Melissa comes home
with fingers broken, hair gummy with clay dirt, crushed worms,
mulch. Bramble-slashed, root-tripped, both knees skinned, ankles
turned—nights afterward, muscle memory jars her awake: legs
pumping, lungs heaving, hands crabbed to claws, head turned to
They had said: touch
nothing here. The apples, redder than your shoes—the berries
dark as drowning—eat of them and they will eat of you, as sure
as teeth, as hungry for your heart as flame for tinder, and
you'll waste for want of them, your heart as hungry for them as
tinder for a flame.
So she'd been
warned. She didn't heed. Despite or because of that, they'd let
her go. Turned her out for the game of it, like coursing. She
would run herself to ground.
Five days home, her
mother starts to chide. You have to eat, she says. Again she
says, It's been two weeks. Where have you been?
Hands clumsy with
the bandaging, Melissa tries. Toast and eggs, soup and
sandwiches, ice cream. It chokes her like a collop of wet
sponge. Retching, she dashes down the hall.
Her mother calls out
after her, Is this about some boy?
Her mother drives
her to the hospital. She's clucked at, administered a pregnancy
test, hooked up to a saline drip, sent home. While she takes a
bath, her mother's in the kitchen, baking mocha brownies with a
soft fierce concentration: Melissa's favorite, before. She
thinks to write Welcome Home on top with icing, then thinks
wrong with her, the nurse had said. These things do tend to
pass. Don't draw attention to it. Just—keep an eye on her. Still
not keeping food down in a week? Bring her back in.
Stepping out into
her robe, Melissa's startled at the sharp wings of her ribs and
hipbones, the sudden rosary the light tells on her spine. The
brownies cloy like carrion, crumble in her throat like char.
office looks like her grandmother's living room. The chairs are
pretty much the same, as is the gradient of light. Respectively:
plush corduroy, repressive.
You aren't eating?
says the therapist.
Can't, says Melissa.
Would you like to
talk about it?
opens and the memories come: lights flickering through trees;
the smell of ozone and wet greenery; a thread of music, slick
and itchy, that fishhooked her and reeled her in and through —
Better you didn't
let me leave at all, she thinks, than leave like this.
fingers steeple like a cartoon mastermind's. The lilies on her
desk are fake.
Her suitcase won't
hold much. Toothbrush, hairbrush, mascara, deodorant, nightgown,
change of clothes. She muscles that heap down, then squeezes in
a sketchbook, charcoals. Two or three novels. A half-read
Her mother's leaning
in the doorway. This isn't a punishment, she says. It's best for
you. If you won't eat—
round, dizzies. Yells, to keep in focus, keep from blacking out:
The room starts
slipping anyway. Her mother snaps: Believe it or not, I was
Melissa comes to on
the floor, her mother tipping sips of orange juice down her
throat. It draws a cold line down the length of her, then comes
up warmer, acid. Melissa shuts her eyes.
Her room isn't like
a hospital room, not quite. There's some effort toward being
welcoming, upbeat: bright walls, plump blankets, a potted
hyacinth. Out the window, May grass verges on a distant treeline.
Amid dandelion constellations, the browsing trapezoids of deer.
The window's painted shut.
Melissa makes the
rounds. The shower heats up fast; the bed is firm. In the closet
is a cabinet with snacks. She manages a saltine before she
starts to gag. Crossing back to the window, she sets her jaw,
glares out toward the trees. Swallows hard and holds her breath.
Her splinted fingers clench on nothing. Flip a coin, she thinks.
And it stays down.
She keeps to herself
at group. The other girls are different. She is the only one
among them unafraid of the multivitamins, the protein drinks,
the peanut butter crackers. They have tricks, though, for the
weekly weighings, which she learns. Where to hide the rolls of
quarters. How to hold your breath. It's not enough. She weighs
one-oh-seven, one-oh-five, one-oh-four, one-oh-four, one hundred
dead. Her belt's run out of holes. Her teeth feel strange. The
insides of her cheeks peel off like molting skins. The eyes in
her mirror are the eyes of one who wanders outside looking in.
Eventually they find
out she's been burying her zinc pills in the hyacinth. Nurses
hold her down, come at her with a cup of chocolate milk. It
tastes like nails, coins, keys. Dry heaves jackknife her around
herself. She's too exhausted to fight, too dehydrated to cry.
Waking, there's a
tight pain in her elbow-crook. The IV crouches on her like a
feeding spider, languid and self-satisfied. She pulls it out.
There's blood. They gauze her up and stick the IV in the other
arm. She pretends to sleep. Then she does sleep.
She wakes. A smell
has hauled her headlong from some dream. Lush and blowsy, this
smell, black and green. Her eyes prickle. Her skin. Her blood
stabs her with some memory— blind longing grapples, roots,
metastasizes—gone. Something in the air, the light? She pulls up
the sheet and sniffs its edge. Not that.
Minding the IV, she
sits. Her vision swims and clears. Movement snags her eye. She
turns. The rose-print curtain bellies, calms. High wind rushes
in the distant trees. Snowflakes—no, chips of white paint—eddy
on the floor. She stands.
The window is open.
The moon is very bright.
About the Author: