portion of the artwork for Matthew Fogarty's fiction

Matthew Fogarty

Now she used the scarves as tourniquets, here on the floor of the rented house. Their cotton fibers seemed stronger from the tie-dye and, from them, the bottom half of her was dying purple and turning cold. It was a method she’d read about, a last ditch sort of thing, this corporal idea of divide and conquer, and she focused her breathing as much as she could focus and as much as she could breathe, which wasn’t much and not deep, on resisting the clawing pain inside. This disease that was eating her alive. These scarves that had once held her hair. It was darker then, her hair, a deep brown that Arlo called chestnut. It wasn’t until a dozen or so years later hiking the Appalachian that she actually saw the tree and decided he was wrong. Yes, the color was close, though hers was richer brown. But there was something severe about the tree that didn’t match and she’d always thought of herself more as a free cascade of furls, like a willow. That was the whole reason she’d borrowed that name for most of those years; if anyone asked, she’d simply smile and untie her scarves and twirl her long hair free on the wind. Now she was gray and unmoving.

This was supposed to have been a place of positive energy, this specific spot, this house a vortex, and she’d offered all she had left to stay in this big empty, of which she’d used so little. The waste of it all. She hadn’t really moved from this space at the center of the floor since coming here. She’d watched the seasons from here, felt the desert press up through the floorboards, tried to absorb its pulse. When she could still stand, she would maybe go to the kitchen to make tea and also there were the cactus fruits that grew out back that she would eat and she could feel the vitamins and minerals moving through her, fighting to unclench the pain’s fist. It seemed so strong, somehow stronger than she’d ever been. She regretted the violence of it.

The scarves weren’t working. She could feel nails scratching past the boundary up into the all of her. She pulled at the scarves again with her bone-white skeleton arms until they wouldn’t tighten any more, watched the bottom of her fade. Funny that the things she thought of now were things she’d tried so hard not to remember. The day she left home when she was a girl. Her first trip. There was that morning, also, after she and the others had leaped onto a freight in the dark and then in the open car with the sun rising and the freight pushing through the sand mountains of California and the sun painting the mountains purple, the majesty of it that made her understand that song. Her decirculating body now purpling like those mountains, and like the mountains, passing behind her.

She reached for another scarf and drew it, best she could, across her chest, cinched it against her ribs to save her heart. It’s the only thing I’ve ever needed, she thought. She thought also about calling her brother. They hadn’t talked in so long. She hadn’t seen him since their mother’s funeral. He was in a suit that day, tried to split things with her in the name of their mother, like a person’s life could be split, like the things left behind are what matter. There was his whole talk about her taking responsibility for once and how she’d be helped by it. Then, she’d resolved not to be helped because she wanted to be unburdened by possessions. Now, she’d resolved not to call for help as a last promise to herself not to burden others with this, to pass if she was to pass, without leaving a trace.

There was part of her—probably the diseased part, she thought, the gripping scorpions of pain under her skin, stinger tails cocked and jabbing—that didn’t want to die alone and for that reason she tried to let herself cry. She closed her eyes to the morning, forced them closed, tried to force tears. Except she couldn’t. She realized then too that her mouth was dry. She felt the desert vortex opening, crossing her over. And that’s when the last image came, not a crossing, but a dispersing. Her body like a mandala that was now being swept away in the tornadoing sand. And this made her smile, the purity of it, this thought: that all this is is giving it back, returning what she borrowed.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 42 | Fall 2013