Pisce’s gaze never wavered, her hand over her mouth as Nordische told her the story—she couldn’t help but stare at the woman seated gazing vacantly at the blank wall, hands folded in her lap, bandages a too-thick headband that haloed her forehead. Her long spiraling hair was the color of a spring sky at seven in the morning.
The sweater, as she gathered, was Willimgard’s; Nordische’s father was a big man, and so it was no surprise that even its collar was too wide, spilling down to expose the nascent slope of her breast along with a generous amount of shoulder. (There was more breast to be shown than shoulder, but the way the fabric fell revealed more of the latter.)
Even as she stared, she listened; listened about how father and son had been walking and talking and come upon this woman unconscious in an alley, half-collapsed against the side of a Dumpster with her temples and her back bloodied, clothed in a weatherworn dress and a silver bracelet with dangling letter charms that spelled Melissa.
“Aside from that it’s not like she had any identification—and the doctors have no idea how long it’s going to take for her to really be aware,” Nordische added with a groan and a shrug, shifting his weight and looking at her. “From the injuries, the doctors were talking about things like possible brain damage. We don’t know whether anyone’s looking for her or if they’d want her back the way she is now.”
When Pisce gazed at him with worry, he grinned to reassure her. “It’s not like we’re throwing her back out on the streets, though. Especially the way it’s been raining every day, she’d freeze and die. And if Dad even complains once about the costs, I’ll kick his ass. We’re sitting on a lot of money, after all.”
She giggled. “You two are so alike.”
- - -
she doesn’t know how long the dreams last – it reminds her of once when she was a little girl and she tried to keep a dream diary, but kept forgetting to record parts so that when she looked back a year later she had to scoff at the collages of mismatched nonsensical words
one day she opened her eyes and she was here
and then she was here every day when she opened her eyes – it is instantaneous – it is automatic and immediate – jagged image to jagged image; the brown-haired boy supporting the back of her head and hands as she tries to swallow tea; the brown-bearded man tying and retying her bandages; the black-haired unsmiling woman changing her clothes as if she is a doll
perhaps she is, in fact, a doll
the fragments become longer, perhaps over time, she can no longer discern
the soft-eyed girl braiding her hair becomes sitting in the water becomes lying on the examination table becomes half-dozing on the frosted car window and watching snowflakes and then she is staring out the window at fuzzy flowerbuds
and slowly, very gradually, perhaps she is becoming more aware; because sometimes she remembers names: Alighierie, like Dante—Willimgard, Nordische, Pisce, lovely and baroque. She starts to understand the touch of gentle hands, the passage of days, even if things are still so horribly splintered.
And within her dream, she dreams a dream: A dream of impact, of shattering pain, of a hand slipping out of hers:
And Melissa awakes.
Her eyes fully open, and clumsily—for her limbs are weaker than she remembers them being—she levers herself out from beneath the soft flannel sheets. She smells sweet spices and fire, and pine; the cold on what parts of her skin are bare tells her it is late into the year.
She wanders from the room restlessly, unsteadily but gaining balance with every step. Something—no, someone is missing.
The most important someone.
Melissa rubs at her temple, distressed by the feeling of roughness there, and pads down the hall, peeking into open doors and down stairs. A name is rising in her throat, at the tip of her tongue.
Her voice comes out hoarse as a crow’s, but as she asks the air the same name, inquires about the same absence, again and again—the sound starts to even out and become more natural. Her body is finding its natural rhythm, and as it does, Melissa’s sense of unease increases.
Gripping the banister, Melissa makes her way shakily down the stairs, almost slipping once. Her heart jumps, adrenaline seeping into her veins like a splash of ice water, and she moves forward with increasing confidence.
She turns around and walks around the hall towards a room with a light. They are there in a half-circle: Father and stepmother and son and fiancée, all laughing, all happy, all whole. Melissa pauses in the doorframe until they look at her, and she looks back at them, bewildered and bereft.
“Where is Maria?” she asks.
They stare at her, taken aback, and the moment spins out.