It began with a slow, dull ache in her lower back at the beginning of fifth period.
She tried to focus as her English professor expounded upon the grandiose grammar and lyrical geography of the steampunk era.
As the class — and the students’ attention — tapered as the end of the hour approached, the pain clawed its way around to her stomach.
No. Not again.
But it was a different pain — not the nausea that had permeated her existence for the past seven weeks, ever since that day she didn’t like to think about.
Her trembling fingers clutching the white plastic in her hand, as if it was tainted.
And perhaps it was. One, maybe two could be wrong. Nineteen boxes sat scattered around her — various brands, all she could manage with her meagre funds and a between-classes mad dash through the chilly cobblestones of Harrow’s town centre.
No, she didn’t like to think about that day. And so, she didn’t. She cordoned it into a dark, forgotten corner of her mind, and chalked up the waves of nausea to bouts of food poisoning. Not a far stretch, really — what with the greasy British imitations of food on campus, and the poor culinary skills she had toted across the North Atlantic Ocean.
Because, it couldn’t be.
It just, couldn’t be.
And so, it wasn’t.
She made like it wasn’t, willed it to go away, to banish itself from her.
Never remotely someone who could be considered a Christian, she became one now: a fervent desire whispered in her waking sleep, a prayer of sorts that chased around between her temples as she jogged between classes — jog it out of me — and unintentionally bumped, bruised and fell with her usual bodily clumsiness — bump it out of me.
She pledged allegiance to a creator she wasn’t sure she believed in, to un-create the thing inside her.
She rationalised, a litany of rationalisations, like the possessed madman’s murmurs to himself…
I only did it once… and never again. And I was careful — despite the circumstances, I was careful. This was unfortunate… a blip in the universe, one bad decision (barely bad — I was careful), one moment of letting go, one bad decision that doesn’t deserve punishing…
She barely remembers him, now that she tries to think about it.
Tall and beautiful, and leaning over a counter smirking at her virgin colada, offering a real drink that she declined — then. But two days later, when the unfamiliar number showed on her phone, she smiled.
And left the comfort of her bedroom, in a pretty turquoise top and a borrowed coat of which her (somewhat trampy) British flatmate slipped a small circle-in-square object into its pocket — just in case, you never know, go for it, love — that made her blush. No, no, of course not, not me.
But she left the comfort of her bedroom, her books, her sense of self, to climb aboard a train after 10 p.m., fully aware that there would be slight chance of a return journey that night.
She barely remembers him… but she does remember the real drink he gave her, then. The drunkenness, tottering around the street in laughter, being kicked out of a cab because the driver didn’t like the smell of the chips — fries — he bought to soak up the liquor, tumbling into his front door and giggling — too drunk to fuck, and doing it anyway.
She does remember, the heady moment.
His fleeting surprise, at her body’s resistance. At her gasp of pain. But he did not stop until he was finished, and sober enough to notice the trickle of blood, and the trickle of a tear on her cheek.
She should have told him, yes, but why. Would it have stopped him, then?
He didn’t want to take the burden. Perfect gentleman, yes, walking her to the door the next morning, making plans to meet again, kissing her cheek — not her lips, already removed, soured, reflecting, dismissing.
Weeks later, the plans hadn’t materialised, though her nausea did.
It was a story that had been told, which is why it irked her. She had seen it, so many times before — silly twits, that disgusted her with their carelessness.
No, not me. She was better than that. If she had to be sick, it would be something exotic. If she had to be daunted by circumstance, it had to be something less common than dick, drink, and divine intervention to penetrate latex.
So, it simply couldn’t be.
Her body, in its exotic frivolity, had subsumed some sort of parasite, some sort of glitch, some chemical that fooled all nineteen tests and clawed its parasitic teeth into her stomach.
She shifted uncomfortably, as the English professor dismissed the class, and students began to file out and head to their next hour of droning torture. Her campus dorm was a twenty-minute walk away, and it would be a difficult journey. The thought of medical assistance did not occur to her — medicine, science, reality would only tell her what she refused to admit, and so she ignored the pain as she swung herself gingerly to her feet.
“Oh my God,” a voice behind her gasped, and then another intoned: “Fuckin’ hell!”
Her vision was blurring, but she felt arms — blessed arms — grab her around her waist before her legs gave out.
The girl that held her soon got assistance from two other people, blurry apparitions making their way over to her at the sound of the earlier exclamation.
“Love… are you alright? Are you injured?” a gentle male voice asked, close to her ear, as the third person — another girl — threw a coat around her shoulders to cover the back of her body.
The lecture hall was empty now, so there was no one beyond the three strangers to witness the maroon splotches on the back of her slacks, or the river of blood that soaked her to the bone as it spread quickly on the cushioned lecture hall bench seat.
“I think — I think… I think,” she answered carefully, a crazy smile twitching at the corner of her lips, even as her stomach clenched horribly and her vision swam.
I think I’m losing my parasite.
“I think… I’m going to be just fine.”
* * *
The positive thing, that comes out of almost bleeding to death in a lecture hall, is that it creates a tenuous bond with those who become heroes by circumstance. Months later, they would drop by for a quick chat with her after class, or smile if they passed her on campus — no mention of the incident, it was gone forever as a topic of discussion although it hung like a metronome in all conversations, but they were too properly brought up, too British, to be rude; and so, ‘You all right?’ is all they would venture to ask despite their curiosity, despite the whispered stories that they might have dispersed among peers. They had dusted their hands of the matter, and therefore of their right to ask questions, when they left her at the Northwick Park Hospital and hightailed it back to their next lecture.
“My mother lost a baby, once,” the one holding her whispered, as they handed her off to a nurse.
“There’s no baby,” she replied numbly.
“I know — I mean, well, not anymore, maybe. But you should wait on the doctor–”
“No baby,” she repeated.
* * *
“There’s no baby,” the doctor said.
“I know,” she replied, slowly. “Obviously.”
“You don’t understand. I mean, there never was.” He frowned, looking at her file. “You would think — with all this blood…” But he didn’t finish the thought. “Have you haemorrhaged like this before?”
“I have polycystic ovaries,” she explained, as if that was an answer.
He assumed that meant yes, and she was discharged into the world at large — or to her university next door to the hospital — with a diagnosis on paper that made little sense to her.
Back in her room, pumped full of meds with a thick pad between her legs in case of recurrence, she looked for the nineteen white plastic sticks of seven weeks ago.
She had saved them, she was sure of this, but they were nowhere to be found.
She did notice the dim bulb in her en-suite bathroom had been changed recently. Even though cleaning it wasn’t part of the housing contract, perhaps the maintenance crew had thrown out the plastic bag that contained them. Then again, she hadn’t thought of them or looked at them since that day — perhaps she herself had unknowingly disposed of them with other trash. It had, after all, been seven weeks.
She didn’t think too hard about it — she was not someone that often chased after small mysteries, especially when the answer was something she didn’t want to think about.
And so, she didn’t.
* * *
Time has a way of blurring the edges of memories, or distorting events beyond recognition, of filling in the holes until the kernel of truth is entirely buried in absolution.
It appeared four years later, long after she had graduated with honours and numerous exaltations. The golden child. Back in her homeland with a British degree and jobs galore and dreams fulfilled and long-term boyfriend-cum-husband in the wings and familial pressure to move things along and settle down and procreate.
The usual drivel that she purposefully ignored. Particularly the idea of procreating. Of producing a parasite.
It appeared to her in the hazy limbo of sleep and waking, startling her into life only to stare into the dark at nothingness.
A face, or the idea of one — small, heart-shaped lips with an open smile, a button nose, and two gaping holes where eyes should be. Beauty and horror, a marriage of extremes.
She slipped back into comatose slumber, ignoring the warning.
But there are some things you cannot unsee, some things that imprint on your mind’s eye and wiggle into your consciousness to reside there, setting up shop in your soul.
And then, one day, a small child smiles at her in the supermarket. A simple, innocent gesture, of course; a common trend of youth not yet terrified into paranoia by parental warnings of stranger danger. The child: white — incongruent on her Caribbean soil. A child, beautiful in his radiant toddler boyhood, won’t — can’t — take his eyes off of her, turning around and twisting in his parent’s grip to stare at her, solemnly now, smile fading.
“You know him?” The boyfriend-cum-husband is standing beside her, amused at the silent interaction unfolding.
She doesn’t; no, of course she doesn’t.
…But it is the face, the one that visits in her comatose limbo, not only the one time she permits herself to remember but all the time. It is the face that she has always somehow seen at the corner of her vision, or the idea of it; fading into oblivion when her eyes focus and search frantically for it. It is the face, complete with eyes now in the place of holes, eyes that once sparkled at her over a bar counter, amused at her appropriately virginal choice of drink. It is the face of the thing that has nipped and tugged at the peripheries of her sanity for days, weeks, months, years immeasurable. It is the face of the past, of the future, of beauty and horror, a marriage of extremes…
* * *
The boyfriend-cum-husband, the poor soul.
Years later, friends and family would bring it up when one drink too many had crossed their lips.
–Good God, you remember the crazy girl?
–Ah yes, marriage material, the whole nine yards.
–Until she went positively ape-shit in the middle of the supermarket.
–One second a kid was looking at her funny, the next he ran up and held her hand, and said something to her, and she couldn’t stop screaming. Fell and bleeding, tears everywhere, pissed and shat herself, her whole body leaking it seemed… curled up on the linoleum floor in the 1-10 items line, bat-shit, beserk.
–Mad as a hatter, that one.
–Had to have her committed.
He would stop them, silencing the trip down memory lane.
Long since moved on, yes, but he still thought of her, sometimes. Long after he’d stopped visiting, long after her incoherent strings of words had subsided into a catatonic stupor.
“There’s no baby,” she said, once, unfocused eyes fixed on the ceiling. These were the only words amidst the incoherent madness.
He didn’t understand, and never would.
* * *
This raging beast we all think we control… It’s a dangerous creature, the mind. Dirty, filthy tricks.
There are some stories, some tales, that cannot be told.
Things you see, that cannot be unseen.
Words you hear, that cannot be unheard.
“If you don’t believe in God, and you call for help… you invite someone else… something else, to answer you.”
Words a beautiful little boy whispers to you, a beautiful little boy with a sinister old man’s chuckle, words that you cannot repeat… if you lose your mind, such a terrible, terrible thing to lose…