Last she heard, someone would be coming for her any minute. To her. She waits beautifully, thinks of what she’ll say when they arrive. Every pair of footsteps reminds her of hope she promised not to feel, but the prayer in her breath betrays her again. Heart skitter of longing as the curtain sways with the momentum of passersby. Mouth so dry every vessel in her body pulls at her, begging for relief.
There is a sink opposite the bed in this three curtained room drawing her in. Mouth so dry she can taste herself, can taste him. Mind skids to a halt, suppressing the feelings trying to surface. Held under, like a beach ball trying to float. She leaves her body to keep it down, mind poised above. Patient. Corners of the tongue feel sharp as knives, edges softening as she licks her lips. The small gesture brings her back into the room.
This thirst keeps her here, breathing. Mind cycling again and again, ball turning over under her weight. A body parched and cracked as dry earth, surrounded by murky water. Taste surfacing, becoming too much. Finds herself nowhere. Tongue sharp, lick, brought back. Repeat.
In the cloth room next door it sounds as if a woman is screaming with a hand over her mouth, grunting. Heart rate rise, reminder evokes a gag. Back to the ceiling with her.
This girl next door has animal noises stuck in her throat, tries to speak but cannot be understood. She learns through muffled conversation that the girl’s name is Tatiana. Hears the nervous laughter of her mother, trying to lighten her daughter’s heavy heart. True worry in her voice, spliced with guilt. The daughter is failing to thrive. Failing to talk, to eat.
She has lost 20 pounds this week, skinny wrist bone girl. Her mother asks all the wrong questions, has all the wrong answers for her little girl. Gives these answers years too late, should have seen the danger coming. Words fall awkwardly from her mouth trying to soothe but rest on the surface, unable to address the heart of her. She should be in bed stroking her daughter’s hair, holding her close.
Words go nowhere.
Mouth so dry. It has been hours since the promise of care. Thinks of the intake nurse, of how it didn’t even register as pain, still hasn’t. Numb. How her body is always a scale, tipping. “Rate your pain from 1-10.”
She can feel how swollen her body is, but cannot feel the break in the bones. Only her thirsty throat. Tries to ignore the damp heavy feeling flooding her every place else. Swamp of womb infiltrates the nervous system, spreading faster than thought. Where the body came from, what the body deserves. Sinking. She was told she can’t drink anything until the exam has been complete. “We don’t want you to drain any evidence down.”
How quickly the body becomes evidence, how quickly what it carries. She wants to spit what is not hers out before it is absorbed into her bloodstream, becomes a part of her. She asked for an example of what a 10 is. Nurse looked at her impatiently: “I just have to put something down.”
She gives them a 3, wonders what weight this carries. Wonders if this slowed the process down. How much weight does each hurt carry? Last summer she broke her wrist and knows this hurts less though it is damaging her up more. Knows the numbness has to weigh more than the broken ankle and scratches she carries now. She’s had to give so many numbers in this life of chronic pain. What does each hurt weigh and at what cost? Does 5 mean balance? Thirst bigger than the pain, it cannot be measured. Pain is the only anchor to her body, it keeps her sane.
Footsteps, and pass. Damp, recede.
She lies down on the cold checkered floor. Prays for the pain to become too much to bear. Waits to notice herself. Prays to lose herself like the girl next door, lose self lose name lose voice. For only laughter to be left. She waits to be dropped back down into her body. To be carried by her bloodstream, for the memory to be washed away. It is 2 am and no one has come. Dull thud at the base of her skull. No one is coming. Don’t think of where you have been. She tries to forget being forgotten.
She hears laughter from the room beside her and laughs back. She wants to be a part of something. Pleasure registers now, pleasure of being right. She knew no one would come and they didn’t. Twisted satisfaction, pride standing tall. The nurses tired quickly of her company, dark reminder of cruelty that she is. How predictable. How predictable the hope she would for once be proved wrong. Proved worthy.
They insert a feeding tube to help the wasting girl. Taking child, taking throat, taking voice. The only thing left of her; her mother, her body, brain, heart. Her throat issues softer sounds, almost purring now. Her mother strokes her hair, “That’s right. That’s right.” As if anything about this is right. As if it is right that her muted voice implies consent.
Tatiana, all she is lacking. Named bipolar at age 13 after being beaten, named brain dead at 16 after driving drunk. Girl is an empty box. Girl is screaming, tuck and thrust. Girl wants no more, left with only resistance. “Hush now, calm back down,” her mother commands her, suggesting she was once less trouble. This girl a gift, girl left, girl leaving.
She keeps hearing things she shouldn’t be hearing. She is pretending she is not there.
“The nurse should be in with you in a minute.” But they’ve said this before. No comment to her body on the dirty ground, no pause to see if the words have been understood. Bones so dry they must be bleached white by now. Opens mouth to let out the tightness in her throat, only rust remains. Squeaky piping. No animal left in her. There are many pathways to this place, she knows. Pain is only one of them.
The hospital ceiling dances in patterns when she looks at it for long enough. Ragdoll on the floor, cold as ice. This place a doorless cage, extended pause. She is the scream caught in the muted girl, the dance in the paralyzed. She is a lack of sound, cold as tile. The girl next door so explicitly her inverse they could be two sides of the same tarnished coin.
She picks at the white wristband on her arm, feels trapped by it. She could get up and leave, she could place her bare feet on the floor beneath her and walk out. Laying here, she is not convinced the world could catch her if she falls. There is nowhere to go, and yet she is sinking. She imagines her body as a weed, growing between the cracks. Parched. The thirsty plant emits a sound so high in pitch the human ear cannot hear it. She wonders now if the same is true for a body, if there are ears to hear this silent scream. Or perhaps something deeper than the eardrum. A rumble in the chest of things, felt in the sternum of every one that passes her by.
The nurse comes in at last and asks unthinkable things of her. Clippings of hair and nails, swabbing every entry place. Every opening, the boundary which is not, between the world and her skin; the boundary she feels nowhere. Skin, the vaguest barrier.
The longer she doesn’t speak the more weight lies on what she will say. Voice box dry and splintering, she stays silent.
It is 4 am when all is said and done. She is discharged to go home. She is offered water and refuses it. Thirst becomes a small price for herself.
Cosi Nayovitz is a writer, massage therapist and trauma sensitive yoga instructor based in North Carolina. She has a degree in literature and serves as Flash Fiction Editor at Hematopoiesis Press.