So Now You Go by Melissa Swantkowski
They were still there. A cluster of three small pus-filled boils on the outside of her knee. Looking closely, Lina saw something dark beginning to form inside each one.
A tiny black dot.
She lowered herself onto the toilet seat. Under the pressure of her finger, the skin stretched over the largest blister. Yielded but didn’t burst. Was she imagining that the tiny dot had grown a little already? Yesterday she’d worn tight jeans and boots that finished over her knees. Had they rubbed the skin raw like the strap of a new sandal? Two days ago, she’d eaten a handful of raw meat, straight from the package. She rested her back against the flusher and was comforted by the sturdy metal handle digging into her flesh.
She’d only noticed them this morning in the shower. Her razor dragged, stuck, drew blood. When she rinsed it away, three islands of pruned skin remained, and they were tender, as if bruised. Soon, the skin began to rise and pucker, taking on a thinner consistency, more transparent. Lina dressed in her loosest pants. Now she was in the bathroom for the tenth time before lunch. She was afraid to press them without looking, and her cubicle didn’t offer enough privacy.
She had a cousin in Brazil who’d been infected with botfly eggs. Lodged in his back, the eggs had matured into wormy larva that breathed through a slit in his skin. Her aunt taped a piece of bacon over the wound to coax them out. They were white, segmented things with small teeth, and her cousin’s back had healed slowly but completely, so that now it barely showed a scar—a mark no larger than what a pimple would leave.
It’d been a Tuesday, nearly a month ago, when she’d picked up the man whose name she’d purposely avoided. Walking to the subway from work, she was jittery and had to remind herself to unclench her jaw and loosen the muscles in her neck. What pumped in her chest felt wholly unrelated to her own heartbeat, her blood, her existence. She boarded the train in the opposite direction and knew what she was doing when she quickly drank two shots and two beers and sat in the corner of the unfamiliar bar, waiting. After they fucked, the man curled up at the edge of her bed and from his body rose the stench of alcohol, and something else stronger, rancid like garbage or a frightened animal, an odor that Lina hadn’t detected before. She investigated her own body, starting with her skin. She was still clammy with sweat. She ran a hand between her legs and wiped it on the sheet. Her hair was free of foreign substances. She licked the back of her hand, waited a few seconds, and brought it to her nose to see how her saliva smelled. She was drunk, but she didn’t smell like this man. Moving to the opposite side of the bed, she curled to the wall, and after a few hours, or maybe just one hour, woke disoriented. The man was awake, too, his head buried in the crook of her knees, his breath hot on her skin. They stayed still for several moments. He got up. Dressed silently. With a hand on the door, he said, “So,…” and Lina replied, “So now you go.”
Another woman entered the bathroom, her black heels sharp on the tile floor. There was a zipper and a sigh and fart, followed by a loud rush of urine. She saw the legs attached to the heels under the stall next to her, hip-width apart, the woman hovering in a sanitary way. Lina spread her legs, as if the woman might know she was seated, pants still buttoned and zippered, her clothed ass in the space between the plastic seat. She let the hem of her pants fall to the floor.
At the sink, she pumped thin, pink soap from the dispenser, pushing the button five times until her palm was overflowing. She wondered if the blisters were something contagious that could be spread to other parts of her body. She washed her hands, focusing on the pads of fingers and the spaces in between them. Where had she touched since her shower? As she dried and applied lotion? Her face? She lathered the soap up to the middle of her forearms. The other woman joined her at the sink and their eyes met in the mirror. Lina tried to return the woman’s smile—a courtesy—but she couldn't part her lips or show her teeth. She pretended to fish an eyelash out of her eye. She focused on the eye, bringing her face closer to the mirror, then running her finger along the lower rim, removing non-existent eyeliner. The woman used the air-dryer instead of paper towels, restarting the machine after the cycle ended. Lina wanted to stomp her feet. Throw a tantrum. The blisters itched, or she imagined that they itched. “Hot out today, isn’t it?” The woman asked and when Lina didn’t answer, said, “Well, you have a good one.”
Locked back in the stall, Lina wondered again, now, if she could be pregnant. Her craving for the raw meat had surprised her. She’d hardly noticed until it was in her mouth, disintegrating and cold. Leaning over the sink, she spit out the first mouthful, but pushed more into her mouth, swallowing, turning off the stove, abandoning her cooking. This is the kind of thing that happens to pregnant women, she’d thought. Until the blisters appeared, it had been all she’d been thinking about. The man hadn’t worn a condom. She’d wanted this too—to have some sort of tangible danger press up against her, inside of her so she could put a name to the feeling that was enveloping her and darkening the corners or her life. Reckless, she’d call it. But up until now, secret.
The blisters were larger than before. This was definite. They had grown and one of the tiny black dots was no longer a dot but something cylindrical and animated. She looked at her hands before touching the blister again. She spread her fingers and gritted her teeth. The soap had not been antibacterial. She pinched the largest blister. Whatever was inside responded. Vibrated. Flipped around inside and righted itself. Lina exhaled. She dropped the hem of her pants. She had seen its face.
© Melissa Swantkowski 2013
Melissa Swantkowski is a living writer in New York. Her work has appeared in The Mississippi Review, American Short Fiction's Web Exclusives and elsewhere. She is the prose editor for Bodega Magazine, contributes to a weekly humor weblog called The Murky Fringe, and is one-half of The Disagreement, an edited bi-monthly literary reading series. You can read this all again, and more, at: melissaswantkowski.com
So Now You Go was read by Laurel Holland for the Sickness & Health Show on 6th February 2013