Losing Her Senses

owl in window losing her senses victoria griffin

Originally published in Five 2 One Magazine, now defunct

***

She hurled a plate at the door. It shattered just above the peephole, glass fragments ringing against the hardwood floor like wind chimes. A wooden bowl, still full of salad, bounced against the doorknob and clattered to the floor, leafy greens and pecans scattering. She dropped her elbows on the counter and let her forehead fall onto the cold surface, tears dripping onto the granite as her hands as her hands reached out like feelers until her fingers found a knife. She raised up and flung it at the door, spitting out a scream as the blade sank into the wood, right where Jacob’s head had been as he’d walked out. She sank back onto the counter and cried.

When all her tears were gone, she straightened up and looked around, her apartment suddenly very strange to her. She stared at the food littered near the door like apples dropped from a tree, then turned and walked toward their bedroom. Her bedroom.

The drawers were still open. The wardrobe stood half-empty, gaping at her like an unhinged jaw. There were craters all through the room—the book missing from the nightstand, the empty places on the walls where his paintings had been, even his pillow. He had cleared his presence from the room like an outlaw covering his tracks.

She climbed into the shower and turned the water temperature up so high it almost burned. She let it run down her neck and back, trace her spine, and she looked down at her young body, noticing the layer of fat over her hips, the way her thighs jiggled, the odd shape of her toes. She flipped her head back so that the water fell straight into her face, and she held her breath for as long as she could—longer. She could feel her lungs begging for air. Her chest began to ache. Her stomach shriveled like a wet rag being wrung out by strong hands.

She shut the water off, gasped for air. Feeling the life enter her lungs, she stood naked in the steam-filled stall and stared at the frosted glass door, wondering if she should even move. Why not stand here until she starved?

Lethargic as a bedridden patient, she forced her tried muscles and dried herself with automatic movements. Then she slipped on pajamas—sweatpants and a baggy tee shirt—though she usually slept in her underwear. The sun was still shining through the window as she burrowed under the sheets. She closed her eyes and told herself the sun would never shine again.

She was crying into the pillow when sleep bashed its way into her skull, and she lay twitching in the too-big bed as she dreamed. Memories flooded her sleep-ridden mind. Meeting Jacob outside the college library. Their first kiss. Turning down her dream job to follow him to Atlanta. Saying goodbye to her mother. The hurt in her daddy’s eyes. The phone call that her father had died. Jacob’s hands on her heaving shoulders, comforting her. The sincerity in his eyes when he told her he didn’t ever want to get married. The feigned sincerity in her voice when she told him that was alright. The last memory she had of him as he was walking out the door—Im leaving you. For her.

When she woke, her covers were strewn in all directions. Her head was facing the footboard, and she groped through the thick darkness, looking for her pillow. Something knocked against her window.

Thump.

It raised the hairs on her arms.

Thump.

She rolled out of bed, fighting with her own feet to stay upright, and she scrambled toward the light switch. The old light fixture, one bulb burned out, illuminated the room.

Thump.

She went to the window and looked outside, but the glass looked like a blank television screen, nothing but black. She unlocked the window and raised it up, about to stick her head outside.

A bird darted in the open window. She jumped back, sucking in a breath and gagging on it as the young bird fell onto her rug and began to spasm, feathers flying from its wings as it lurched across the floor. She jumped back as the bird rushed her. Its beak pecked against her shin before her foot caught on the leg of her bed, sending her sprawling backwards. Her head narrowly missed the corner of her dresser, and her spine cracked against the floor, her feet shooting toward the ceiling in an almost-somersault. She clambered to her feet and hopped onto her bed, sitting on her knees and scanning the floor for the bird.

It was gone.

She crawled over her bed and looked over the horseshoe pattern of floor space, but there was no movement. She stretched out on her belly and slowly lowered her hands to the floor, her hair falling in a dark waterfall onto the hardwood. Her eyes adjusted to the lack of light under the bed. Dust, old board games, even some cobwebs. But no bird. She hauled herself up, flipping her hair onto her back, and turned toward the window.

It was closed.

She squinted, looked around the room. The clock said it was ten past two—dead of night. She was tired. She could still smell the salt from her tears like ocean air. Maybe she had dreamed the bird.

(check your shin)

She got up one last time to flip off the light and found her way back to bed, slid under the covers. Dont wake up until morning, she urged herself. Because every time she woke, she would have to remember he wasn’t coming back. And she would have to forget it long enough to go back to sleep.

Her alarm clock crooned an old Bocephus song at six thirty in the morning. She reached over to the nightstand and shut it off, stomping out Hank’s voice. It was the alarm she had set to wake her every morning. She should have remembered to turn it off last night. She should have done a lot of things.

She rolled over on her stomach and buried her face in the pillow. There would be a few rays of sun shining through the window, reminding her that other people were happy today. She opened her eyes into the blackness of the pillow. Today was Tuesday, but she wasn’t going to work. Maybe she could go to her brother’s house—your brothers dead.

She let out a sharp breath like every time she did that, every time she forgot. Her brother had been killed in a car accident two months ago, when a driver in oncoming traffic fell asleep at the wheel. They put his three-year-old daughter in an orphanage—the mother was addicted to heroine—because the aunt wouldn’t take her. She felt hot all over as she remembered the conversation with Jacob, his ultimatum. If that kid comes here, Im leaving. But he left anyway, that son of a bitch.

Maybe I could still get her back. Maybe, now, she can come live with me. But no, she had been adopted, and it would be cruel to rip a young child from her new family. They were better for her, anyway. A big house, a good neighborhood, a yard with a golden retriever.

She took a deep breath and let go of the last bit of hope that something good might come from Jacob’s leaving. She raised her face away from the pillow.

The blackness stayed.

Her neck swiveled from side to side. Her hands reached out in front of her. Her mouth hung open, and she could hear her breath coming in panicked bursts, each mouthful of air fighting its way down her throat.

She couldn’t see. Why couldn’t she see?

She threw the blankets from her body, feeling the air lick her skin. Her fists grasped the fitted sheet covering her mattress, hanging on like a rappeller clinging to the side of a mountain. Slowly, she lowered herself onto the floor, trying to steady her heart rate.

Temporary blindness, that exists doesnt it? Maybe there was something wrong with her eyes, or maybe it was stress. Stress could do all kinds of crazy things to your body. That had to be it.

She heard birds singing outside her window, to her right, and she moved like a crab to her left until she touched the wall. The door was straight ahead.

“Ow!” She knee slammed against something that should not have been there. She bent over, her hands groping in the darkness, and felt the seat of a wooden chair—from the dining room. “Hello? Is anybody out there?”

Her heart was pounding now. She could hear it pumping like a train engine out of her chest and through her neck and into the back of her ears. There was someone in her home. There was someone in her home, and she was blind.

“Jacob?” It had to be him. Maybe he changed his mind. More likely he forgot something. “Jacob, is that you?”

She found the door—it was closed. She could feel the slick sweat on her palm as she gripped the doorknob and turned it, slowly, quietly. Opened the door just a crack.

“Hello?” With every word, her voice grew softer, and the fear within it amplified. There was a tremor running through her words like the first crack of an earthquake. Even as she tried to calm her nerves, she could feel them spiraling, could almost hear the sparking of neurons within her as her adrenaline soared.

She opened the door all the way and reached her arm around it like a kid hugging a tree trunk. The floor felt unfamiliar to her feet. She stepped on a rug and leapt backward, her mind imagining a dead (bird) animal on the floor.

As she moved into the living room, she could smell the pumpkin spice candle that sat near the sink in the kitchen, and she thought of the phone hanging on the wall beside the stove. She’d told Jacob a hundred times that it was silly for them to pay for a landline when they both used their cell phones for everything. You never know, he’d say. Now, with her cell phone hidden somewhere in the apartment like an Easter egg, she hated that he had been right.

She felt her way to the island in the kitchen, each sound prickling the inside of her ears. But she heard nothing but the hum of the heater and the birds outside the window—growing louder.

She circled the island like a child holding onto the edge of a swimming pool until she found the stove, her fingers tracing the spiral eyes, brushing against the towel hanging over the oven handle. Then her hands moved to the wall, slid over the paint until they knocked the phone from its cradle. It clattered to the floor.

When she dropped to her knees to search for it her knee landed on the phone. It slid out from under her weight, and her kneecap cracked against the hardwood. She howled in pain, her palms hitting the floor and her breaths shallow and ragged that her back arched up like a frightened cat. She didn’t give herself time to rest, just moved her arms across the floor like windshield wipers until she found the runaway phone. Then she stood, ignoring the pain in her knee (was it bleeding?) and groping for the numbers built into the cradle.

Her fingers ran over the buttons. The small dots comprising the brail symbols meant nothing to her. Oh God, what order are the numbers in? It had been so long since she’d dialed a phone number, she couldn’t remember. Anyone she ever called was in her cell’s contact list, and if they weren’t, the number came in an email. One tap calling.

Her fingers hovered over the buttons, trembling. The only number she knew by heart was her parents’ landline. They paid the bill every month so that her mother could stand in the kitchen, a twisted cord stretched across the room, and gossip while her husband was at work.

She moved her fingers across the buttons, counting out 1, 2, 3 in the first row. 4, 5, 6 in the second. Slowly, she dialed her parents’ number, listening to the different pitches as she pressed each button, and she held the phone to her ear. It was cold against her flaring skin.

Ring.

Please, pick up.

Ring.

“Hi! You’ve reached the Smithwoods. Sorry we couldn’t make it to the phone. Leave us a message!”

Her mother’s voice poured through the speaker. It was high-pitched and cheery, and it filled her with dread like bricks settling in her stomach. Her hands clambered for the phone switch, and as she pressed it, her mother’s voice evened out into a steady dial tone.

What was Jacob’s number? She dialed the numbers slowly, forcing her mind to see his contact page on her phone. The ringing in her ear seemed loud through the heavy blackness.

“Hola.”

She paused. “Jacob?”

“Quién es este?”

“I’m sorry, wrong number.”

She heard the voice on the other end of the line saying something in Spanish, but she was already hanging up. Heard the dial tone in her ear again, and she felt the first touch of desperation swelling in her skin, in her shaking fingers as they tried to press the number keys.

9-1-1.

The phone went silent. She ran her fingers over the keys, counting out loud, making sure she had dialed the right number. She pressed the switch to close the line, then released it, listening for the dial tone.

Nothing.

A sound from the other room. The phone fell to the kitchen tile. “Hello?”

Something shattered—the vase in the living room? A window? She put her palms flat against the wall behind her and backed into it, thick breath filling her lungs. Something (feathers) ran across her skin and she collapsed onto the floor, whimpering like a mutt afraid of its master’s hand.

She heard cars passing by outside. Any one of them could help her. None of them would.

Then it was quiet.

She lifted her neck from its bent position, her eyes open and groping for light though she knew they would find none. She called out again, “Hello?” But she heard nothing.

Not even her own voice.

Oh God. Oh God. She stood up and grabbed the phone again. Dialed her parents’ number, put the receiver to her ear, already knowing what she would hear.

Nothing.

Even the sound of her weeping never touched her ears. The fine hairs on her arms perked up as a breeze grazed her flesh, cooling the tears still wet on her cheeks. She stood up, finding the island, then the wall, then the hallway toward their (her) bedroom.

The window was open—she knew before she ever felt for the glass. Her hand went through the window frame, into the morning air. The wind nipped at her fingers.

She thought she heard something behind her.

No, I cant hear anything.

But she did. She heard squealing tires, the sound of crashing metal. She heard a little girl’s cries, desperation and agony rising in her voice like bubbles in a soda. It was her niece. It was her poor niece who was too much of a burden on Jacob.

On Jacob or on you?

Was that her inner voice or someone else’s? Oh, Jesus, what was happening to her?

Keep still, keep calm, keep quiet.

Theres no other way you can be.

She took a step toward her bed, and—

Wait, she didn’t feel the floor beneath her foot. She was barefoot, and the bedroom floor was cold hardwood. Or at least it had been. She squatted down—slowly, she could barely balance—and touched the floor. It was there, cold, hard. Touched her foot.

Her hand felt the top of her foot, the bones protruding through her skinny form, her toes—the ones she hated the look of. Her foot felt nothing. She ran her hand up her shin, wrapped around to feel her calf, and felt only the faintest tingle.

Oh god oh god oh god.

Slowly, like an amputee learning to walk, she made her way to the bed—remembering with each step where the furniture was, where her foot was, where her body was.

She hit the floor, pain erupting in her chest, arms, and head as her skull cracked against the hardwood. Her hand swung out as she fell and touched a chair (from the dining room). She hadn’t felt her foot or hips strike it. Her entire lower body was gone.

Dear God, she thought as the tingling made its way along her abdomen, Im sorry. Im so sorry. Please help me, God. Please.

She was face up, her shoulder blades pressed into the floor, and she felt a burst of wind on her face before something the weight of a softball settled on her chest.

She knew what it was.

She felt the bird begin to peck at her neck just before she lost feeling entirely. Then there was nothing. She was alone—truly alone—with her thoughts, her memories, and a crawling terror.

Jacob, you motherfucker, you left me here to die.

(just like you left your brother to rot in that town, to marry that tramp he went to school with and have a useless little nose-picker)

Its not the same. And my niece is not useless.

(thats why you abandoned her, then, after you left her daddy there to die)

I wasnt there! I couldnt help him!

(left him in that town, left him to rot)

She prayed that damn bird would finish her soon, would kill her and send her somewhere else, anywhere else. Send her to the pits of hell, the flames, the ash, the fiery torture.

She didn’t know that hell wasn’t made of flames.

It was cold like hardwood flooring. It was numb like ice-burned skin. It was quiet like torn out eardrums. But one sense would forever be clear:

memories.