She stands nude before the mirror, brushing her teeth, registering the thick ashen runnel along the extent of her forearm. The dispassionate nature of the noticing frightens her more than the injury. She leans forward to spit, lays aside the toothbrush, grips the sink with both hands, breathes deeply of mint and ruination. Her long hair reaches for the water, surrenders to icy current, length drawn over her uncertainty, a curtain behind which she works to winnow truth from chaff. With shaky resolve, she collects the pain she does not feel from the burn she does not remember suffering. Tears sting at the thought of all the harm inflicted she has failed to catalog. What else has she endured unknowing? What else and how?
Her name is Theresa.
She begins to recite the things she knows, bits of data she might offer in support of herself, but stops almost immediately, because making such a list opens her up to confrontation and admission of error.
Her name is Theresa. Everything is fine. She bites the inside of her cheek, grounds the flesh hard between her teeth until copper-pennied blood blooms seductive reassurance.
She spits into the sink again, watches as her trailing hair guides the blood along a watery path of loss. Her name is Theresa. She can hurt. Everything is fine.
Theresa explores the ragged edges of severance with her tongue, wincing in pain. Everything is fine.
The burn will hurt as well, once it is hers. It’s just a matter of knitting together the frayed ends of memorative connection. The burn and its accompanying damage will be hers once she can own the memory. She turns the faucet off and crumples to the floor. She folds herself up small … knees bent, arms crooked tightly into the space between thighs and chest, hands tucked beneath her chin. Her burned forearm presses against the softness of an upper thigh, and she is aware of a stickiness, some liquid seeping loose from fleshy disrepair.
She searches again backward for explanations, but again finds nothing.
From where she sits, she can see there is a mug resting in the small space behind the toilet bowl and beneath the tank, its handle tucked up against the wall. She is not surprised; lately, she has been leaving objects in unexpected places, small tests to disprove decay. Every retrieval is a triumph: everything is fine. This time, though … she pictures herself sitting on the toilet, empty mug in hand, reaching awkwardly around and behind to place it, perhaps even saying aloud to herself, “Remember to take this downstairs after you’ve gotten dressed.” Theresa can picture this; she knows she left the mug there, and yet …
She reaches to curl her fingers within the mug’s handle, pulls it to her. She has no memory of having placed it beneath the toilet tank, no idea when she might have done so. The residue within the mug is dry and ringed … how long has it been? Days, perhaps. Longer.
It occurs to her to wonder what else she has carefully lost along the way.
As she lifts the dry mug to her nose, sniffing for witness, she is confronted anew with the burn, a long flaking scorch-mark of wreckage along her arm.
Her stomach lurches, and she takes another deep breath. Still holding the mug, she lifts her arm to her lips, licks at the wound, tends to the harm. Toothpaste. She licks once more. The burn is not a burn at all, but instead a smear of dried toothpaste.
Relief arrives on a tidal wave of pain as unexpected damage demands ownership.
She makes her way to the bed, where she lies staring out the open window, humming a wordless song about the wind and how it reveals in its invisibility.
Above and beyond, the moon hangs like a drop of watery milk clinging to the underside of a glass coffee table she once owned.
Clarity the canvas across which imperfections scrawl.
Everything is fine.