(This was a piece of flash fiction for a class, posted here… Just ’cause.)
She felt it crawling under her skin sometimes.
No, not crawling. Inflating. Filling. Making a husk of her flesh and inhabiting the space beneath, as if her bones were exhaling a living room for an uninvited guest. Her bones, those slender things that, for the moment, jittered with the movements of tiny birds trapped within them. She wanted to move and they moved. She wanted to scratch and they would scratch. They supported like branches the pounds of fat and nerves that hung from her, a skin-tight ball gown.
It certainly wasn’t a malevolent presence. It was almost loving. It wanted the best for her. It wanted to wear her skin, to gaze from her eyes, to breathe with her lungs. It grew tired of slouching heavily at the back of her mind and sometimes enjoyed traversing the tingling hallways of her body, entering the rooms of her hands and feet as if the doors weren’t locked to anyone but her. It was polite. It was curious. She felt it counting scars, indexing old wounds and new, and taking note of missed meals or nights not slept through. It never took control from her, instead acting as a shadow, a temporary delay between impulse and action. It had purpose and intent but acquiesced to her will, her needs, her desires. She became a garden, tended gracefully by an inhabitant she’d never quite welcomed, but didn’t wish to evict.
It felt like power.
It felt like strength.
But whose strength? Whose power? All she could feel was numb. She became jealous of it and the way it had strength, and she did not. How dare it have power within her body, a power she could not access? When the presence was there, it made her birds sing. When it was not there, they fell silent. They would not flutter to make her bones jump and shake. She would lie in bed for days, angry at the something for disappearing. She began to fear it would not return, but it would always come back: heavy at first, sleepy in her hind-brain, slowly extending a limb into her limb, lending life to her living tissue.
It guided her hands, for simple things at first: it would brush her teeth, comb her hair, gather her body in all its fragility and bundle it into a warm, soapy bath. As she soaked it would return to its perch in her head and run stocktake, tracking what happened in its absence, coaxing her to remember the day, the date, the year. It reminded her: Frangipani. Oak trees. Bubbles. Chocolate cake. Mother, father, sister. Libraries. Guinea pig sounds.
A day came when, angry and frightened it would not return, she tried to cut it out with a kitchen knife. It seemed better to cut it out and know, than to always wonder. It had been there all day and she couldn’t bear to be without it again, and she was certain that it would leave. It would hurt her. The something was polite. It unfolded from her mind and slid through her body again, bringing with it strength and power. For the first time, it used that strength, that power.
Together, they put the knife down.