The first time I see her after surgery, her eyes are large like fried eggs. It bothers me, the way she stares unblinking, like she’s watching a world I’m not privy to. It’s the morphine, she says when I ask, then giggles.
She’s been dyeing her hair for so long I have no idea when mine will go gray—but there are hints of it turning around her ears and at her temples. Things change so quickly when they’re not looked after. She clutches shampoo and conditioner bottles in her hand while I help her shower, careful to avoid the bandages on her belly. Her weight loss is obvious now, the water pressure pushing her over. I reach out and steady her by the shoulder, the way she steadied me when I was younger, and am caught by how much her arm resembles the wing of a bird, its bones so intricate and light.
The doctor is trying to poison me, she says.
A man slips into my room every night, holding a knife with my blood on it, she says.
My husband, she starts. My husband, my husband, my husband.
She’s only been here four days.
Does she have any substance abuse issues? the doctor asks. How much does she drink?
The doctor doesn’t ask why. Why she drinks so much, why she’s so depressed, why she ignored her diverticulitis until it almost killed her.
My dad, I start, but cut myself off. The doctor isn’t here to fix me.
At her house, the bottles in her kitchen cupboard are organized from largest to smallest, the way everything else in the space is organized. I tip the bottles down the sink, glug, glug, glug, until there’s nothing left, and I haven’t smelled anything so wretched since the shit-mix I made with girlfriends in ninth grade. Some of the bottles break when I drop them into the recycling bin, some don’t. There are more bottles in the front hall cupboard. In the bathroom drawer. In the bedroom bedside table. I remove them all, just as the doctors removed part of her large intestine: methodically and carefully.
Back in her recovery room, I brush her hair, the way she used to brush mine; one hundred strokes a night.
Your hair is so soft, I say, so pretty.
She smiles at me, her ghastly oversized eyes trying to catch mine.
Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.