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.
“No need.”
Paying attention also to what I was saying out loud.
No need.
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?”
Calm down.

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.
Ignore them. 

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.
Stay quiet.
“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.

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.
“I’m cold.”
“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.

“Emily Dickinson.”
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.

“I am like a room where things once happened and now nothing does…”

–The handmaids tale

It happened so quickly. Me, staring at the crack in left window pane. Me, feeling the buzz of a fly or gnat or something fly by. A mosquito on my wrist and absentmindely scratching at it. Me, walking up, me peering down. Noticing the blood on my wrist. Then me holding him, him wrapping his hands around my waist swaying like we were on a ship. He exclaimed, “Shit!” as I vomited but he didn’t push me away. No, he pulled me closer and led me to the car.   Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him flag her down while I was still bent over. I remember wanting to lie down on the pavement but being feeling pulled back up by him.
“This taxi has no taxi sign,” I murmured.
My legs felt asleep. Tingly, or like the muscle had stopped working. Like they didn’t work properly. My debit card, which had been clutched between my index and middle finger, dropped on the grass and I heard him say jesus but then it was back in my hand.
“Put it in your pocket,” and I felt him dig in my shorts
My meek whispers of ok but still swatted at his hand slightly. Reflex. I remember everything in color. Staring at the yellow house with the crack in the white window pane and the verdant grass, glistening, still dewy. I think I wanted to sit on it, touch it with my tips and remember school days. Early morning walks like this always make me think of going to the bus stop. Paused, recalling three places now; the van rides, the bus rides, the plane ride here. The flight at 7:17 am and the fortune from the fortune cookie I found at baggage claim: Luck! You are on an adventure!
When I crawled into the car, my debit card fell on the carpeted bottom and I watched it. As the door slammed, I set my eyes on it: black with silver indention, numbers, meaningless, put together somehow linked to currency. Somehow linked to me. I should pick this up.
“I should pick this up,” I murmured.
It was 6:45 am, eighty degrees and rising and I had to yet to drink or eat anything.  I had brought the card to buy water if needed. I remember declaring out loud that I was going to the house to get help that’s why he caught me in the driveway. Sheepish in infirmary, I felt the need to explain myself. WhyI needed a hand or why I had been sick. Blamed it on food. Why I had paused to talk to that caterpillar. Why I ate a whole box of crackers four nights ago. Why the smell of vomit sometimes cradles me.
“Quiet, lay down,” he said through the open window.
I thought we had already left. I was on my knees on the seats reaching for the card but in vain and then turning.  On my back, it felt worse. The vinyl stuck to perspiring thighs. The car undulated. Felt like I was floating atop a sea of waves coming in. Above me a piece of the spongy brown foam ceiling was hanging;  slit like someone had taken a razor and sliced it.
“That always happens in old cars,” I muttered.
“Are you ok, honey? You gonna make it?” she shouted from the front.
She had big brown curly hair. That’s what I could see. And one of those Yankee Candle air fresheners. Pineapple. I remember saying something like Oh God and sitting up and her screeching a bit and telling me to hold on. I remember grabbing my torso and letting my head rest against the closed window. Closer to her, I could hear her gum snap as she drove, loud. The sensation overtook me. Remember saying I may have caught a stomach bug from my roommate. Remember lying back down the opposite way so I could see the side of her face: slightly wrinkled, her jaw moving effortlessly, plain, white, in her fifties. Remember telling them the house number o n e f i v e o  n e   t  w e e e l v e. Slow like that. Remember a brown Hyundai with vinyl seats. Wasn’t a taxi. At some point, I looked down and saw my forearm covered with yellow spit. I’ve always been lucky. My debit card was laying by my shoe. I was sitting up again.  I’ve always been like this: tainted.  She helped me up the driveway. Said I was “dead weight.” I remember her saying that. I’ve always been lucky.
“Girl, you are dead weight.”
It felt like being dragged. She waited til I hit the code to the door, which I did remember and began to say it out loud z e r o f o u r no no honey don’t tell me, just get in. Felt  like falling asleep. Like I was falling asleep as I began to walk through the door. I don’t remember how I got upstairs but in an hour someone was shaking me lightly.
I heard a whisper.
I felt something poke me in my back. Catarina.
“Ok, I’ll drink the water.”
I pushed my body up so I could reach the nightstand. There it sat: the half glass from last night and just a little ways past, the oak in morning light. Even though my whole body felt stiff, I turned my head anyway. There was no one in the bed. It was just her repugnant smile.  I could see her out the window in her white billowing dress and dirty blonde hair, Catarina
scratching at the pane with a branch
tapping on the pane with a branch.
that dead stare
that dead stare.

“We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

–The Handmaids Tale

By six am, I was up, showered and dressed. Since no one was up, I dawdled in front of the mirror. I didn’t know where my chapstick was–hadn’t used it since I got here. My bottom lip was cracked and sore. It looked like I had developed a fat lip in the night, possibly biting it during my frenetic sleep. I ripped a loose piece of skin off of it and watched it turn from a grayish-pink to bright red. Touching it to feel the moisture, then tasting it to confirm, as if the mirror weren’t enough. My lip is bleeding.  Having slept for almost 15 hours, I was antsy to get outside. I wiped the blood on a tissue and threw it in the trash. The bed was wet from sweat, urine and smelled but I ignored. I didn’t tell anyone before I left the house and no one heard me. Quiet, stealth, I put my shoes on last. They were sneakers, not platforms, not heels like Camille wears. I never tell anyone anything. Though, I realized looking back it would have been better if I did. Then they would have known where I was. My phone was dead. I just needed to walk.I told myself not to go far. I told myself just to walk a mile. I told myself I fainted yesterday. I told myself the address twice just in case.
By 6:30, I guessed I was three miles away but f e e ling better. This is usual. I wasn’t hungry but I wasn’t passing out and the headache was gone. Stopped in front of another rancher, a blue one, I first noticed the awning: white, cracking, then the screen door with a giant hole in it.
“So many issues,” I murmured.
Then I was gliding, tiptoeing up the driveway like I didn’t want to get caught. As if I was going to break in. I don’t know what came over me. I was  being carried. There was a voice in my head that said go and I did. It wasn’t my voice. Snickering. There was snickering in my head. I was halfway up the walk when I felt my abdomen turn in on itself, like a mouth eating itself, or trying to swallow its tongue, then a rush of fluid up my chest. With less than a second and half of a blink, I keeled over and began vomiting.
“Hey, hey!” someone was yelling behind me.
I felt dizzy. Not just dizzy, but pressed to the ground like something was pushing me down.
“Hey!” a man was only five feet behind me. “Girl, are you ok?”
Whipping my head around, something flicked onto the edge of his pants. Streaks of yellow bile coated my chin. He backed up.
“Girl,” I laughed. “That’s so southern.”
Beaming up at him, I could feel the wetness of my chin. Snickering in my head.
“What?” he retreated another step.  “You ok? You live here?”
“No,” I pressed my palms down on the driveway to stand.
“Easy, easy, now.”
I could hear his steps without seeing him then felt him cup my arm.
“I need a phone.”
“ I got one.”
“I mean, I need a ride back.”
“I don’t have a car,” he said.
We made eyes when we stood together. Same height flat footed. His face was sunken, like he had lost weight unexpectedly or the way you look when you’re starving but he wasn’t that thin. Scrawny though, but strong. Had no issue helping me up. He had large brown eyes and a little gray on his beard. He was on a blue Schwinn wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans. He looked to be in his fifties. Smelling of cigarettes, maybe some whiskey, he reminded me of everyone.
“Can you call me a taxi?”
“Do you have any money?” he said.“I have a debit card.”
“Ok, ok,” he placed his hand in his pocket.
Watch out,  a voice in my head said.
“What?” I responded.
“What?” he looked at me, phone in hand, eyebrow lifted, closer to me then before.
Restive, in stillness feeling more disoriented, I began to walk. Took only one step towards and him and put my arms out. I’ll always remember the expression on his face: paused, confused but emollient. A grace took over him and he turned towards me as if we were going to dance. His hands were coarse and rough around my wrist, but his touch was easing, conciliatory. His lips were chapped like mine but not bleeding. Same height as me so our foreheads lined up. Bowing, I could see his Nikes were all black like mine, then spotted with yellow like mine as I let the last of my stomach empty onto them

Feeling less guilty about missing the conference, I napped the rest of the afternoon. My dreams were uneasy again. They always are in this town but this was exceptional. Last night, a white woman appeared to me, elderly, from the bathroom. I immediately was vexed, on edge and approached her solely to to choke her to death. As if it didn’t happen, I was then back in my bed but upright. It was this room except where the TV is, there was a mirror. Staring directly at it, I watched bats fly out of my mouth.I remember saying the phrase, I cannot help you, you are already dead and then waking up horrified at 2:30 am. I don’t know who I was talking too.  Today, a black woman appeared in the room shaking her head at me. I didn’t feel like she was going to be violent, yet I got up, punched a window to produce a shard of glass and held it at her. I awoke in sweat with a start. It was a similar feeling. Like they were there in the room. Like it was really happening. Sometimes it’s like that but here it’s worse. The clock read 6:56 pm. I had slept for nearly four hours. I was sharing the room with two others but all my clothes were off as were the covers. I could hear people downstairs and the sound of pots and pans. Without any try, my eyes shut and I faded back into the dream. 

This is the barn. The dream about the barn. Or the dream about the woods, the cabin. The cabin is inexplicably on fire and I am watching it from outside. Where I stand, there are droplets of snow falling lightly and when I turn around I am facing the woods. It’s the same woods. It’s the same dream about the barn. I begin to walk towards them. They are in a semi circle and one of them stands up. I never get too far. She always starts with her hands out saying “wait, wait. be careful what you say.” And then it’s like the movie cuts or time passes, I am in the ocean, in open water, surrounded by waves that are coming from both directions. Even if I knew where shore was, I couldn’t get there because i can’t tell which current is real.
When I wake up, the clock says 9:12 pm. There is no noise downstairs and I can feel my body shivering. I have pulled my two blankets over me. The light in the bathroom has been left on. I have to pee but piss myself instead.

At 10:30, Camille is shaking me.
“You need water.”
“I need sleep.”
“I’m taking you to the hospital.”“No, fucking way. I probably have the flu.”
She felt my head.
“You’re hot.”
“I have the flu!”
Turning towards the window, I ripped the covers from her hands.
“Two more days and I am back on the plane. Let me rest, Camille.”
“Fine, drink this water.”
“Put it on the nightstand.”
“Drink it now.”
I wondered if she could smell the sheets. I wouldn’t tell anyone. I am sure I would feel better enough to change them before we left. 
“No,” I moaned.
And in her fashion, she slammed the door. Later, I would recall things differently but it was 9:17 pm and I was already drooling. I was on a beach watching a tidal wave form.

Pulled by thirst, the walk back was faster. I had not drank anything since 9 am and that was coffee: three cups. It was 12:15 pm.  I had to pee. My stomach rumbled. I had an apple in my bag that I ate on the walk back and nothing else.
“This is usual,” I say to no one tossing the core in the gutter.
Focus. The sky was clearing but my retinas were dotted with circles, little colored balls floating in front of my eyes. I didn’t notice anything but the pavement, slick and for no reason, a red bow on the ground, like a dog collar. Everything else was a blur.
The first thing I did when I got back is throw off my shoes. The second was get a glass of water. Third, bathroom. I felt dizzy as I bent over pulling the moist cotton over my ankle; tossing them on the porch. Ignoring the new blister, ignoring the rank sneaker, I trodded in leaving a spotted trail wherever I went. The water was tap, lukewarm. Well water.  They say well water tastes better.  I didn’t notice a thing  The fourth thing I did was take off all my clothes and  get in the shower. They say that’s when I fainted.

It was Mac who found me on the floor, water running over my naked thighs and pelvis. I hadn’t fallen but slid down the tile and rested so it looked like I was asleep in the upright fetal position. Apparently, Mac pulled me out and shook me a bit til I came to. Must have been all of five minutes, truly. Lucky for me, he said, I had skipped the panel too. I had left the door open in my haste. Mac had come right after me and dutily went to shut it when he saw, curtain open, on the floor. Lucky for me.
Lucky for me the group now watched me eat lunch in front of them. It was 1:45 pm. They had brought me a salad and french fries from wherever they were and I was expected to eat all of it at the table.  “You don’t eat enough,” Camille said.
I nodded and dipped my fry in the two dollops of ketchup they gave me.
“Or drink enough water.”
“I’ve been drinking water,” I swallowed quickly to gesture to the sink. “I drank seven glasses yesterday, I counted.”
“And today?”
“Today, I forgot.”
She was picking at her chicken. I was wolfing down pieces of iceberg.
“I’ve had a headache since I got here. That’s why I bought the neti pot. I think it’s sinuses or allergies…”
“Allergies don’t make you faint. Anorexia does.”
Camille had eaten five bites of her chicken and promptly got up to throw it out.
“Oh, ok.”
She put the kettle on the stove and began to boil water.
“For tea,” she said as she walked past me. “And the neti pot.”
I heard her move upstairs, still wearing her platforms clink the whole way up and close her door, heavy. Not a slam but close. I turned to watch the kettle, enthralled. 

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