Through the Looking Glass
by Ania Vesenny
The ceiling is the first thing I see - ornate tiles, lovingly polished by someone who knew about waltzing in crystal slippers. I turn my head to the left, towards Karina. Karina and I, I and Karina, four arms, four legs, an octopus of us, an eight-petal flower, bonded by the leathery membrane, separated only by it. Never separated.
She isn't here.
"Karina!" I can hardly hear my voice. "Help me!" I lick my lips. "Anybody?"
I can't sit up. I search with my hands, I push the blankets away. My abdomen is bandaged. The room turns upside down, its slow rotation squeezes my temples, pushes my eyeballs out. An IV pole quivers next to me, the yellow curtains flap, but I feel no wind. I pound on the dressing until I moan in pain.
The bed rocks like a cradle.
* * *
I had reached out for Karina's hand. A man with ears like snails took it instead. I recoiled in horror and pain.
"Karina!" She did not move.
"Do you want to live?" The man with ears like snails loomed over me. "We have to operate now." The uvula in his throat bulged.
Someone shoved a form into my face. I could hear only the beeping of the machines, and my heart rate, amplified by the loudspeakers.
I wished for Karina to hold me, and we'd fly away. The man with ears like snails put a pen in my hand and closed my fist around it.
The faces above me stretched into grotesque rubber masks.
* * *
We waltz. One two three, one swish three, full skirts three, swish. Karina tapping the beat on my shoulder, the beat she can't bear, the beat I crave to dance to.
"How do they do it?"
"How do they sleep?"
"How do they shit?"
Karina smears rouge onto my cheeks, her fingertips melt into me like chocolate truffles. I brush her sleek hair, sniff behind her ears. She nuzzles my eyebrows, our noses touch.
I wear a black mini-skirt that reveals my cellulite thighs. I wear an invisible smile. I don't mention my thighs, only hers, how sexy they are. She sings into the mike, breathing too hard, but I don't mention this either. I dissolve into her, into the voice of an angel, into the smoke and noise of the bar, wishing I could scratch out the eyes of those who ogle and mock.
I fall asleep to the smell of Karina's tart sweat, her hair tickles my cheek, the air she exhales rests on my lips. I inhale it, and enter her dream.
* * *
Lila is sitting on my bed, her name embroidered in yellow on her chest pocket. Round, brown, wrinkled face; broad, sloping shoulders. In the window behind her a snow-wrapped mountain leans towards me.
"No, you can't dance on the ceiling, silly." She hands me a crochet hook and a ball of white yarn. "To keep your mind busy."
Two men come in without knocking, the one with ears like snails and one with a crutch.
They talk above me. They lift my gown, I pull it back down.
"Karina." I point to my left. "Where is she?" They walk out of the room.
Lila shuts the door behind them, gives me a hasty hug, places my hand on her side. Through her thin robe I can feel her scars. I look up at her. Her eyes are bleeding with tears.
"She isn't here." Lila's face is close to mine. The pores on her rectangular chin are oily and black. "You won't see her again."
* * *
On my way to the bathroom I lose my balance and fall. Without Karina my movements are awkward. The nurse who helps me get up digs her fingers into my arm. I have never been hurt without being given a hug.
I start crocheting a scarf. I count the birds that fly by my window, but lose count after four. I want to smile at the girl who brings breakfast because she doesn't ask how I am, but my face won't move. I struggle to swallow watery oatmeal. My fingers won't peel the tangerine.
I rub the velvety mole on my cheek. With my eyes closed, I fill my lungs with the odour of my skin. I sense Karina through the electric tickle in my fingertips. Then I lose her again.
I press a pillow into my stomach and rock back and forth, until the white walls, the senseless yellow curtains and the mountain merge into a swaying blur.
* * *
Lila enters the room with my lunch. "You've been crying," she says.
"I never consented."
"Of course you did." Lila covers me with a blanket. "You're shivering."
"When can I leave?"
"Orange juice or apple for your lunch?"
Cheerful women on their way out prance on high heels by my door, chat on their cell phones, their new broken bodies on display in skin-tight skirts.
"What about them?"
"They feel they've been freed, their burdens lifted."
I want to cuddle with her by a fireplace, somewhere warm, somewhere far. "Why have you stayed?"
"For someone like you." She sits down on the side of my bed, pokes a hole in the lid of my juice with a straw. "For the mirrors."
* * *
When I am strong enough she leads me to a mirror. We lean into it, into each other, our bodies fuse.
I reach into the mirror, push my hand through its thick, gelatinous surface. Then I feel flesh.