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Mary Lukasiewicz, LISP 2nd Half 2021 Short Story Finalist

LISP 2nd Half 2021 Short Story Finalist 'Vibrant' Mary Lukasiewicz



VIBRANT


I thought it would be colder. Though I laid naked on the table, I didn't feel exposed. The stone was hard against my back and the rhythmic 'ping' of the IV drip tickled my left ear. I tried to adjust the bag so I couldn’t hear the drip, but my hands were so stiff and curled I could barely move them without excruciating pain. So I laid back and surrendered to the room. Usually these places are cold and noisy, though admittedly this was...different. It was still sterile, yes. There were no cartoonish posters of anatomy illustrating the superficial and deep musculature of the human form, or garish plastic models of the uterus, complete with fetus. No cheerful pictures of flowers drawn by local school children or tacky curtains with patterns designed to camouflage anything they come in contact with. It was a little odd, and the ceilings were impossibly high, and how was everything so pristinely white? But it was oddly serene.

You wouldn't leave me alone. I didn't ask for you to make a Londoner out of this homesick American girl. But you dragged me from end to end and top to bottom of this magical city and made me fall in love with it. With you. Cracking my world so wide open that the small life I’d led before was no longer tolerable. But now you're gone, and those treasured moments, vast and infinite, remain just out of reach. Everywhere I go, I see the echoes of our past selves laughing, cuddling. Just continuing on where we left off.

I felt so nervous laying there. Ok, this seems a bit extreme, I thought, but I didn't know what else to try. I didn’t even believe in this type of thing, but someone had suggested it and I figured, what the hell. I didn't tell anyone, though, they would have thought I was desperate. Maybe I was. No, I definitely was. I would have done anything to shake you. I must be crazy, played on a loop in my mind, otherwise I would have healed by now. Normal people get past things. Normal people move forward.

Just beyond the colossal arched windows, the sky threatened to storm. Surely it was the drugs but I swore I could see lightning being forged in the fluffy, angry centers of the clouds. Inside, soft light seemed to emanate from the strangest places --- in the cracks between tiles, or between window panes, following my eyes as they searched around the room, so wherever I looked was bathed in a warm glow. Even the surgical instruments were strange and beautiful. Countless silvery curiosities whose use was entirely foreign, were lined up delicately on shining trays that appeared to be suspended in air.

My whole body hurt, but there were no cuts or bruises on my skin to betray the deep wounds left beneath: the unceasing aching in my chest, the vacuous pit in my stomach that stretched clear down to the bottom of my pelvis, the shredded vocal chords and shriveled eyes stripped of all their moisture. And of course, my damn hands. That made me even more insane. When someone breaks a leg there is indisputable evidence of the damage. But I looked fine from the outside.

The soft click of a door catch brought me back into the room as the Doctor finally made her entrance. Her flowing jet black hair with white wisps floated around her as if she was underwater. Electric blue dots ran from her hairline down to the space between her eyes, and her impossibly white coat was somehow both flowing and crisp. She didn't seem to be governed by the same laws of gravity as I was. A light even shone from behind the black lines that spelled out 'Celia' on her name tag. What the hell have I gotten myself into? I thought in a panic.

Beautifully ornate tattoos decorated her collar bone; a scorpion on the left side and a serpent on the right. Symbolizing death and rebirth, maybe? That's a tad on the nose, I thought. No sooner than the thought ran through my head, she smiled wryly. Could she hear my thoughts?

As she walked around the table and took her place by my side, she curiously scanned me up and down. The sparkles in her eyes danced, forming constellations in her inky pupils. For the first time that afternoon I actually felt naked.

And as if on cue, the trays of instruments shifted into perfect position at her fingertips, and a warmth fell over me. I felt myself sinking down. I tried to fight it -- I thought about my grocery list, about how I could redecorate the flat. One, two, three, four, seven, nine ten, I counted. I clung onto the table. This can’t be real! I don't know if it was minutes or seconds, but suddenly I was out, unsure if I was conscious or dreaming. I took a seat at the head of the table, staring down at my own body. Celia looked at my second self and gave a little nod as if to say, shall we begin?

She took a dainty silver scalpel in each hand, leaned back over the body on the table and began to open it up, as I looked on in awe and confusion and terror. From the top of my body’s throat down between my breasts, through my torso, down both legs and both arms she went as if unzipping a zipper. As she travelled across my body, dark ghost-like images began to pour out and swirl around the room. I saw my whole life with you, tangled up and rendered in heavy black smoke. No sooner than she reached the inside of each ankle, the images dissipated like ink in water, forming a dark fog that sucked the light out of the room. I walked over to my body and gazed at my insides, dull and grey. Black smoke continued to seep out.

What a thing to have seen my own lungs as they struggle to fill and deflate. To have watched my own heart beating, nestled in its protective cage. To have unequivocally noticed that, as I had suspected all along, it was covered in deep gashes. Oh my god, I’m not crazy!! I thought as I felt the sting in my eyes and the heat on my cheeks when the tears began to stream. But when I brought my hand up to wipe them, my face was dry. Instead, I reached out to the physical form on the table and wiped the glistening tears off of my own real cheeks. I took a step back and let Celia take her place at the table once again.

A soft light floated to her aide and she began to study the work ahead of her. The first thing she decided to address was my spine, which seemed to be a main source of the black fog. Reaching her hands into my body cavity, she carefully removed my stomach and intestines and placed them lovingly to the side. She touched each vertebrae gently with her fingertips, and I watched as the whole column curled into a C. The fog swirled around, eventually forming into shapes, then into a scene — my memory, playing out as if it were a television show.

It is just two weeks ago. I am curled in a ball, the tiny flat I now occupy a disaster around me. Not our home, just a place to regroup. I silence phone call after phone call. Finally, dear Lisa comes through the door. She is my emergency contact now. She has a key. Lisa makes tea and sits with me as I lay. But eventually she has to get back to her own life. She gives my hand a squeeze and goes back out into the world. Day turns to night and back to day. I am unmoved.

As I watched the past unfold, Celia continued her work. Once she removed my spine from the confines of my body, it curled even more dramatically. AH! I shout, feeling it pull through the center of my second self. Although I was still upright, I felt hollow. She carefully oiled and articulated the joints, until she could coax the spine back to its natural shape. Once it was refitted in my body, the memory that had played out so clearly in front of me completely evaporated. Again, it must have been the drugs, but the heavy fog seemed to lift slightly in the room. And did some slight color return to my body? Did I feel a little......better? Celia followed the fog down my skeleton. Just as easily as one removes a coat, she peeled the skin off of my left shoulder and pulled it down to the elbow. There was a nice sized chip out of the bone. The radius or ulna? You used to make fun of me for always getting them backward. Mr. EMT. Once again, the fog swirled around and congealed into the form of another memory –

A year ago. A day that has been stalking my subconscious. I walk up the stairs to our flat, pulling out the keys three steps from the top for the thousandth time. But this time, there is a paper taped to the door. An eviction notice. I feel the cold of the wood as I press my head against the door.

Sometime later I stand in the middle of the living room, exhausted and surrounded by boxes. Almost everything is packed, but I don’t had the heart to pack up your Common People shirt yet. The one you got after that Jarvis concert on Halloween, to take the piss. I’m not like the girl in the song, you twat. I don't pretend I never went to school. It still smells like you and I put it on. I stare at that damn empty hospital bed. The last big thing to deal with. Determined to remove it myself, I push with all my might to get it to the top of the stairs. But as predicted, 117lbs cannot tame 170lbs and we go tumbling downward together, a tangle of limbs and tubes. My left arm gets wedged in between it and the wall and I howl in pain and defeat.

Back in reality (was this reality?) the Good Doctor handily moved the muscles aside to reveal the whole of the bone. She took a cement-like paste and filled in the chip. The muscles returned to position but they flexed in exertion. She brushed and kneaded them until they relaxed and gingerly refitted my arm into my skin. On the way up, her hand accidentally grazed the tattoo that you gave me on my 30th birthday. Suddenly, a pain and an abrupt flash in the smoke –

Swollen face, empty bottle of wine. That photo of you and I wet and freezing, smiling ear to ear, crumpled on the table. I scratch at the tattoo until it is red and bleeding. It hurts more to look at the tattoo than it does to obliterate it.

Celia moved her hand away quickly. Did she feel the same electric shock? Maybe this isn’t as exact as I thought. She gazed at the tattoo, dull from age and wear, and grabbed another tool. She sharpened up the black lines of the image, and the black air around it dissolved along with the pang in my ribs. She next turned her attention to the Rorschach shaped brand seeping dark fog from my left hand.

I see myself walk down the Golden Jubilee bridge. It is so damn cold. The wet kind of cold that goes into your bones no matter how thick your coat. I pull my clutched left hand out of my pocket and let a handful of ashes go into the wind. The air almost sparkles.

Celia painted over the palm with a silvery salve. It caused a reaction with where you had laid in my hand, the abstract pattern briefly glimmering and then sinking back into the skin, now an even tone once again. She took a moment to catch her breath, and I could tell she was getting tired. We had been at this for a while by now. Focusing back on my open body, she held her magical hands over my eyes and throat. And here came the part I most dreaded reliving. I wanted to give up, run out of that damn room. I couldn’t face it again. But Celia paused, looked right at me and took a deep breath. Oh fine. I watched that damn smoke curl and materialize into my worst memory.

I lay beside you in that wretched hospital bed in the living room, the one I could not tackle, all four of our hands clasped. I don't know why I always found that so romantic, the way you would hold both of my hands. But unlike every morning before, you did not open your eyes to greet me, take out your earplugs then kiss the top of my head. Today is the end of our story. You lie there next to me, still and lifeless. As I unwind one hand from yours, I gently close those sparkling green eyes and kiss the top of your head.

My eyes burned and I wanted to throw up. But nothing came except dry heaves. Celia looked through back through my insides, delicately moving the organs around until she came to my lungs, which repeated their frantic and grieving contractions. After removing them from my chest, she used an ornate silver bellow to blow in and out, until a normal rhythm was restored. Once placed safely back in my chest, they regained some of their color, no longer mired in fog.

She moved up to my vocal cords, clenched and taught, and manipulated them until they released back into a relaxed position. With a new, even more delicate instrument, she tuned them. Haunting cries floated through the air that slowly transformed into light laughter as she made her way through every pitch. Finally, she came to my red, tired eyes. Lifting each lid, she took a final salve and gently polished each eyeball. My eyes regained their white clarity. And was that a hint of sparkle?

Celia began to "zip" me back up now, leaving only my dull heart exposed. Visibly tired she paused for a moment, but seemed quickly restored. She took my heart in her hands, and started sewing up the breaks. The first gash took two layers of stitches to close. The second, however, was easily mended. Each time when the pieces came back together, a glowing, ethereal substance like liquid silver formed where the ugly scars had been. Only one more cut remained now. Although the last, it was also the deepest. She stitched it up, but by the time she had turned around to re-thread her needle, it ripped open again, and the force expanded the size of the wound. A darkness began to come back over my heart, dulling the silvery glow as it seeped outward. Celia stitched and clamped furiously, but the darkness continued to spread. Terrified of what this meant, I cried out into the space, but no sound came out. I held my breath. I don't know if it was minutes or seconds, but finally, she got it closed and a beautiful glowing orb of light formed around my heart. The remaining fog cleared from that strange white room. Satisfied with her work, Celia smiled, and let out a deep sigh. She slipped my heart back under the cover of my ribs, and closed up my body. The instant my skin fused together, all my color returned. With a long wand she steamed out my skin like a silk suit. I sunk back into my body.

The memory of when we first met began to play. Not in the room but now just in my mind.

Somewhat bored and with people I didn't know well, I stood outside at Hootenanny’s, half watching the World Cup quarter final projected on the wall. Three Lions played on an endless loop. I turned absentmindedly and was caught off guard by the most beautiful pair of sparkling green eyes. A warm smile spread across your face and you beckoned me over. A complete stranger! I can't believe I had the courage to go to you. Little did I know at that moment that it was only a matter of days until you would know the exact map of my freckles and I would know your contours and scars like the back of my hand. Only a matter of weeks before we were on holiday in Nice, smoking a joint on the roof and looking at the stars while planning the future. Only a matter of months until I sat on the side of the bath and watched you cut your hair, the night you asked me to marry you.

And with that the floodgates opened and the joy came pouring back in, each memory more vivid than the next –

Riding home on the tube, all four hands interlaced. Completely still in a bustling sea of people.

Screaming joyfully into the inky black night off the Golden Jubilee Bridge, confusing the passers by.

Jumping into the pond at the Heath on New Year’s day. Clambering back out as quickly as we got in, smiling ear to ear.

Whirling around and around with all the other dancers at El Callejon de Hamel after we escaped your mother’s house. Laughing carelessly even under an angry sky.

How you would come and kiss the back of my neck every time I did the dishes.

The sedative wore off and my eyes fluttered open. All ten fingers reflexively began to drum on the table. And for the first time since I could remember, I smiled.


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