Spooky Action at a Distance, by Emily Dezurick-Badran

Art: Requiem For a Dream

It was January when I saw myself — a copy of myself, I mean, a much younger me — making footprints through linty snow. I was in Dimpstead, one of those drab English towns that orbits Manchester, and the air was grainy with dusk when the little double appeared from around a corner, bare arms browned and glowing as though under my native Californian sun. She walked right by without glancing up, passing close enough for me to see the crescent moon charm at the center of the choker she wore at her neck. I turned to speak her name — my own name, Emily — into the gloaming, but she had vanished. And so I carried on home, feeling shaken, my own name still caught in my mouth.

The choker worn by my double had been a gift from my mother on the morning of my fourteenth birthday. I had only worn it that one day, so I knew the younger me was the me of the Fifth of May, 1998. That day the air was thick with the coming summer, and as I sat on the front steps of the school eating my lunch I was approached by an older boy — a Junior mere months away from being a Senior. So it was a wonder for him to speak to me. He praised my face, called it exotic, then unclasped the choker from my neck with damp fingers, printing me with his sweat and telling me that on your birthday you should always give gifts as well as receive them. It pained me to relinquish the choker but I told him he could take it, hoping for further praise. He said he’d keep it as a good-luck charm. For all I knew, he owned it still.

And even all these years later I avoided saying his name aloud, because his name itself invoked that black time that came after. Early June, heavy blue skies. Me in a green dress dark as the deepest point in a summer lake. There were several times he peeled my legs apart. June was the first. Wide-handed, thick-knuckled. Beneath him I was snarled in the sweaty bedclothes. Chest over me bare and dripping his smells of peppermint and cigarettes and father’s cologne. You don’t love me you don’t love me into his chest overhead while he hit and hit the bottom of the inside of the body. The eyes wet and running, face a red smear. Afterward he told me I was supposed to like it. He said, You look ugly when you cry. But it had been impossible to stop crying, and he’d enjoyed my tears well enough when he did that thing to me.

After a handful of these sorts of dates he was done with me. And of course he told people about it — mainly about how easy it had been to possess me.

When I saw my little double in Dimpstead I was startled but not surprised. For a long time I’d had the feeling that something was missing. And though I’d only been in the town — in the country, actually — a week, I already felt that my life there was the life of a double.

Just before Christmas my brother had called to say he’d been awarded a six-month fellowship to dig for Kurdish pottery in Iraq and he wondered if I wanted to housesit, starting just after the holiday. He said, You could work on your art here. Have a real break.

I was already on leave from my museum job and a part-time PhD in contemporary art writing of the Levant and Gulf regions. My supervisors had suggested a period of rest for the sake my mental health, so in late November I’d moved back to my hometown, into my parents’ house.

But I didn’t rest. Instead I walked downtown every day, on a route that took me past the house where that boy’s parents’ still lived. Usually I walked with my arms drawn into the body of my coat and my mother walked beside me, holding an empty sleeve and asking, What’s that boy up to these days?

I knew he lived in an adjacent town, worked at City Hall, was married and had two children. But each time my mother inquired after him, I said, Oh, I don’t know.

It seemed I should take a different route, or rest, or work. But instead I did the same thing, day after day. So when my brother called and made his offer, I told him without hesitation, Yes, I’ll come.

A week later I was in Dimpstead with three new responsibilities: my brother’s cat, his house, and his weekly visits to an elderly friend.

Caring for the cat was easy: she was called Marianne after our mother, and was a solitary creature that required little fuss. The house was a detached, frumpy pre-war build, and my brother had renovated the interior with vintage Californian flare — wood paneled the walls of living room and hallway; brick arches curved over doorways; and the dining room was backed by floor-to-ceiling windows that curved at the top into a truncated skylight. There were oak cabinets and pinewood tables. It was quite like the house my brother and I had grown up in, and if you stayed indoors you could almost imagine you were in America.

I went out. I’d lived in England before, for five years — during undergraduate, then graduate school, then a year to work as a research assistant before they bounced me back to America — but I’d never lived in the North, and I was curious to see that place that the South of England considered wretched, for I found wretched things sympathetic.

My second day in Dimpstead I explored the short high street, climbed a long house-lined path to the crest of the hill that overlooked the town. A damp breeze lifted my coat and snapped it stiff into a single dark wing.

I took out my sketchpad and pencils, and started to draw Dimpstead. The town was tight and red-grey, coiling around itself like an empty orange peel, the train tracks webbing toward Manchester in the east. I began around three in the afternoon and yet each time I glanced back down the town looked darker, night pressing on. After half an hour, any warmth from the day had been pulled beyond the horizon with the sun, and lights blinked on below. My drawing became murky, my fingers stiff and red from the cold.

On the walk back to my brother’s house I entertained myself by drawing an aerial map of the shops that lined Dimpstead’s high street, sketching details in the margins — the iron bars at the windows, decades-old advertisements painted on the sides of buildings, the posters for this circus or that pantomime, peeling away to reveal ever older versions of the past underneath. I made a map leading all the way back to my brother’s front door.

It was only once I was tucked into the house, the lights blazing warm and the cat in my lap, that I noticed Dimpstead’s layout matched that of my hometown. Oh, Dimpstead’s sidewalks were cobbled, not concrete, and the names were solidly white British (Milstead, Bailey), but the order of the roads and stores was identical in both towns: a bakery in Dimpstead where there was a bakery in my hometown; damp cafe for coffee shop; Poundland for Dollar Store; charity shop for thrift-store; Christian Science in place of New Age, Lloyd’s for Bank of America, and a church where a church belonged. Then a large overgrown field in which an abandoned factory fell to dust. In Dimpstead the factory had once produced miles of cotton cloth, whereas the factory at home was a chicken processing plant.

First I wondered at myself — had I drawn Dimpstead wrong, unconsciously creating a map of someplace more familiar? The next day I revisited the high street and found that the map I’d made was correct. Baffled, I went into the bakery, ordered a coffee and settled at one of the two small tables at the front; I’d always found the bakery in my hometown soothing. It occurred to me to put in an application to work at the Dimpstead bakery — my little jaunt across the Atlantic had cost most of my savings (student loans notwithstanding). Besides, it wasn’t good for me to be alone too much, because when left alone I became frightened by simple things like the wind whistling down the fireplace and branches scratching the sides of the house. The bakery’s counter girl was heavily pregnant and in need of immediate replacement, and the manager hired me on the spot for three days a week at minimum wage.

So there was the job, the house, the cat. And then there was Salma Bharat — a pensioner my brother visited once a week. Salma was one of a few brown faces in town, and she and my brother, who was paler-skinned but outsider enough for Dimpstead, had fallen into easy conversation the first time they encountered one another. On Sundays I visited Salma.

She was small and quite old — though she would never tell me her exact age, she was in her late seventies at least. Her Tamil parents had migrated from Madras to fill professional jobs in Manchester, and Salma herself had become a civil servant and been active in the Indian Worker’s Association during her younger years. Though she often repeated herself and told me in too much detail about the contents of her daily shopping, her wit remained sharp. Briskly, she accepted me as my brother’s replacement, saying, I prefer women over men; jokingly she referred to my brother as the Boy Colonial. She said to me, I can’t understand why a man who’s Lebanese and American would want to dig up Kurdish pots for the British Government.

I liked her at once. She was bold but kind, and reminded me of our erstwhile grandmother, Grandma Sally — Sally being a nickname for Saleema.

I told Salma of the coincidence — her name and my grandmother’s so similar — and she laughed and said, Yes, the Boy Colonial’s always calling me Sally, even though I tell him not to. Now I’m quite used to it. But you won’t call me Sally, will you, Emily?

I promised her I wouldn’t.

Age had robbed Salma of friends, put her into a smaller, more manageable house, and bent her with osteoporosis that turned a jaunt to the shops into a trek. With a glint in her eye, Salma said, One day I woke up and found I had no one left to whinge to.

(Whinge — how did other Americans cope without these types of words? Whinge was much nicer than the nasally whine.)

Salma was proudly divorced — thirty-five years so — and kept a photo of her doughy white husband on the mantel. The photo was nothing special — a pink-faced man half-asleep in his worn recliner. They’d met while working transportation at the Manchester City Council.

Useless man, Salma said when I asked after him. I stayed with him because that was just what you did! He couldn’t bear my family, and he had not one minute for the things I liked. I’d be saying, James, let’s go here, let’s do this, and it was no, no. He wanted to stay home in his chair with a good view of the telly. So one day I move his chair from the lounge to the kitchen. It’s a heavy bugger, takes me all of a Saturday afternoon. James comes in, he looks in the lounge, goes straight into the kitchen and sits in the chair. And tells me to move the telly so he can see it from there. Doesn’t even ask what’s happened! He had no curiosity. So I told him I’d had enough and that was that!

I asked her why she displayed his photo.

It’s for when I need a laugh, she said.

Salma asked me how I’d come to be a painter. Apparently my brother had told her I was a professional artist so had a great deal of unstructured time, which was why I was able to fill in for him on such short notice. It’s good, Salma said, to have so much time do things your own way.

I agreed, and didn’t bother to correct the polite lies my brother had told. Maybe I could inhabit this new life he’d invented for me.




It was after that initial meeting with Salma that I saw my little double for the first time. The following day I saw myself again, although of course the choker was gone. After that the little double appeared every day, but at some distance, vanishing before I could catch up to her. I only wanted to speak to her, to warn her about that boy. But she was always so far away, and when I called out to her, she would only glare and squint at me and hurry off, and the next day would appear at an even greater distance.

I told myself there was still time to get her attention. That boy’s courtship, such as it was, had been slow at the beginning. I didn’t know how long I had — I couldn’t remember the dates exactly — but I was sure there were weeks left.

So in that first month, I was patient. I worked my three days at the bakery, icing cakes, packing baps and rustic loaves. I made my drawings. I visited Salma on Wednesday evenings as well as Sundays, bringing chocolate biscuits and pistachio burfi from a particular Manchester bakery.

Once each week I went to Manchester and watched the grey faces flood past, searching for my own young face in the crowds. I sketched the high, bare buildings, the weed-choked canals, the leaves eddying in gutters. Mainly I drew from memory maps of the places I’d seen my little double. I tried to connect them, but the paths I made looped and tangled themselves like knotted threads that smeared when I accidentally dragged the side of my hand across the page. My fingertips were grey from graphite.

The weeks passed, one and another and another.

In the fifth week my opportunity came. I was at work that day. The front door of the bakery was kept open despite the brisk winter wind, and heat from the ovens tumbled from the back room into the front. The smell of yeast permeated my clothes, pleasant and sour. That week I had begged off doing the writing on the special cakes because I’d stopped sleeping much and my hands trembled badly, causing me to blot the lettering.

That afternoon I was in the midst of bagging someone’s half-loaf of bread when I saw her beyond the glass — the little double so close that had the windowpane not been there, I could’ve taken a single step forward and touched her.

The cash register was still open, change unmade, but I set the money and the carrier bag of bread on the counter and said, I have to go. Still wearing my yellow apron I rushed into the cold, turned left onto Deacon Street (in my hometown, Beacon Lane) and gave chase. Down that gently sloping road the little double went, her gait light and swift, and I ran after her, slipping on packed slush and lengths of dark ice. No matter how quickly I went, she was ahead. But I had a better lead than usual, and I was able to follow her a long time.

As I rushed through the streets I shouted her name. Passers-by turned to look, and I ignored them. I’d left my coat and gloves at the bakery, and a chill entered me. The sun was low and long, a single sheet of weak light that pricked my eyes.

We were almost to the edge of Dimpstead when it occurred to me where she was headed: into the cow pasture on the outskirts of my hometown, where there was an oak the cows clustered under whenever it rained. That had been my safe place. I hurried after her, fixed on the image of that oak, club-leaved under golden California skies.

I was up to my ankles in Dimpstead’s murky pond before I realized there was no such field — at least not in this town. I backed out of the water and called the double’s name, but she had gone again.

I retreated from the pond. The sun had slunk behind the hills and a cold sky stretched thin over the horizon. Water squelched and pulsed in my shoes.

Slowly I made my way back to the bakery, where my coat and bag remained. When I arrived, my supervisor Bethan stood and said, We thought you’d taken ill! with such worry in her voice that I nearly began to cry. She clucked over my bare arms and waterlogged shoes and asked me what had happened.

The pond, I said. It was an accident.

Bethan led me into the back by the ovens and removed my shoes. My feet were lavender, and I thought the color pretty. She propped me on a chair, heaped coats over me, and began to rub my feet. Pretty soon I was crying with pain as the feet came back to life. What happened? Bethan kept saying. What were you doing over at the pond?

I told her I was very sorry and that it was no big deal, I’d just forgotten something there and had to go back. I talked on and on, saying I’d been under a strain recently, but it was no big deal, I was fine. Bethan gave me an appraising look — she knew my responsibilities were minimal, while she herself had two children and spent her evenings and weekends training for a nursing certificate. Overwork and chronic underemployment were the kinds of thing that caused people in Dimpstead to feel a strain. Walking into a pond had no part in it.

Bethan was cross with me for inviting a chill (her words), and insisted on driving me to Accident and Emergency. I waited three hours to see the triage nurse and then a doctor, who asked me what was wrong. I showed him my feet, which by that time had become swollen and pink, uncomfortably warm. The doctor asked how my shoes had gotten so wet in the winter. From walking in the snow, I told him. I refused to say anything else about it. If they locked me away I might not have time to warn the little double.




The following day was a Sunday, but I called Salma and told her I wasn’t feeling well and that I’d have to see her another time.

That’s a shame, dear, she said, and she gave a short monologue on the merits of bedrest and hot tea and broth.

Tears pressed my eyes. I don’t think it’s that kind of thing, I said.

Is it your stomach?

No, I don’t think so. There was a long silence between us, and in it I could hear her trying to figure out what was the matter with me. Actually, I said, nevermind. I think I should come over after all.

Well, if you think it’s best, Salma said doubtfully. I shouldn’t like to catch anything.

I’m not infectious, I told her.

I arrived late, and Salma was cross because the tea had cooled. She insisted a little too loudly that I sit in her lounge while she brewed more. I listened to the rumble of the electric kettle, the clap of cupboard doors and the tinkle of china and silverware. Eventually she emerged with a fresh pot under its knitted cozy, and a plate of shortbread fingers and sticky coconut laddoos.

While Salma poured the tea and added the milk, I asked her how she was.

Oh, bearing up, she said. Usually she took any invitation to speak at length about the rheumatism in her hip, but instead she paused and said, I heard you left the job on Friday. You were running around the street practically undressed? When I said nothing she added, Mary told me, you see.

(I had no notion who Mary was.)

I said, I was dressed, I just didn’t have my coat. And I squared it with Bethan.

Mary said you seemed agitated.

I’m fine. I just, I thought — I don’t really want to talk about it.

Alright then.

A silence.

I said, I think I might be going crazy, a little bit.

A mad baker? Salma smiled at me and the smile faltered when I couldn’t return it.

I don’t bake, I just do the cash register. The till. And make sandwiches in the morning. And ice the buns.

Icing is baker’s work, so you’re a baker. She waited a moment to see if I’d offer a rejoinder, and when I was silent, she said, Of course you’re an artist, really. What’s sent you round the bend, then?

If I tell you it’ll make me feel worse, I said.

Come on, love. Did something bad happen?

A while ago.

So leave it a while ago. That’s my advice.

I thought I had, I said, but then—

My pulse was hard. I looked at my hands, holding a mug of tea. The veins were standing up, and in the tarnished light of Salma’s living room the skin looked green. My green Arab blood. The hands looked alien. I said, I can’t seem to leave it alone.

Then you must do something, Salma said. It’s not good to be mad. My cousin Alifa went mad, you know, when we were girls, and they put her in the hospital and she was there until she turned thirty-four and after that she couldn’t work. They gave her pills that made her teeth chatter and she couldn’t keep her hands still. She got the walkies, just moving around, couldn’t stop. She died before she turned forty. Nerves.

I said, That’s not really comforting.

I suppose not, Salma said, and sipped. Builder’s tea, she said quietly. James gave me a taste for it. She peered at me with those pink-rimmed and drooping eyes. Dearie, it can’t go on, you know. You mustn’t let madness run riot. You’re young and you have too much you need to do in the world. You have to take these experiences and say oh well and get on with it when you can. That’s the only thing for you.

Another silence. Salma clutched and kneaded a couch cushion, frowning. Abruptly she pushed the cushion aside and said, I have just the thing to cheer you. It never fails to make me laugh. Go into the pantry and bring me the shoebox from the top shelf.

In a closet off the kitchen, behind expired cans and a stack of old bills and an extension cord I found the box — flimsy floral-printed cardboard, surprisingly heavy. I lugged it into the lounge and Salma popped off the lid revealing a mound of loose photographs inside. She spent several minutes bent over the box, muttering to herself and sifting through the photos until at last she exclaimed, struggled up out of the sofa, moved to the mantlepiece, and placed a photo there, next to the one of her ex-husband.

She stood back and admired her handiwork. The second photo appeared to be another image of her ex-husband, his hair sparser, his slump and startled expression identical to the first photo.

What a pair of idiots! Salma beamed. Can you believe there are two?

I looked at the photos, then at her and said, I don’t get it.

He had a twin, just the same as him — another twit. They were a pair of twitty twins.

She chuckled. I burst into tears.




Several days later I saw my little double for the last time. I’d gone into the centre of town to do some grocery shopping at a store with an identical layout to the supermarket in my hometown. Through the shop window I saw my double go by. She was wearing a sleeveless dress in a deep green, a summer lake kind of green. I dropped the basket and tore out of the shop.

I ran after her, through the streets of terraced houses, their windows empty and dark. My little double was so far ahead of me, like always. She turned a corner, and I followed onto a street I’d never before seen. There was a rise and a curve in the road, and after a moment I noticed that the numbers on the houses counted up on one side and down on the other, just as they did on the street where that boy’s parents lived. There were other familiarities — the low garden walls, the funny angle of the road, even the number of houses. My pace quickened. Far ahead my double had turned into the garden of a particular house — his house. She disappeared through the door. I tore up the street, wheezing a little in the cold, knocked on the door, calling her name.

Almost at once the door opened and spit a little puff of wet warmth out to me and a woman with grey roots showing under a red dye job said, Can I help you?

Where’s Emily? I said. I need to talk to her. She has to leave right now.

The woman looked me over. I was disheveled from the run and still breathing heavily. She shifted a little to block the doorway as she called back into the house, Emmy? Emmy, there’s a woman here who says she knows you.

Who is it, mum? A teenage girl appeared far down the hall, standing in socks with a half-eaten piece of toast in her hand. She was slight and blonde, wearing a red coat and jeans.

I shook my head. Isn’t there anyone else here? I said. Emily came in; I saw her. Please, I said, I just need to talk to Emily.

Go back in the kitchen, the woman said over her shoulder, and then to me, Who’re you looking for? It’s only the two of us here. She shifted further into the wedge of the open door, filling the space. My husband will be back soon.

Now I began to understand: Emily had gone into that house but she wasn’t there. She’d gone. And I saw I was upsetting this woman for no reason at all, this woman who didn’t know my Emily, who had her own Emily safely tucked inside.

I said, I’m sorry; I think I’m confused. I didn’t mean to bother you.

But as I turned and tried to regain the street I stumbled and slipped on the ice; or maybe the vigor simply left my body of its own volition and I collapsed. What I remember is laying supine on the dark ground and thinking I should get up but not having the energy to move any part of myself, and thinking that it didn’t feel so bad to be on the ground. It was peaceful.

The red-haired woman appeared over me, blocking the sky. She was now wearing a winter coat with furry trimming and her face rested on a platter of fur as she said, Are you alright? You had a fall. Her eyes had gone very wide, and I noticed for the first time those eyes were vivid green. I wondered how colors got so intense as that. Was there water in her eyes: sea-water, lake-water, dammed behind the lens? Around me I could hear the wet rush of the moving world, but all I could see were those green eyes.

Her face was near enough that I could smell stale cigarette smoke on her breath, warm and sour. She said, Can you hear me?

I can’t move, I said, because I’m so tired. I need to rest.

You fell, love, she said. Then her face went away and I heard her muttering in the house and telling her daughter to go upstairs. I heard her say, No, she won’t move. She’s concussed or something. In a little while the re-haired woman came back and said, I’ve called an ambulance.

I smiled because it seemed good that I wouldn’t have to move. Soon the paramedics came and sped me away into the dark.




At the hospital they want you to be unwell.

They carried me into some back room and slid me into a chair and asked me questions and when I was too tired to bother talking anymore, they stopped asking and simply began doing things for me.

They lifted me into a wheelchair and dragged me backwards down a long white hall into the belly of the hospital. The nurse chattered at me the whole time. I tried to talk to him and my speech came out in a slow, jerky ripple. He kept saying, Okay, I understand, even in response to my questions. I couldn’t understand anything he said. Time had slipped out of place.

Ahead of us wide automatic doors swung opened with a blast of stink, and I was pulled into an open ward full of women, the sleeping sick sprawled in beds. The lights were low and in that twilight nurses stood clustered in white scrubs, chatting.

My nurse pulled me past, saying, This is Emily Qamari, and in chorus the other nurses replied, Hello, Emily. I wanted to raise my hand and wave, but the hand was too heavy.

My nurse settled me in a bed and spread a thin hospital blanket over me. He took my blood pressure and temperature and once he was done he turned off the light above the bed and pulled the curtain closed, so I was alone under paper sheets with time twisting and falling all around me in the dark. It was deep dark, an opaque and rich dark, dark as the bottom of a summer lake, and everything was down there: the smell of that boy’s sweat and flesh. The damp skin on my belly where the puddle of his semen cooled. The dryness of my swollen eyes. Tears had run out by that point; I wasn’t done crying, but the tears were done with me. He put me in two inches of bathwater like I was a baby he didn’t want to drown and made me clean myself. Put me back into the green linen dress. But that green was the green of a living place. And the person who walked out of his parents’ house was dead.

Listen. If anyone’s ever taken something from you, you’ll get it, whether it was a ball in the playground or a dollar from your pocket. And if you’ve felt a hard blow then you know what I mean — how it is to be in that moment you’ve been made no one. Now take that moment and stretch it until it’s a skin across you. That’s the pain of it.

The darkness went on, went deeper. That far down, pain was akin to silence. I floated on the dark I don’t know how long. The memories rose like oil.

Until a light came on. Just one, above and to the side of me, from the next bed, beyond the paper curtains. After a few moments the light winked off, then on once more, then off and on again. Perhaps the woman in that bed was hoping to attract the attention of the nurses; but no nurse came. Several times I called softly to the woman on the other side of the curtain, to ask what was wrong but mostly to tell her to stop, to fix the light on or off. I could bear being just in the dark or just in light, but I couldn’t stand going back and forth — one moment, that boy’s breath boiling down on me, and the next, the brightness hauling me back up into the present.

I whispered through the curtain, Why are you doing that? Are you okay? I was sitting forward now, tensed against the oscillation of time. The light extinguished. Snapped back on. With a prickling of my skin I began to think there was no one behind the curtain at all, that the light was simply exercising itself.

And then it stayed on for half a minute, a minute, two.

The light shined steady in a soft curve against the speckled ceiling tiles. I lowered socked feet to the floor and whispered again, Are you okay? When there was no response I slid my hand through the gap between the paper curtains — cautious, because I couldn’t be certain there was any world beyond — and moved through to the other side.

In the adjacent hospital bed a woman lay asleep, her face peaceful. My first thought was that she looked much like my aunt Lucille. Then I recognized the pajamas she wore, flannel, with a print of horses. They were my pajamas, so worn the red had faded to pink, the horses distended. The face was my face — my own but older. The hair was long and wound into a dark braid beside the shoulder. I hadn’t recognized the face because its expression was quiet and content.

On the wall the light burned brightly, a beacon.

Her mouth was slack, as though she were about to speak. And I almost woke her because I wanted to ask whether there was some message she’d come to tell me; only I couldn’t bring myself to intrude on myself, because I looked so peaceful there, sleeping soundly in my someday. I didn’t want to infect her with the badness of this time. But I couldn’t resist — I wanted some small part of her quiet — so I reached down to touch her hand. And for a moment, I felt the warmth of it; but in the space of a blink she was gone. The light went off and I was in darkness. I missed her and I was afraid.

Beyond the next curtain, a light flared on. I moved through to that adjacent bed, and again saw myself laying there asleep, older still, the black hair shot now with needles of grey, the eyes pouchy, the forehead lined, but so slack. Though the face had a sadness, it was tranquil. Ahead of me the light beyond the next curtain flickered on, and I moved through, to see myself again. I walked on and on like that, and I saw that all across the ward different, older versions of me occupied every bed. The future slept around me. In the last bed I was so old and small my body looked almost flat under the blanket, and yet still my expression remained gentle, untroubled.

At last I emerged and there were no more beds to see. I was out in the general ward, which was now brightly illuminated. A nurse came through and said, Why are the lights on? and one by one, she drew back the curtains to switch off the lights, and I saw the beds were empty. I was alone again.

The nurse hustled me back to my own bed, and took my blood pressure and my temperature again, all the while scolding me like I was a child. Indeed, I felt I was a child: the sublime sense I’d had in my early days, that illness led to an imminent wellness, had stolen through me completely. Only now that I was ill could I feel the miraculous recovery coming. The nurse made to turn off my light but I begged her not to, and in the end she left it burning.

Emily Dezurick-Badran is a writer, librarian and roller derby player living in California. She’s been previously published in Fractured West, Litro Online, and the Tin House Open Bar.

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