The Amputee Kiss
“But the traveler, traveling through it,
May not—dare not openly view it;
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed;” – Poe
She woke numb and sweating to a fall sun and threw back the covers, looking down to see her legs amputated by a duvet sea. Still veiled in dreams Jane she lay paralyzed until the incessant sensation of pinpricks revealed something still existed below her thighs. Crawling from under the covers she preened at the sight of her naked legs. A lifetime of running built two shapely serpents she now spindled about each other to stimulate blood. Long enough to tie in knots- strong enough to coil around whomever she trapped between them.
Sensation returned and Jane crept from the warmth of bed, tip-toeing over cold wood floors to the kitchen. Half a whispered conversation stopped her at the edge of the hall. Out of sight she indulged herself- eavesdropping on her roommate’s whispers.
“Yes… eleven thirty then?” She said hesitantly, “… well …well I don’t really… Fine.. No I’ll be there. Thank you.”
As the cordless phone beeped off Jane came out of hiding.
“Mornin’.” Said Elisia, sitting at the kitchen table shuffling papers.
“Mm.” Jane responded.
Jane nodded, taking a seat. Elisia poured. Black no sugar.
Jane warmed her face in the thick plumes rolling from the cup of her favorite grinds in cold morning air, her head still fogged by dreams.
“What time is it?” she asked.
Elisia answered, eyes fixed on her paperwork, “ Near ten, I think.”
“Mm.” Jane sipped from the cup Elisia had poured, “So, seems someone never came home last night.”
Elisia cribbed her reading, “Well.. not our home at least.” she quipped dryly.
“Figured as much. Semester is barely in and what’s the tally up to already?” Jane teased.
“Sixty eight, I think. But if you’ve got a minute I’d be happy to go for sixtey nine.” Elisia replied with a mocking grin, “ Well, more than a minute hopefully.”
“I know you’re a bunny but I prefer my partners a little more masculine.” Jane said between sips, “Well more masculine than me at least.”
“Hay now. I’m collecting on hormonal indiscretions retroactive to puberty.” Elisia replied.
Jane set her mug down, “So you’ll be going on spring break with me this year?”
Elisia shook her head, “ This again. What the hell would I do in Cancun?”
“Follow you’re extremely hot but steadfastly straight artist friend around and swoop down upon the no doubt heartbroken and vulnerable girls I blow off?”
“…wait. Did you call me a bunny?”
“Try and keep up with me here, Amiga.”
“I’m so sorry I taught you that word.”
“Life’s a bitch.”
“And so are you.”
Jane took Elisia’s commentary in stride.
She looked down at her cup with a creeping concern.
“So See-Bee, you sprung for my favorite brand. Got any confessions to make?”
Elisia’s look of shock was as transparent as her glasses.
“So you met her at a bar then?”
She stood, “Want some toast?”
She clamped her hands down on the counter, morning sun rising in the window behind her, “We met at a bar. She’s my age. And no- I didn’t drink. She got a little smashed- but that was just to work up the nerve to take me home. So I let her.”
Jane didn’t bother masking a scornful look and finished her cup, “ Ok. Sorry. So then why are you spoiling me?”
Elisia turned around, silhouetted in orange and gold through the kitchen window, “ Lets go out to lunch today. My treat.”
“Just need a lift someplace first is all.”
Jane sighed and nodded,” Sure thing. Where to?”
Elisia’s lips were cold as they brushed against Jane’s cheek, “ Thanks” she muttered, “Gonna get shower… then we’ll leave.” Without looking back she shut the door and the sound of water followed.
“Love you too…” Jane replied when she was finally alone.
Jane reached for the phone to return it to the charger noticing the papers Elisia left behind. Jane looked to the bathroom door and scanned set of highlighted words which proved too intimate for polite snooping.
“Ew.” She said, the phone beeping on in her hand. Before she even realized it her thumb keyed redial. Watching the door- she listened.
A woman’s voice cracked through the receiver, “ Dr. Moore’s office, please hold.”
The phone beeped off and Jane laughed.
“Gyno.” She shook, placing the phone back on the charger, “Picked up a little something have we Dear Elisia?”
Jane couldn’t hide a hysterical grin as she poured another cup
“Cunny bunny.” She laughed, heading to the balcony for a cigarette.
Elisia struggled with the GPS in the cramped interior of Jane’s car.
“This thing is hopeless.” she lamented.
“I’d never find my way if Jake and Helen hadn’t bought that for me.” Jane replied, drawing a smoke from her purse.
Elisia protested, “Can you wait until we get there? And it was cheaper than a plane ticket- that’s all.”
Jane shrugged, slipping the cigarette behind her ear, “Sure. And when are you going to get your license back?”
A detached voice told Jane to turn left in 10 yards,.
Elisia beamed, “I don’t need to drive in the city .”
“Oh, so then we must be going outside of the city?” Jane replied coyly.
She sniffed as Jane pulled from the parking lot, following raggedly inflected directions. Elisia receded to the corner of her seat, trying to find privacy. She sighed, watching a red and bloated spider eek over the wiper blades toward the review mirror. The street roared beneath her and she veiled her eyes losing herself in an obscure and lonely place, sinking into bottomless chasms and seas without shores.
It was welcome repose after last night.
The girl had been forgiving, but too drunk to understand anyway. She had thought it was all very adult the way teenagers do. And Elisia had made her feel very grown up- toppling like a mountain into her arms- a river running through her caves and woods. Murmuring calamitous as her tears spilled between the girl’s legs. Fighting furious impotent and mad before collapsing into shadowy dreams of angels ill.
She had woken to the sun pouring through the Philadelphia skyline from an unfamiliar angle and searched her backpack for a marker. Crawling on the bed she pulled the covers back, looking at the sweet young thing beneath them, drunk and dreaming, and wrote her number carefully on the girl’s naked breast.
Groaning, the girl rolled over- mumbling about the time. Elisia took two aspirin from her purse and laid them on the nightstand, “Early. Go back to bed. You’ll need these when you wake up.”
The girl had made no protest as Elisia snuck past her parents room and out the door..
She sighed, trying to forget the morning and opened her eyes to the bloated red bug.
“Oh fuck!” she shrieked, her fists snapping wildly at the windshield, “He’s inside!”
Tires squealed and the car shook, crossing three lanes into gravel.
Elisia continued to flail wild at the glass, wailing in terror.
Jane didn’t move, “ Elisia.”
“This fucker is on the inside!” She blubbered between the thud of fists on glass.
“Elisia.” Jane repeated sharply.
“He was crawling, he was outside- I saw his-” Something pulled against her fist mid thrust. She looked to see Jane’s fingers wrapped around her wrist.
“Elisia.” Jane said calmly, her face white, “ Look at me.”
Elisia shrunk back into her seat as Jane released her fist.
“…Look at me.”
She answered with a grim, “No.”
“There’s nothing there.”
“Then what were-”
A twisted voice told them to take the next exit.
“Where are we going?”
“Doctor’s.” She admitted, hiding in her jacket.
“Got any confessions to make?” Jane asked pathetically.
The drive continued- silent except for the halting voice of GPS directions. When the unit announced they had arrived at their destination Jane choked on her heart.
DR. RONALD MOORE M.D. BEHAVIORAL PSYCHOTHERAPIST
She looked at Elisia who was already half out the car.
“I’ll be quick.” she said before slamming the door.
“A… mi… ga…” Jane replied, the last syllable hanging on her lips, Elisia already out of sight.
Noontime sun hungover Philadelphia, casting a blinding glare on Elisia’s glasses as she left Dr. Moore’s office. Jane watched her, two round white circles coming towards the cramped compact car. She was reminded of Little Orphan Annie as her friend shuffled along.
Elisia took her glasses off as she flopped down in the seat, rubbing red puffy eyes. Her wet breath came in long deliberate gasps between shivers. She closed her arms around herself and took one final deep breath.
“So you promised lunch in return for this little journey?” Jane asked without making eye contact.
“Uh. Yeah. What are you in the mood for?” Elisia replied dryly.
“Hmm. Wanna try that sushi place in Center City?”
“That’s near the pharmacy. I have to fill a-”
“Great. I’ve had a craving. Lets go.”
“Ok.” Elisia said heavily.
* * *
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire;
Jane hid behind the same issue of PEOPLE magazine for the third time this spring. Bland lyricless music hummed softly, interrupted only by the receptionist’s loud page turning and the steady tap tap tap of Jane’s boot . With a heavy sigh she threw down the magazine and looked around the reception area- still the same tacky plastic plants, generic still lifes and sickening yellow paint on the walls. She figured it was appropriate, décor like this could drive anyone mad. Her gaze wandered roundwise until she couldn’t help but to look straight ahead- and was forced to offer a polite nod to the teenage girl and her mother. It was an uncomfortable nod, but not as uncomfortable as trying to ignore them. They weren’t unfamiliar, she had seen them every week, once a week, for the past 6 months. No one ever said anything- not even the mother to her daughter. In 6 months the three had exchanged as many words: Sorry, That’s and OK. All in the same day when Jane had bumped into the younger one.
Jane tried not to stare at the girl, instead sneaking guilty glances then and again. She thought there was an uneasy familiarity in her face- each week searching in the flutter of an eyelash for something remembered. As the months passed in frustration she realized it wasn’t the girl’s face that was familiar- it was how she made Jane act.
She remembered a shopping trip freshman year. It was an unremarkable trip until she went to pay- a beautiful teenage girl was behind the counter, bumbling and blushing. She was tiny, barely sixteen if that- but threateningly beautiful. Large eyes with lavender lids, pink bee stung lips and a trendy haircut. Jane remembered offering her a smile as they exchanged a few words. When the girl fumbled with the bag Jane had reached out to help, but something stopped her- something was off. The girl fell silent and lavender eyes fixed on the floor- her good hand shuffling items into the bag, the withered one dangling limp from her side. Jane had looked away, then past the girl, then at her- fumbling for a focal point to save them both the embarrassment. In the car she thought it was only natural to be curious, to be shocked- it was different after all. She had done the right thing- saved them both the embarrassment. She hadn’t stared, just looked- which was normal. As she keyed the ignition though, another thought struck her:
Why should the girl have been embarrassed?
That secret shame crept in whenever she looked at the young patient with her mother.
She heard her own mother’s voice remind her,“You shouldn’t stare.”
But the girl, sitting mute, staring at the floor, had all her fingers and toes. She had scars, no tumor. Not even a pimple. Yet the guilt was there each time Jane dared glance.
The receptionist turned up the music as a muffled cry turned everyone’s head. The pained wailing of a girl in a far off room drowned in light jazz. As uncomfortable as the waiting area was in silence it turned unbearable when you heard the patients crying- especially friends. Jane looked at her watch lamenting the time. Taking a pack of cigarettes from her purse she stood and aimed toward the door, content to wait outside. She was halted by a question.
“Can I bum one of those?”
The voice was young and familiar, Jane turned to see a girl grinning from the seat beside her mother.
“Uh. Sure.” Jane replied, deliberately casual.
“Thanks.” The girl rose from her seat and the icy glare of her mother followed both of them out the door.
“Can I get a light, too?” She asked sweet and playful.
“Yeah no problem.” Jane replied, sparking a flame..
“Thanks. My mom hates when I smoke- but I get nervous coming here sometimes.” The girl answered.
Jane looked past the girl at a bush in the distance, miming eye contact, thinking, “Just talk to her like anyone else.”
“I imagine so.” was all she could manage in a steady voice.
The girl beamed, “ So you wait for your friend every week?”
“Yeah.” Jane held back a glare.
“That’s nice of you. Most friends would be uncomfortable.”
Inhaling deeply, Jane stalled, “Uh. Its no big deal.”
The girl’s casual laughter puzzled Jane.
“So do you ever ask her what she talks about in there?”
“What?” Jane startled.
“When she’s done with Dr. Moore. Do you ask her what she talks about with him?”
“No. I… I mean it seems….” Jane said, trying to sound friendly.
“Its OK to ask, I think. My friends ask me at least. Never got mad- if I don’t want to tell them I simply don’t. Its natural to be curious.”
Jane said nothing, focused intently on her cigarette.
The girl continued undaunted, “ Wish I had a friend to drive me, instead of my mother you know?”
“Yeah?” Jane said, blowing smoke.
“Yeah. I mean my mom is pretty great- just when we come here she gets funny. Like she’s embarrassed. Won’t look at me or talk. Doesn’t make eye contact. Like she’s ignoring it.When we get home its like nothing ever happened.”
“Mm.” Jane replied, flicking her cigarette to the grass.
The girl turned towards the office, “ I’m Ashlee by the way.”
And they went inside.
When Jane passed through the door Elisia was already talking to the receptionist. Jane checked her watch- ten minutes early. Her friend exchanged some papers and waited patiently as the receptionist made a call. When Elisia was ready Jane saw her out, but not before sneaking one last look at Ashlee. She choked back embarrassment and left without a word.
Even piled upon each other in Jane’s car Elisia sat miles away. At once claustrophobic and isolated Jane reached over to her friend. The engine hummed and the radio cracked and Jane thought of saying something to her friend just inches away. Neither of them ever spoke coming from Dr. Moore’s- she might as well have been on the other side of the ocean on someone else’s shores.
Casual glances went unnoticed as Elisia slumped against the window, watching Philadelphia pass them by in apathy. She thought of Ashlee, looking over Elisia’s face- wondering if she looked hard enough she could see the what and the why. She couldn’t. Just her friend leaning bored against glass with a placid face which betrayed nothing. Jane questioned the “what” and “why” of their weekly trips out of the city. Until today she had been content to do her friend a favor. Elisia didn’t drive. Jane did. It was a simple enough situation and Elisia always bought lunch after.
The engine cut as Jane parked in front an outdoor cafe south of the City. Every week after Elisia was finished with Dr. Moore they spent a little time dispassionately catching up on each other’s lives. They saw less of each other living in the same apartment than they did living across town back home, but between different schools, jobs and lovers they could go days without seeing one another.
Normally by the time they were seated Jane had forgotten all about Dr. Moore’s office. Normally she’d start complaining about the decor, her boyfriends, her job, her life before they even looked at a menu. Today however, she was overcome with something unknown. Face to face over a wobbly square table she looked away, then past, then at her- fumbling for a focal point, as if the questions were written in her eyes. Elisia, for her part, gazed at the table ignoring the awkward stare.
“Please don’t freak out the waitress this time?” Jane whispered for the third time this month.
Elisia sneered, “You don’t have to always be like that you know.”
Jane didn’t look up as she studied the menu, “ I want to be able to come back here.”
She didn’t have to see her friend to know the spiteful look on her face- she could remember seeing it before.
They had gone out together just last night. Jane had even consented to a gay bar, for Elisia’s benefit. Being tall, beautiful and an artist made her an easy target every time they catered to Elisia’s taste- but it was only fare to give in once in a while. Jane sat quietly in the corner, nursing a drink as her friend made rounds. Jane toyed with her glass and considered the change in Elisia from the introverted bookworm she’d been in high school to the girl who was circling the bar kissing friends hello and laughing. She’d made a few friends at college and since coming out last summer had finally blossomed into a normal person.
She even looked fairly pretty in the bar light. Not as pretty as herself but a little bit of makeup and neon lights made her look like a catch. Jane crossed her legs and smiled- lifting her glass to Elisia who had caught the eye of a short haired girl with blockish glasses, “ ‘at a girl, Elisia.”
She basked in the warmth of her best friend’s happiness and Bacardi.
Only one drink in and tired of hiding in the corner alone Jane moved toward the bar- she’d given Elisia enough time to work the scene without anyone confusing the tall leggy artist for her date. She smiled inwardly as naked eyes followed her to the bar.
“Let them look.” she’d thought, “No need to be embarrassed.”
Familiar arms wrapped around her and warm lips brushed wet on her cheek.
“And this is Janey! My best friend. ” Elisia said to the girl hopping along behind her, adding, “You may look but not touch.”
Jane made rabbit ears over her head, winking to the couple as they joined her. Elisia looked to the bartender and held up three fingers and as many shots were served in turn. Jane thanked her with a serpentine sneer. Elisia mouthed “Just one” and rolled her eyes, her face scrunching into an insincere dismissive smile. Shaking her head, Jane took the shot and turned away- passing it to the blond with lovesick eyes to her right. Just one turned to just two, three, four… The abject look on Jane’s face was severe enough that everyone kept their distance- leaving her alone for the ensuing hours.
Her bad mood was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, miss?” the bartender said angrily.
“Yes?” Jane replied politely.
“You here with the girl in the green coat?”
She demanded Jane get her friend the hell out of the bar.
She found Elisia gesturing wildly to a group of nervous faces. Each person looking to the other in fear and disbelief. Jane crept up carefully, soon joining them in horror as she heard her friend’s
disjointed rambling- each sentence tumbling into the other, grammar breaking down, crashing into Jaberwock syntax.
When finally Jane laid her hands on Elisia’s shoulders and guided her gently away her friend was in tears. Elisia whispered earnestly,” An’ one time a little girl splits an chops the kindlin. An make fun’ of every garden toon. all her blood a kin does most things at a boy can’t do. They snatched her through our big tree, and shooked a goblin loose for me.”
“You’re just drunk. Shut the fuck up.” Jane said. Since then they hadn’t gone out together. Jane liked it that way.
Now neither bothered to open a menu or scan the wine list. The question hung over them, blacking out the sun. Thinking of Ashlee, Jane started.
“Say Elisia…What do you and Dr. Moore talk about?” her tone was loaded with accusation.
“Well… What do you think we talk about?” Elisia reflected.
Jane lied, “At first I thought it was about you coming out. But its been so long and you look so … serious after.”
Elisia nodded, balling torn bits of napkin in her fist.
Her friend continued, “ Its OK if you don’t want to tell me. I’m just curious, maybe a little worried. Its only natural..”
Elisia nodded again, “ You’re right- it is.”
Jane looked eager.
Elisia continued, “ I don’t mind that you asked- but I don’t know if you should hear it.”
Jane’s face fell in morose, “ I’m sorry I-”
“A place in me obscure and lonely- haunted by ill angels only.” Elisia said distantly.
“ I don’t understand.” Jane said.
Elisia picked up her knife with one hand, laying the other flat on the table. She let the blade dance lightly on her open wrist, “I could cut myself to the bone right now. Probably lose a lot of blood, maybe not make it to the hospital…”
Jane squirmed, reached out and stopped, started to speak and stopped and finally fell back to her chair, head down.
“…A lot of blood. But that is not as much you would lose having watched me die. Its scary what you can take from others at the cost of yourself, if you think about it.”
Jane’s peered from beneath her eyelashes at Elisia.
“I’m not sure I can take so much of you.” she said, laying the knife on the table.
“I don’t think…” Jane left the thought unfinished.
“I scared you.” Elisia said.
Elisia laughed piteously and took her glasses off, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
Jane shrunk and waited.
Elisia sighed, “ Raggedy Ann.”
The concern on Jane’s face was as transparent as the glass through which Elisia saw it.
“Last summer.” She started, “ When you drove us back to West Hartford. The first night- after mom and dad went to bed she was in my room, and asked me to come with her. She didn’t ask me actually. She kinda just motioned me to follow and said whispered my name. When I got to the hall she held my hand and lead me to the basement.”
Elisia paused, removing her glasses.
Jane’s blue eyes watered, unblinking.
Elisia continued, “Right. Took me downstairs. Lead me to some boxes in the corner. Didn’t say anything just opened a box and said ‘See?’ and then walked up stairs. Left me alone with it.”
Jane reached over and held Elisia’s hand but it was an empty motion, “What was inside?”
Jane stared cross at Elisia who whispered a cold rhyme, “An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin. An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin; An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there. She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care! An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide. They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side. An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about! An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you ef you don’t watch out…”
“I tell myself every day they aren’t real But I don’t think I believe that anymore.”
* * *
There the traveller meets aghast
Sheeted Memories of the past—
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by—
It had been a week since Elisia told her about the dolls and the violent things they say. About the medication she took to silence them. About how it didn’t work. About the spiders and the webs they spun between her legs. About the medication she took to kill them. About how it didn’t work. About the things she saw and the medication she took to blind herself to it all. Nothing worked.
It had been a week and they’d said exactly four words to each other. Let’s, Go, All and Right. Jane had spent the week avoiding her- which was easy since Elisia never left her room anymore anyway. But when she said “Lets go.” they left on another silent drive.
She had looked at Elisia, curled up against the window watching Philadelphia pass her by and this time she saw it. Her plane and bored face had the look of a doll- plastic eyes and sewn on grin. The same look as the teenage girl now sitting across from her. Jane tried to feel sympathy for either- but no warmth stirred in her heart.
When the music grew louder Jane sighed, “Ashlee.”
“Mm?” the girl responded.
“Smoke?” Jane asked.
The girl’s mother shot a dirty look, but it faded to a smile. Jane didn’t understand.
Ashlee lit her cigarette from Jane’s flame and breathed smoke into the space between them.
Jane stared off into the parking lot.
“You have a problem looking at me” Ashlee asked.
“Yes.” Jane admitted.
“Its because I’m sick.”
Jane closed her eyes and shook her head, though she whispered, “Yes.”
The girl moved carefully toward Jane, “ And that upsets you?”
Jane tilted her head toward Ashlee, eyes still closed, “I’m sorry.”
Without losing her smile Ashlee asked,” Does your friend upset you?”
Finally Jane looked up, wet sleepless eyes turned to the wall,“ She didn’t used to.”
“You just pretended there was nothing wrong.”
“And you asked her about it.”
“And something is wrong.”
Jane hissed, “She’s fucking crazy.”
“And I fucking hate her for it.”
“So why are you here?”
“So I won’t hate myself for it.”
“You don’t mean what you say.”
“You’re just scared.”
“I still like you.” Ashlee smiled.
She beamed.“You’re looking at me.”
“So what?” Jane said.
“You’re talking to me.”
“I talked to you last week.”
“But now you’re not just being polite.”
Jane lit another cigarette and stared off into the parking lot, “ Just leave me alone.”
Jane had smoked her way through half a pack when Elisia found her by the curb. She stood as Jane finished the last drags without a word. There was a coldness in her silence- a chill that permeated the air. Elisia inched with halting steps towards the car and let herself in. She watched Jane from the inside- hunched over her cigarette like some veiled ghoul. Even as the embers splashed against concrete Jane crouched stone-like and scowling.
“Fuck it.” Jane thought as she finally stood and started towards the car. The sun beat down on the windshield in which she saw her warped reflection squash and stretch. She couldn’t see Elisia through the glare until she was upon her. She stood looking down- Elisia looked so small inside. Jane could never get comfortable- her runner’s legs always reached too far.
“Lunch?” Elisia asked as Jane crammed herself in.
Jane shook her head and explained she had to pack for Cancun.
“Still have my ticket.” Elisia admitted.
Jane refused to look over and betray anything to Elisia.
“Got it when you invited me in Sept-” She broke, her button eyes glazed and red following a path along the windshield.
White knuckles gripped a flacking steering wheel. In her peripheral vision she could see- without looking it was clear and in her breast launched an unknown rage.
Elisia leaned forward in her seat with childlike fascination.
“Stop it…” Jane whispered.
“Stop. It.” She repeated.
Her friend’s fingers touched the glass and tracing a serpentine line.
The car jerked off the road, thrashing Elisia against the window- glass spider webbing from where her head made contact. Warm red syrup soaked through her hair and over her fingers as she screamed. Momentum tossed her like a rag doll and she braced for the crunch of steel and blunt smack of earth.
But it never came.
She opened her eyes and realized the car wasn’t movie- she was. Jane was on top of her beating her against the door and screaming.
“Stop it! Just fucking stop it already!” Her friend hissed.
“Wh-what?” Elisia managed.
She was answered with a smack to the face, “ Stop it!”
Finally Jane coiled back to her seat, eyes forward, “There’s nothing there. Stop looking. What the fuck is wrong with you?” She said coldly.
Elisia’s eyes pleaded.
“I’m done Elisia. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand you.”
“I can’t help it.” She whimpered.
“I don’t care. You’re pathetic. Scraping at the windshield some degenerate. We were friends in high school but that was then. You’re creepy. You’re ugly.”
“Jane can we talk-”
“No. Get out.”
“What here?” she gestured to the open highway with blood smeared fingers
“Out of my car. Out of the apartment. Out of my life. I’m leaving for the airport tonight. Don’t be here when I come back.”
The car door opened and she was gone.
Jane lit a cigarette as she walked into the apartment. It was her apartment now, she could smoke wherever she wanted- and did, walking around making ashtrays of coffee cups, christening her new freedom. A satisfied smile skewed her face. Snuffing the cigarette she sighed relief and thought of Cancun.
She began to pack in the radiance of afternoon sun. As the baggage piled up yellow hues dimmed to orange and faded to black. Streetlights cast dim shadows on the walls of what had once been and Jane enjoyed gleeful thoughts of the vacation to come.
The clock blinked a digital midnight and she stepped out of her room to phone a cab.
Elisia’s room faced Jane’s and she looked at it with a curiously.
Before she realized it she’d twisted the knob and cracked open the door. She was confronted with the sterile smell of rubbing alcohol in stagnant air. Peering in she saw the glint of a button eye under yarn spun hair on a rag doll.
“Sicko.” She muttered, shutting the door.
She proceeded to the kitchen and called a cab.
At twelve thirty the phone rang.
“Cab’s here.” She thought.
When she answered a familiar voice cut through static, “Jane? Is that you?”
“Oh. Hi Helen. Elisia’s not here. Actually she-”
“I know. Jane. There’s been an accident. Elisia’s in Roxborough Hospital. Jake and I are on our way down right now but we need you to stay with her-”
“I’ve got a plane to catch.” Jane hung up the phone without remorse, checked her reflection in the darkened window and went downstairs to wait for her cab.
* * *
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.
The hospital’s floor was the same polished marble she’d just seen at the airport. Twelve hours and two layovers ago she’d walked up to a shiny counter and given her name. An irritated brunette in tweed had helped her exchange her Thursday return ticket for the next flight to Philadelphia. Her sneakers squeaked under the weight of two duffel bags still slung over her shoulders and she hesitantly approached the receptionist.
“Morgendorffer, Elisia.” she said plainly, taking in the sterile décor.
“I’m sorry miss. Visiting hours are over, but…”
Jane looked up to see a blond with lovestruck eyes.
“…I could sneak you in.” She whispered with a wink.
The young blond gave her a room number and floor on the condition that Jane would stop by the desk on her way out. Nodding helplessly Jane accepted the favor and started towards the elevator. Every button glinted in the bright florescent lighting. Every silver wall gleamed. A soulless sterility engulfed everything she passed in the Hospital and Jane couldn’t help but suspect that it had more to do with appearances than health standards. People felt safe in polished rooms, the illusion of it all sickened her as she caught her reflection in the mirror like silver elevator walls. A quiet hum and the pull of gravity carried her to the fifth floor as she tried to ignore lyricless jazz pumping through the invisible speakers.
This time yesterday she had been sunning on the beach in Mexico- licking the sweet remembrance of Sangria from her lips. The ocean shimmered with undulating reflections of an unobstructed afternoon sun and Jane looked through darkened glasses at the horizon as it stretched out to infinity. Her life and problems couldn’t be farther away. She took a sip of her drink, chunks of fruit brushing against her lips, and watched the boys stroll by, each one turning their head at the tall leggy girl laying on her stomach in the sand, her top folded neatly at her feat.
An accomplished smirk played on her lips as a group of awestruck twenty somethings, men and women, whispered their way by. She had even lifted her glasses and winked them on. Everywhere there were beautiful people. Everyone tan. Everyone toned. Everyone attractive. No one was serious. With the exception of boys and girls who drank too much and forgot themselves, no one cried and there wasn’t a darkness in anyone she saw.
Jane ran her toes through the sand and laughed to herself, “What have I been doing to myself all these years?”
She thought of Philadelphia and the ugliness that dwell there. The boxy landscape and filthy streets.
She looked around, at beauty and form of Cancun. Even the curve of the beach seemed as if brushed by an artist of her caliber.
She thought of Elisia, the short and ugly girl who brayed nonsense and clawed at spiders.
She looked around, here no one had serious conversations. Here no one judged you by anything than you’re beauty. And Jane was beautiful.
“I deserve this.” she said to herself, taking another sip of Sangria and turning over, naked to the sun.
She took her glasses off and sighed, closing her eyes and basking in the warmth of day.
Reverie was interrupted by the ring of a cellphone she’d promised herself she wouldn’t bring. The name on the caller ID reminded her why she’d promised herself she wouldn’t bring it. She let it fall silent in her palm until a familiar tone announced she had one voice mail. She grunted, and before she realized it, dialed voice mail. She brushed errant grains of and from her shoulder as she listened lackluster to the message Helen Morgendorffer had left.
And fifteen hours later she was here- In the hospital elevator, surrounded by her reflection on every side. She looked at herself, parted by the seem of metal doors, and saw no beauty in her face. No depth in her eyes, just effegy. When finally she couldn’t bear the sight any longer the elevator toned and the doors parted, replacing her visage with that of a woman who looked much like her friend. Elisia’s despondent mother stood at the door on the 5th floor.
“Oh.” She said, “ I didn’t think you’d come.”
“Neither did I.” Jane said quietly, “Uh. How is she?”
“She’s alive- that’s all that matters to us right now.”
Jane shivered, “…So then.”
“Its bad Jane. She’s not dealing with it well at all. But how could she?”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re keeping her sedated now. But she’s tried to pull out her ventilator twice already. It took two hours to convince her to take morphine. She wants to die. I’m scared Jane.”
“She doesn’t think anyone will love her. Says now everyone can see how ugly you knew she was… “ Helen didn’t have the energy to drive the point home.
“Surprised you came, Jane.”
“So she can talk then?”
“She’s said a few words, still sharp as ever. But mostly writing things down with her good hand.”
Jane choked back her heart at the phrase, “Good hand.”
Helen dug in her pocket and held something out to Jane, looking up with dead eyes. She’d cried the life from them over the past two days.
Jane looked down to see a small bronze key in aged fingers.
“She said you wanted this back.”
The shame coursing through Jane brought tears to her eyes as she cradled Helen’s outstretched hand, closing it in a fist over the key, “I should never have said that, Helen.”
Elisia’s mother nodded as Jane held her hand, asking, “Jane. Can I trust her with you?”
The gravity of those words cut to the heart of Jane’s guilt. She wanted to run back to Cancun. Hide on the beach, thousands of miles from Helen and the truths she was making her face. But that was impossible now.
“Please.” She whimpered, closing her eyes on the tears.
Helen wrapped her arms around Jane briefly, holding her like a daughter, her breath quivering.
“Jake’s waiting in the car. We’re staying at a hotel until she’s released. Could be a few weeks. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She said like a warning and then passed quietly into the elevator. Leaving Jane alone.
Open doors lined either side of the hallway as she walked towards Elisia’s room. She thought of the patients behind each one, the dying and the sick, all around her. She wondered how they looked, if you could see the disease in their eyes, if you their scars were hidden under bandages or in open view. The thoughts reminded her of what she’d been trying to ignore since she decided to return. Remembering the voice mail she reminded herself that there would be no guessing as to what was wrong with her friend. You could see it in the absence of limbs, skin and teeth.
Whatever she’d see- she knew she didn’t want to see it- and that made her afraid. Elisia had already taken her vanity and pride; seeing her, abject and limbless might take the last vice she clung to. Whatever was behind the door she stood at would strip her of all defenses, leaving only naked intimacy. But that was she’d come.
The door swung open effortlessly and Elisia lay unobscured by the myriad of machinery caring for her. Drugs dripped for the pain. Screens monitored her heart. Wires alerted nurses of stroke. Tubes kept her sedated. Jane couldn’t imagine what the rest of the equipment did- but it towered over her, an electric gargoyle striking fear into the weak. And Jane felt weak.
She stepped closer to see tubes taped to either side of her bruised cheeks, running into her nose and down her throat. Needles pierced her forarms and the back of her wrists, strange bags hanging from the punctures. An elaborate halo framed her face which jutted out awkwardly, like a person taking their dying breath. A permanent look of fear fixed in Elisia’s eyes.
“Amiga.” Jane whispered.
Elisia’s hand twitched toward Jane- two fingers beckoning her friend closer, bandages covering where the three others had been.
Jane inched forward, rousing Elisia who opened her mouth to a toothless grin- her gums purple, black and swollen. The smile, demented and detached, stopped Jane who could now see what remained of the rest of her. The hospital blankets bunched up over her chest and stomach, but falling flat on the bed just past the hips. She couldn’t believe it was real. But this was why she’d come.
Elisia’s good hand pulled the tubes from her lips and she wheezed Jane’s name.
“Yeah.” Jane said awkwardly..
A look of reverie overtook Elisia’s scarred face. Even though the bandages Jane could see three day’s tension wash away.
“I didn’t think you’d want to see me.”
Elisia had to pause ever few seconds while machines filled her lung with air.
“…Of course… I wanted to… see you… didn’t think… you’d see me.”
Tears smeared across Jane’s fingertips as she wiped them from her face.
“I’m sorry for what I said. I didn’t mean it.”
“…Yes… You did… Its all… right… to hate me.”
“But I didn’t!” Jane protested, “At least.. not how you think.”
“You… left.. me…”
Jane wrapped her finger’s around the two remaining on Elisia’s hand, “Do you remember what you said to me once… about what you take from other’s at the cost of yourself?”
Elisia made no reply.
“You’ve lost a lot. And taken my selfishness. I want to give twice as much as what life took from you, what I took from you. I just need your permission…”
Jane raised Elisia’s mangled hand to her face, nuzzling it tenderly, “ To love you again. To be your friend.”
Tears spilled over Elisia’s cheek, soaking into bandages, “You can… like this?”
“Ugly… deformed…” Her voice cracked on each syllable as she caved in on herself.
Jane leaned down and brushed her lips over Elisia’s, “There’s enough beauty in you for both of us, Amiga.”