by David J Gibbs
“SO, TELL ME, what did you eat today?”
“What does it really matter?”
“Lily, you know why it matters,” he said, his voice always soothing, a little too soothing in fact.
“Dr. Wright, I don’t have time to eat.”
“If you don’t eat, it’s only going to make things worse,” Dr. Wright said, closing the folder before putting it down on the table beside him.
“If you were given twenty minutes before you died are you telling me that you’d waste that time by eating food?” Lily asked, suddenly the years of wrinkles disappearing for a moment with a deep smile, her eyes bright.
He shook his head.
“I didn’t think so. So then why do you constantly tell me that I need to eat?”
“Because it will build your strength. You need to be strong particularly over the next few weeks.”
“Again, if you were told you had twenty minutes to live-?”
“But, you don’t Lily. You have so many more minutes than that. You know that and you have to feel that. Lily, your body is doing well with this regimen. You just have to keep yourself strong.”
She folded her hands on her chest, fingers interlaced and just smiled. “Okay, Doctor.”
“You know in medical school they teach us that when patients say that it really means they are saying ‘F You’.”
“Do they now?” Lily asked, still smiling.
“Yes, they do.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
He left the room a few moments later, leaving her to listen to the quiet conversations from the nursing station at the end of the hall and the gentle beeps of the machines beside her bed.
Who knew it would end up this way?
She’d been young once and still felt it in her heart. The face that stared back at her in the mirror was never the old woman that everyone else saw. It was always the seventeen year old girl she held onto so tightly, the one that had dreams of seeing the world and falling in love. The same one that still dreamed of walking on white sandy beaches watching the sun boil away at the edge of the ocean.
“Ms. Lily? How are you doing tonight?” asked Myra, the nurse that she didn’t care for very much. She was a little too quick with the needle.
“I’m going to give you, your meds now,” Myra said, pulling on the dreaded rubber gloves.
“You do the same thing every night, Myra, my God woman you don’t need to tell me over and over.”
“I’m required to by the hospital, Ms. Lily.”
“Then get on with it.”
Myra took the syringe out of the sterile pack and drew some meds from the ampule before putting it into the I.V. tube at her side. That little tickle of heat began to creep up her arm as the medication began its journey through her body.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I died?” Lily asked, her voice sounding a little sleepy.
“What did you say?” Myra asked, pulling off the gloves and throwing away the used syringe.
“I died,” Lily said, her face growing serious.
* * *
The burn marks didn’t look so bad in the sunlight, which was why she liked being outside so much. Her friends didn’t stare at them as much. It wasn’t like when she was at school, under the harsh light. The kids always asked about them or pointed whispered to each other.
It was like the sun gave her a mask, or camouflage or something, and, as long as she wore it, she was normal. She wasn’t the girl with the bad burns. There wasn’t any accident and there weren’t any nightmares that she relived at least once a week. In the sunlight, she was just a girl. That’s why she hated the winter so much. The cold didn’t help either, the skin so dry it itched like crazy, flaking away.
A small cut out picture was wedged into the side of her dresser’s mirror. It was the last picture she’d taken before the accident. It was the last scar-free picture she had.
“Lily, it’s time for dinner.”
“Okay, mom,” she whispered sarcastically.
Walking down the stairs, she jumped from the second step to the floor.
“Did you put the cream on?”
“The special kind?”
“I’m just worried honey. We don’t want it to scar, do we?”
“Little late for that don’t you think?” Lily asked fanning her fingers out around her face, the scars evident.
Her mom gave her the look. “I think they look a lot better than when you first came home from the hospital.”
Lily knew that wasn’t the first time her mother had lied to her, nor would it be the last. She never realized how many times her mom lied to her. Obviously, it was meant to protect her, but she wasn’t stupid. She knew better.
“Just have to make sure we’re using the medicated stuff to help heal the scars.”
* * *
“We all carry them with us. I’m talking about scars of course. They help us to remember. Whispering to us from the mirror, while we tend to our hair or clothes, they don’t let us forget about the past. That moment is forever branded on us.”
Lily looked at the scars, lighter than the rest of her skin, a bundle of them crisscrossed over her left forearm.
“I guess you’re right about that,” Mrya said.
“Good or bad we can’t forget about them.”
“Of course not Lily, but you shouldn’t excite yourself. Remember the last time you got agitated.”
“I wasn’t agitated. I was pissed off. There’s a difference.”
“Scars used to mean something to the warrior class. They were rites of passage and marks of respect to those men.”
“Do you want me to call Dr. Wright for you?” Myra asked, nervously eyeing Lily.
She knew she was losing Myra.
“All I mean is that they meant something. They weren’t covered with makeup or fixed with the silly plastic surgery we have today.”
“I see,” Myra said.
Lily could tell she was just placating her. It was annoying. “Did I tell you I used to have a cat when I was a little girl? She was named Lola.”
* * *
She rubbed her wrist and didn’t answer. A few moments later, her mom walked into the front room. Lily put her arms down. She had to keep it a secret from her mom.
“Didn’t you hear me?”
“No, sorry mom.”
“Where is Lola?”
She looked at her wrist again and gently rubbed, keeping it turned away.
“I haven’t seen her since I fed her this morning.”
Her mom looked out into the backyard. “Where the heck did she get to?”
“Sometimes she likes sunning herself in the flower beds. Maybe she’s there?”
Lily knew the stupid cat wasn’t going to be there, but what else was she supposed to say? She honestly didn’t know where the cat was, but she did know that she wasn’t going to be showing up any time soon.
She heard her mom calling to the cat over and over from the backyard.
* * *
“My dog ran away when I was about ten. It was so sad. Kendall was his name. He was a mutt. Just a little thing, but so sweet.”
It wasn’t the same thing, but she wasn’t about to correct Myra. The woman was annoying.
“That’s a shame,” Lily said, trying to sound sympathetic. She really could care less. Licking her lips, she realized she was getting hungry.
“Yeah, mom wouldn’t let us get another dog either. Kept saying that one was enough and that he’d probably come back home someday soon.”
“Parents always say stuff like that when kids are little. They think it’s for the best, when in reality it just feeds false hope.”
Myra looked at her, and tucked her stethoscope into one of the front pockets of her scrubs.
“Did I tell you about my burns?”
The nurse shook her head. “No, you never wanted to talk about them when you come in for your treatment.”
“My treatment. I hate that word. I’ve known that word for far too long.”
Myra reached out and squeezed Lily’s wrist.
“It was a long time ago. It was an accident. I was feeling hungry.”
* * *
Lily looked at Tommy and something shifted inside her. She licked her lips and tilted her head to one side. It was a weird sensation, like something fluttering against her heart. Her throat was dry.
“And, my dad let me get a whole box of them this year. He even let me get a couple roman candles. He’s never let me do that before.”
Lily didn’t really care much for fireworks, but she did like Tommy. He was the neighbor down the street, a year older and much cooler than any of the other boys she knew.
“Can we set some of them off?”
“Sure. My dad’s not home. He doesn’t like me doing this stuff without him.”
She could smell his sweat and for some reason, it made her move closer to him. It was a sweet smell.
What was wrong with her?
“I think we should start with the Roman candle,” Tommy said, his eyes wide. He turned away from her, one hand around the shaft, his other with the lighter.
She couldn’t stop smelling him. Lily moved up behind him and suddenly something visceral inside made her jump on his back just as he lit the fuse. He lurched backward, the Roman candle bursting its white hot breath as her teeth savored his throat.
Lily had bandages on her face for almost ten months. Her hunger had been itching away at her insides almost as badly as the healing skin. Tommy had been her first. She’d been sticking to cats and squirrels mostly, but something about the way he’d smelled that day made him irresistible and she’d paid the price.
* * *
“It was weird how good he smelled.”
Lily didn’t realize she was licking her lips or the odd look on Myra’s face.
“What do you mean?” Myra looked at her frowning. “Ms. Lily?”
“Myra, it’s okay. It doesn’t even hurt. I promise.”
* * *
The scar was burning just like they all did when they were fresh. They always itched. Her eyes took in the patchwork of her skin, the scars, some light some age faded, but all still very much visible. Each one was a memory, every one of them a story, a meal.
It had changed the older she got. At one time, it was easy for her to feed and hunt. The more she thirsted, the more she hunted, but as her body aged, her hunting became clumsy. It scared her. She had to turn to other means to satisfy her veracious appetite.
“Where’s Myra?” asked Dr. Wright as he came into the office. “I thought she was here with you.”
“She left a little while ago.”
“How are you feeling Miss Lily?”
Lily smiled, “Much better. I always feel much, much better, doctor after I eat something.”
“I’m glad to hear it! So, you’re not feeling like you’re at death’s door any longer?”
She laughed. “No, no, not anymore.”
“I’m glad to hear that. This place would definitely be more boring without, Ms. Lily.”
That made her smile.
“We’ll get you out of here in just a few minutes.”
He leaned over, coming closer, and squeezed her arm before turning to leave. Lily licked her lips. She hadn’t realized how good Dr. Wright smelled.