The young nurse, in seafoam green, asks me to rate my pain on a scale from 1 to 10. “Seven?” I say. I want to leave room to change my mind. “Six? Eight? Nine”
She gives me ice and I hold it. I fall asleep in the cool dark and wake to the sound of instruments being placed on a metal tray.
Once I watched the sun go down over the wide midwestern plains, a great red disc sinking into brown earth as though it were setting on the sea.
But we are not talking about the wide midwestern plains.
When I emerge from the squat brick building, my legs are sore and my head throbs. An irregular pulsing of light.
Later, on my porch steps, I sit dizzy with pain and shake the tiny pills loose from their amber vial.
The 87 bus goes by, half-full. Then, a man on a motorized chair. He is wearing a cap. A man walks his dog. The dog is black and brown. A child speeds past on his bicycle. A white panel van.
I spend a night thrashing alone in my bed. I spend a morning weeping until I have changed the texture of my skin. I spend days wandering down the back streets and the service roads of this city. It kills the time. Strafes it.
“Every act of love is an act of violence,” he said and I shook my head and raised my hand to his chest. He was in the habit of making pronouncements. He fingered the hem of my shirt.
He pulled the blankets up over us and we remained there beneath them until it became difficult to breathe. I started to uncover us but he said no. “Wait until you cannot bear it.” The thick air and our hot thick breath. The moisture from our mouths.
He took a bit of skin above my wrist between his fingers and pinched until I cried out. He worked his way up my arm, across my chest and then down. He left a trail of tiny bruises that he traced with his finger. “Look at you,” he said when we emerged from beneath the covers. “Look at you look look look”
“Eventually,” he said, we give everything up. He was wrapping a silk scarf around my wrists. “Everything we think we love. We’ll give this up too, he said. You’ll see.”
Once we passed a cruise ship anchored off a dreary beach. Once we cut a long winding route through the park, the mist hanging on the wet grass, the early light filtered through the dying trees.
Once we held our hands up in the night to see the silver moon through the spaces between our fingers.
A year went by. Then another. And another.
Everything decays. Everything dies. All that we love passes through our hands, though we cup them, though we raise them to be blessed.
Even the will to live itself wanes over time.
Every autumn, he threw the year’s manuscripts on the fire and when he was done, weightless flakes of soot ash like scraps of black silk would drift.
In the evenings, a brass band in the distance played a Tannhauser overture as darkness settled on the distant sea.
From the porch steps: The 87 bus again nearly empty. This time, blue sky and high clouds scudding in the wind. This time, a different man, a different dog. This time, the same amber vial, the same tiny pills bright white like stars I have caught in my hand.
To seafoam green, I say, “Six. Maybe five.” I want to be showing progress. “Is it five or six?” she asks. She has grown impatient with my indecision.
“There are no instruments to measure this,” I offer in response, but she says nothing back.
Or perhaps I do not say it aloud. Perhaps I nod mutely when I am asked.
Once we rode the 87 bus down past the river that after rains, grew frothy and swift. Once we strolled the esplanade in winter. “There are only two seasons”, he said: “white winter, green winter.”
Once he held his head to my chest and counted my heartbeats aloud.
“Six, seven, eight Look at you look look”
Mary-Kim Arnold is a writer living in Rhode Island. A Korean-American adoptee, she was born in Seoul and grew up in Bronxville, New York. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University. She lives with her family in a restored Victorian home in Pawtucket and tries to keep up with her garden. She maintains a personal blog at: http://mkimarnold.tumblr.com and spends too much time on twitter: @mkimarnold.