Honestly it scared me a lot when she did it because it reminded me of how we are all capable of anything. I went over to her house which I’ve always envied because it’s beautiful and old and sort of run down. I’ve always loved things that are on the verge of falling apart. She’d dyed her hair a funny kind of yellow and the first thing I noticed were the bangs, she’d cut them herself, and it was this messy curly fringe pounced on her forehead. She barely greeted me and went off into the house and I had to shut the door myself. She was barefoot and wearing a plaid, flowered shirt – she always wore things from thrift shops, not in a fashionable way, but in a way that said she was trying to get as far away from good as possible.
The clock said it was ten past two and it was hot in there. She caught me sweating and laughed and said there was no air conditioner and she was afraid to open the windows because the neighbors had been complaining about night bugs. I asked her what are night bugs but she had already gone off into the kitchen. She didn’t have much furniture but in the kitchen she had an immense wooden table, vast and stretching, like something from a different age. On the table today were the following items: a pillowcase, folded and to the side, two plastic bottles of pills on their sides with their insides spilled onto the table, a tall glass of juice filled to the very top, and three dried-up bay leaves laid out next to each other in a set.
“I’m making things today,” she said and bent all the way over the table, putting her eyeballs so close to the pills, as if she was trying to scoop them up with her lashes.
The heat was worse in here and I noticed she had a fire going in the fireplace.
“You’re burning a fire,” I said stupidly to match the stupidity of the act.
She didn’t answer, only kept eyeing the pills.
“I found this recipe. . . .”
I waited for her to finish.
“…from the middle ages,” she said, about half a minute later. “It’s for diamonds.”
“What?” I said.
She went to the fire and prodded around in it with a long, black fire poker. Where on earth had she gotten one of those, I wondered. I didn’t recall her ever having a fire in here before.
“I’ve been doing some reading,” she said, and reached for the glass of juice. It must’ve been sitting on the table for a while, because all of the pulp had settled at the bottom, and the upper half was clear and watery. In one violent motion she grabbed the glass and threw the entire thing into the fire.
There was a crash as it smashed against the bricks and a whooshing flare of angry fire provoked by the liquid. I yelped and stepped backward, my spine finding an empty part of the brick wall furthest from the fire and pressing against it. I placed my hands on either side of me as if the wall was the ground.
“It’s all . . . so . . . precise,” she said, staring at the fire for a moment. Even as she spoke she seemed completely unaware of me, and I watched as next she reached for the pillowcase. Opening it, she one by one dropped the three bay leaves. She closed her fist around the neck and closed her eyes to match. Her lips started to shift and I felt something start to move down the small of my back. I nearly yelped again, but when I reached my fingers under my shirt I realized it was only a wet stream of sweat.
Keeping her eyes shut, she moved her empty hand over the table, fingers fanned out toward every corner, north south east and west. They came to a rest suspended above the scattered pills. They stayed there, hovering and shifting like five antennas gathering information. Very carefully, they chose first one pill and then another.
Pills in one hand and pillowcase in the other, she turned her body once more to face the fireplace. Whatever she was saying was audible to me only in the form of a slight, murmury hum. Everything in the air around us seemed suddenly sharper and more in focus: the steady stream down my back, the progressive pounding at my temples, the sickening burn of my skin as the fire grew in height. My lungs heaved smoky air in, out, in and out, and my tongue was too heavy to lick at my cracking lips. The proportions of the objects surrounding me morphed and shifted: the table shrank and the yellow blob of her head expanded. The fire danced and so did her arms, rhythmically lifting the objects they held higher and higher.
The abrasiveness of the silence when she left off speaking made me flinch. For a moment everything held still. The very flames themselves froze.
Then – gracefully, artfully – her arms swooped downward and the fire leaped upward and the objects in her hands were thrown. Every part of me burned. An awful sound of screaming muscled itself out of my throat, ripping free from my mouth.
I lost the gravity that held me to the wall and dropped pin-like to the ground. My lungs stopped screaming but nothing else did. The hideous burning sensation traveled over every part of me and then concentrated itself in my left leg.
The whole time, my eyes remained open. I couldn’t move, not even to blink. I stared at the blackened cracks in the kitchen’s ceiling and wished I would die. Her face leaned into the window of my vision. She grimaced a little from her bent over position, and then did the practical thing which was to smile hopefully.
“There’s something funny happening to your leg,” she informed me.
I tried to reply but not even the smallest of groans could move in my throat.
“It’s still there,” she said, delivering the good part of the news. “Only it’s sort of, it’s turning a translucent kind of color? And looks a bit…a bit rocky. Yes – like rock.” She nodded as if confirming this to herself. Clouds moved through her eyes and over her face while she thought. The pain was so great I wondered why I hadn’t lost consciousness. I thought again how I wanted to die.
She straightened up and I lost sight of her. I could hear her as she wandered around the room.
“I really don’t understand it,” she muttered. I thought she must have forgotten me completely. “I must have done something wrong.”
I waited for her to come back, but after a while I gave up on this and let my world turn black.
Erin McIntosh is a writer and actress currently living in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared and is forthcoming in various journals including Bone Bouquet, Lavender Review, Cleaver Magazine, Gravel and apt. Visit her at www.erinmcintoshofficial.com.