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It Happens

 

 

It’s happening now.

Margot focuses on her breathing, which feels insufficient. No matter how deeply she pulls it in, it’s not enough. A middle-aged man sets a paperback book on the counter. It looks like a thriller. Dark cover, orange title.

“$11.37.”

She forces her voice steady, though she sounds a thousand miles from her own ears. The middle-aged man hands her a twenty. She stalls, counting change slowly, dropping the coins on purpose, pretending to count again. The man sighs.

“What’s 100 minus 37?”

She wants to explain; she can do math. She just can’t do math right now. Not when there’s a baby fussing off towards Health and Wellness. Not when the barista at the coffee bar in the corner is rattling off some other total. Not while her big, clumsy hands shuffle dollars.

Not when it’s happening.

He walks her through the transaction and leaves with his bag of book, shaking his head, probably lamenting the state of the modern school system.

The next customer pays with a card.

Margot’s break starts in ten minutes. She doesn’t ask if the customer found everything they needed. She smiles in a way she hopes is polite, not toothy or manic. She tries to relax the muscles around her eyes. They feel too wide and round and dry. The customer takes their bag. They don’t look at her. They look uncomfortable.

When the clock reads 11:15, she’s ringing up a memoir for an older woman who asks abruptly, quietly, “Are you ok?”

Ok, Margot thinks. What a funny name that would be.

She imagines a big, round man, like Uncle Pennybags, with a monocle and a push broom mustache.

‘Ok? Me? No! Never heard of him!’

Her vision blurs. Her eyes are leaking.

Because it’s happening again.

“I’m good,” she says, and her voice does sound good. “Allergy season is killing me, though!”

The old woman smiles, obviously relieved. She even gives a little laugh.

“You poor thing!”

“A Claritin should take care of it,” says Margot.

“I hope so,” the woman says, and wishes her a good day.

Margot doesn’t run. She wants to. Dear God, she wants to. She clocks out. She measures her steps to the back of the store. She opens and closes apps on her phone. The sweat on her face is cold. She shivers. She burns.

The keypad. Margot knows the code. If she’s entered it once, she’s entered it a million times. This is a strange expression, one she’s never understood, and she vows never to use it out loud. Her hands are slimy. Her mouth is dry. Footsteps clap down the hall behind her. Margot turns and heads back the way she came, as though she just left the break room, and didn’t suddenly forget the code after six months on the job. Travis smiles at her. Margot smiles back, but her mouth is puckered, tight and unrelenting. Her whole body stiffens. Her strides get shorter.

It is happening.

The restrooms are in the opposite corner of the bookstore. Margot’s heart beats hard and erratic. Blurred faces turn to follow her. She fixes her eyes on the restroom sign and walks faster.

Margot does not run.

As soon as the stall door locks behind her, it happens.

Her face splits from her hairline. Red and grey tissues stretch tight over the white of her skull. She’s crowning, birthing herself. The flesh of her lips peels away from her teeth and her forehead flops onto her collarbone. Margot pushes against the stall walls, palms to the plastic laminate. Her elbows buckle. One bone erupts from her arm. She groans. The toilet next door flushes. Its occupant flees without washing their hands.

Margot crawls out of her skin. She leaves her legs and hips behind, pulls her head and shoulders out from under the stall wall, dragging her spine on the tile floor. When the door opens, Margot rushes between a pair of heels as fast as her arms can carry her.

Everybody stares. Margot knows they’re staring. It’s not that she doesn’t care, but she can’t care right now. She’s smearing herself everywhere. She’s in a hurry.

Because it’s happening again.

God help anyone who gets in her way. Her dislocated ulna rattles against the concrete. Teeth grind. Skin-gloves leave bloody handprints on the sidewalk. Feet dance around her, skittering away. Margot’s eyes roll up. Blurred faces stare down. They’re afraid she’ll bite them if they touch her. She will bite them if they touch her. She crawls faster and they all jump aside. She has to get home. She must hide.

Because it’s happening again.

Margot squirms through the cat door. The animal runs and hides. She smells redwood incense and the toast she burned this morning and knows she’s home. The bed is just a mattress on the floor, and she slithers between the sheets, covered in bookstore bathroom filth, cat hair, and grime from the all the street in between. The ceiling fan chills her bloody muscle. She watches the blades spin until her eyes roll all the way around, into her mind.

It is done.

The cat stays under the couch. The pull chain clicks against the glass lightbulb housing, sounding off the fan’s rotations. Margot’s lungs empty, and the slow decay starts. She’ll watch it all, from the inside out—the shriveling tongue, the slowly disintegrating cartilage. She’ll smell it. Sour eggs and yeast. She’ll hear the creak of caving bone. When it’s all over, she’ll grow back. It’ll be slow. It will hurt. The stitching of molecules. The splitting of cells. Now she rots, but she’ll get up someday soon.

 

Healing takes time. Rebuilding takes more. She can’t go back to the bookseller. There’s no excuse for today. She’ll have to find another job. A long road lies ahead of her, and she’ll watch over her shoulder all the way because, no matter how far she gets, she is only ever just waiting.

Because it will happen again.

Dark Recesses

Press

Vol. 6, Issue 17

Available in

Print & Digital

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