Two months since the accident and Anita still believes she’s a corpse. She imagines her breath slick with decay, her skin sliming off in globs.
Look, she tells her girlfriend. I’m crumbling into my own fingers.
Janice’s mouth tightens. A scar pulses with her jaw muscles. You’re fine. She caresses Anita’s scaly lips; the papery ridges catch her fingerprints.
Years ago, Anita learned to imagine herself as other things, in other places, to flee from the canyons people leave behind. She told Janice this once, who’d giggled, grabbed her hand, said, that’s bizarre, I love whatever you are right now.
Anita traces her hands over the caldera of her belly. Says, feel my stomach. It’s gone. I’m just so cold.
She thinks: Imagine yourself as an avalanche. Remembers hiking through Elephant Rocks, massive smooth boulders hunched together before them, ending at the slope. Janice following the indents she made in the clay, only slogging along to appease her, Anita knew, would rather exist among living objects, ones that had not been extinct for millennia. The rain, thick and tumbling. Anita shouting, we could be washed away. Wondering whether a flood would shove them under the earth or over a chasm.
Janice sighs. Tosses her a blanket, tucks the edges under Anita’s body.
Anita tears skin from her knuckles, widening the cracks so what’s inside can gush out—blackened, sludged.
Her girlfriend sees. Christ, she says, the cushions.
Anita’s reply: Corpses don’t bleed.
You’re insane, you know that? Janice snatches her hand, mummifies it in paper towels.
The first time they met bubbles in Anita’s skull. Could you ever see yourself as anything else, she’d asked this woman, this Janice, who moved in lava streams and pyroclastic flows, the products of eons-old tensions Anita ached to discover, to be scalded by, to understand. Anita said, I’d imagine myself as the earth, holding your roots in deep.
On the couch Anita thinks, imagine yourself different than you are. Because she will leave you, imagine yourself alive. Still clutches the paper towel to her knuckles, spotted with blood.
Janice tells her, I’m sorry, but you’re not dead. You’ve never been dead. I wish you could see.
You’d rather be dead than with me? Janice’s hands start to shake. To tremble. Anita knows she prides herself on not being one of those women who cries over everything.
Anita imagines her lover as a broken sign. Flickering in the dark. Trying to protect people from falling rock, from dead end caverns.
Well, Janice says. I don’t know what to tell you. What I need for you to be is not dead.
Anita doesn’t know what to say, but corpses never know what to say.
Imagine yourself alive.
Anita breathes and they are walking through mist, climbing beside a waterfall and she’s shouting, what if there was a tremor? She breathes and they are in the cavern and she’s being snatched away from a precipice she can see no end to; it plummets off in the dark and Janice hisses, Jesus, you don’t know how deep–
Imagine yourself as a box. Imagine being filled with fossils you don’t recognize or believe.
Anita hasn’t got the strength to hold her head up. She sees the edge, always, of the pit in the cave and she sees herself shouting, I could find out what’s down there. I could discover something.
Always Janice yanks her back. Always it’s Janice who slips, who loses her grip on Anita’s hand, who crashes into the cavern wall, into safety. Always Anita falls without screaming.
Always she flashes: which one let go?
Imagine yourself swept into alluvium. As debris of yourself your lover has saved.
Janice strokes Anita’s cheek, taut and hollow and the color of greyed-out clay.
Anita thinks in images, ones kept in jars, preserved and bobbing in formaldehyde. Climbing through woods, the two of them. Scrambling through the cave, whispering echoed secrets into the dark. Anita chasing the cavity in the deep and Janice hovering behind, calling, why can’t we go back? Because we’re so far under the earth, Anita told her, breathing clouds into the dark over the ledge, that if there was a collapse we’d stay buried forever.
Imagine yourself as a fault. Imagine yourself weeping shards of rock.
Janice holds Anita’s hands in hers until their hands, all four of them, are moist with decay.
Elizabeth Breazeale is a first-year MFA candidate at Bowling Green State University. She graduated with a BA in Creative Writing and a BA in Literature from Missouri State University, and her focus is fiction. Her work has appeared previously in the Moon City Review and the Poydras Review.
Artwork: “Untitled” by Tanna Burchinal