of her throat. Like she was about to pull the words back for fear of upsetting the arm or the drooling thing attached. Quiet, uncertain. I almost didn’t hear it.
The only reason I knew what she said is because I looked where she was looking, my flesh, once olive and taut and smooth and envied even, was now a very pretty, I supposed shocking but I found something about it appealing, pale blue; the kind that denotes a lack of; blood, oxygen, mortality. Or like a frozen body. Some parts were still flesh colored; the discoloration was patchy, but from my bicep down most had that flint dotting; ash and water mixed as if someone had beaten the entirety of my arm all night. Or parts of it were stuck in a freezer. A frozen lake. An algid well.
“Yeah, Laura, “ I did not look back up at her and began to smirk, “and so is everything else.” I laughed loudly then.
Out of my periphery, I saw her jump a bit before screaming for Camille. As I laughed, a trickle of brackish water ran down my chin. I know cuz I was dead staring at the mirror.