First Try “Dance for me,” Tayla said. She stroked her piano as if it were a kitten. Slow simple music. Gentle light filled the room like a mother’s promise. I stood in the middle of the empty floor, filling my lungs with warm air. “Dance for me,” she said. I didn’t want to. I wanted to lie there and stare at the ceiling. I wanted to sleep. But Tayla’s music coaxed a rhythm in me. I moved cautiously, spinning on my good leg. Muscles bunched, out of practice. My arms rose like kelp in a tide. Tayla watched and played and I danced. I danced. I sweated. Heat rolled off of me, a nearly invisible wall of effort. I didn’t make it through the whole thing. Pain flashed from knee to hip. Black spots unfolded, grew and exploded in my eyes. I crumpled and cried. Tayla put her hands on my leg. “What happened?” “I’m dying.” “You’re not dying,” she said. “Everything will be fine.” But she couldn’t know that. No one could. I needed to get out of here. I needed to get away from the pity, the failure. I hated myself. I needed to get away before things got really bad, before the world gave up on me all together.
Faith There he was. Gid. In the window during government, blotch of old blood. It was impossible. Government was on the second floor. I couldn’t see the ground from my seat. All I saw were trees and the mountains on the horizon, eating the sky. But there he was, standing just outside the window, watching me watch him. I tried to pretend that I didn’t notice, but we both knew I did. Neither of us could ignore the other. Mr. Hamlett stood at the front of the class talking about theocracies. He talked about Israel, the Vatican. He talked about Iran. “When the state is married to a certain faith, any faith, it becomes an incestuous circle reinforcing the worst parts of dogma and doctrine.” Mr. Hamlett was a demagogue. He spread his propaganda like a gardener watering his plants. Not that he was wrong, but he never argued the other side. He seemed to think it was his calling to evangelize the Gospel of Atheism and Reason. Only there was very little of either in his class. He lifted his hands and they were covered in blood. “This is what I offer you,” he said. Anger roiled in my middle. Gid had no place here. I’d gotten used to life without him. I thought we were done but now, here he was, poking at me with his whispers. Cold crystallized the bones in my hands. Tendons stretched. Muscles wept. Colored string pulled at every joint. My skin opened, and light seared every nerve. “Pain,” Gid said. “Turn away from the flesh.” Tears ran hot and hard. “You’re dying,” Gid said. I choked. “They’ll pull you apart,” he said.