Immediately after the doctor left to tear the fabric of someone else’s reality, Christina’s muscular legs collapsed from beneath her.
She spilled onto the floor of the examination room; the sparkling linoleum absorbed her body and the first of her sobs as she lay down.
The light glared. High above, electricity burned through cylinders. It was all too much. Christina crawled toward the door, next to which the light switches sat. With a fumbling hand, she dragged them all off and was plunged into twilight.
The only source of illumination came now from the window that stared out over the darkening hospital car park. In this softer gaze, Christina spread out like a starfish and let her lungs jerk the tears from her eyes. Breathing she left to instinct; her breathes tumbled haltingly from her lips. The shock had crystallised the room into a cell. As far as Christina was concerned, or cared, nothing lay beyond its six surfaces. Her world had collapsed into a suffocating space where everything rebounded. Her cries, her crushing worries, her sense of mortality. It beat from her in violent waves that crashed back back onto themselves as they bounced around the cell and churned the waters into a frothy maelstrom.
Eventually, the clock added its ticking to the twilight gloom. Strange, she hadn’t noticed it until now. As more tendrils of attention latched themselves to the clock, Christina’s breaths stilled. Her heart beat slower. Her tears ceased their flow. Their trail of memory hardened on her temples and where they had dripped into her hair.
With the clock’s notes came footsteps from the hall, along with the sounds of distant machines. Christina’s world expanded. Years of training and recovery rounds saw her breathing long and deep — in through her nose, out through her mouth. Holding for four, inhale. Holding for four, exhale.
When she felt ready, she pushed herself up to a sitting position. The long mirror she greeted swallowed her and spat her right back out — unaltered, unchanged.
Christina looked at herself. Saw herself red-faced in the white hospital gown. The gown she now slipped out of, still sitting cross-legged on the floor.
As she loosened the strap at the back and shucked the gown from her arms, Christina saw herself. A body born the day the Berlin Wall fell. A body perfectly imperfect, containing scars of a shoulder surgery and an ACL operation. A healthy body, strong from years of exertion in early mornings and late nights. Christina placed a hand on her heart and closed her eyes. Heard and felt it thumping inside her chest. Each thump rattled her skeletal cage. Shook each twisting cortex of DNA. Vibrated through every blood cell that swept life and death around her body.
Christina drew her legs out in front of her and felt up their smooth lengths. She felt the solidness of her shinbones, and the way they curved around to fleshy calf muscles. At the bumps of her knees she paused, cupping her palms around her kneecaps. She bent her knees slightly, and the thick ropey muscles south and north of them tensed and relaxed. She trailed her fingers up her thighs. At her hips they found rock hidden under the surface. Her grip slipped as she pressed down hard on her hipbones — this thin layer of flesh and blood and skin made it hard to find easy purchase. When they did, Christina dug harder until it hurt and left red marks. Her hands departed and met at her navel; her fingers found each other instinctively and intertwined. This strong mesh of extremities rose higher, between her breasts in the centre of her chest. Her heart beat faintly in her left hand. The only evidence of her conscious existence reduced down to a rudimentary, mechanical beating.
Desperation seized her. It rocked suddenly from her brain stem to her fingers, which separated and began to tear at her chest. Christina ripped away with her fingernails, trying to burrow at the very source of the cancer. She could feel its abomination running on through her veins. Before long, she brought blood to the surface, but she kept tearing away. Pain, now — physical, tangible.
When she stopped, her breath had departed and her chest was a red mess. When she fell back on the plastic floor her wounds took pause, then pooled, spilled down her chest and dripped blood on the ground, like raindrops fusing and racing to the bottom of a car window.
The gouges burned, yet Christina did not cry for them. She just drew her hospital gown back over her body wracked by civil war and thought of her mother’s cool hand on her forehead.