She used to think she shit glitter and now she’s home.
“There’s something in my skin,” Jess says, digging with a safety pin. She scrapes the inside of her ivory arm; head bowed in earnest contemplation as flesh rips.
“Don’t,” I say, taking the pin away from her. Drop it in the sink, beads of red peeling down the drain.
Whatever she sees must be a mindfuck of epic proportions.
“Take your meds, Jess.” I shake the bottle.
Days she spends on the computer, researching diseases and picking at unseen bumps on her legs.
She’s not supposed to have Internet access, but I can’t shut her down completely. She tells me about what’s under her flesh, hairs and bugs and glitter. Things I didn’t see before and things I won’t see now.
She gasps and says, “Look,” pointing at a spot on the inside of her arm. “Did you see that? Do you see it?”
“No, Jess,” I say. “I don’t.”
“Shhh,” she says. She touches the crook of her elbow. “You don’t want to scare them off.”
“Cool it,” I tell her, “cool it,” but she still jack-o-lantern carves up her flesh with safety pins. New rusted red spots where old ones used to linger. I keep her in my arms, straightjacket hold her, and it works. She settles down until she forgets about the fresh scars.
She pulls invisible threads, hairs, from her skin. Her hands lobster-clawed up as she dangles her finds in front of a dinner table full of our closest friends. They’re polite, chewing slowly and avoiding eye contact. Just when I’m thinking this was a bad idea, Jess pushes back from the dinner table and announces that she’s so fucking sick of Chicken Tagine and that if anyone wants to play Twister she’ll be in the living room.
There’s a picture on the Internet she doesn’t like.
"That’s what I look like?" she asks.
Her eyes get big and glassy. Her lips quiver. She pulls her sleeves down. Hell, if anyone at the hospital could have thought of this solution earlier, showing a photo of her worst weakness blown up in high-res, Jess’s parents probably could have saved about twenty grand.
She takes the pills she’s been refusing. Swallows and says aaaahhh. They sink into her stomach and affect her wronged neurochemistry in the right way. Jess’s hands still, her skin clears up.
Her command, I hide the safety pins. She takes calls from friends again. Wears makeup and lines her eyes dark. She looks beautiful. Like I used to remember. Before the fibers started to appear in her hands.
Nate says, "Yo, homegirl, gimme five," and Jess slaps him one. She’s laughing, in the middle of ordering our second round of gin and tonics, when her forearm twitches. A ripple underneath her skin. Shark-like, a foot moving underneath the covers.
What the fuck? I glance at the table but they’re all talking about tomorrow’s farmer’s market.
Her flesh rises again.
I lurch, grab her arm, and she twists in her chair.
“Jesus, Adam, what?”
But her voice isn’t loud. She’s smile-frowning, cautious, questioning.
"Nothing," I say, and let go.
Now she has me curious. I watch her when she isn’t looking. The movements, the casual touch of fingertip against skin as she adjusts a necklace.
Nights, it moves. Stirring beneath the creamy flesh. A press, a burrow. A slimy, uncoiled thing. Swimming near her throat, down into her bony chest. Out. Out. It needs to come out.
She screams at me in the middle of the dairy aisle that I’m the one seeing things. She’s fine, she’s healthy now, so what the fuck am I looking for?
I set the jug of chocolate milk in the cart. Take her in my arms.
"I didn’t mean it."
"You can’t mean it, Adam. I used to mean it too and look where it got us. I don’t want to be like I used to be."
She rests her head against my chest.
"Don’t worry," I say, brushing dark hair from her neck, adjusting her in my arms for a better view. I kiss her throat, hoping to spy the slow movement I saw on the back of her neck.
I try to peel at her skin and she howls. I gawk when I get the thread out.
She runs to the phone and dials her parents. Howls some more.
I show up with red roses and red wine. Things she liked before she went away.
She opens the front door. Does a little shuffle out onto the porch, Birkenstocks slapping hard wood. She takes the gifts, sets them in the porch swing. Her mother’s fingers are stuck through the kitchen blinds, peeping.
“You scared me, Adam,” she says.
She runs a hand down her fat side braid like it’s a snake, bony knuckles grazing a soft spot near her throat. The quivering pulse and what lurks beneath it.
“I know,” I say. “I know. I’m sorry, Jess. Come home.”
Palms slick with sweat, I shove hands into my pockets. Glitter, threads, whatever it is, I have to see. I need to see. Just a little peek.
“Honey, just come home,” I repeat.
Smiling, she moves closer, as I finger the needle in my right pocket.