I’m melting. When I inhale, smoke slips down my throat. I’ve been unconscious, but for how long, I cannot say. Sonnie lies sprawled across the dashboard, part way through the windshield. Rain clings to the broken glass around her, scattershot with city glow. I fumble with my seatbelt, groping at the release button, but something is wrong with my hand, the way it dangles from my wrist. The leather seats pucker in the growing flames. The driver-side door swings open, and I feel the cool night on what’s left of my skin. Hands begin to cut me from the wreckage, paramedics moving in bursts. I reach back across the car, grab the hem of Sonnie’s dress, try my best to drag her out with me.
I wake up, briefly, inside the ambulance, someone's hands around my neck. I can't tell whether they're killing or saving me. Something slips into my nose, and before I can shake free of it, a bitter taste blooms in the back of my mouth, and the pain falls away like flower petals.
A space exists between dreams and the waking world. From there, I hear my mother sobbing. I feel her thumb along my knuckle bones. The nurses sing to me, their voices like beating wings. I hear them flutter down the hall, dipping in and out of rooms, honey bees to open flowers. On the worst days, they unravel me, and the doctor sprays something wet and cold on my rawest parts. Afterward, I'm left alone, the wall clock lording over me with its incessant tick.
There is no long, dark tunnel. No white light. My eyes flicker open to the bright fluorescence of the hospital room. The ceiling is etched with chalky clouds. A makeshift sky. A beep floats somewhere above me, mimicking my heart in pace if not sound. My stomach gurgles. I've always been thin, but now I'm only bones.
Bedside, Hospital, Take One. My mother shrieks into the bedsheets. My father's hand rests on her shoulder. He kneads her neck, rubs the small of her back. I feel as if I'm in an open grave, the way they hover over me. I expect shovels. I expect dirt.
The nurses strip me of machinery. They pull a tube out of my mouth and leave me gagging. I drool blood down the front of my hospital gown. They teach me to strengthen my throat by swallowing while biting the tip of my tongue. When words at last spill forth, I find them clumped and tangled, like wet hair from a sink drain. I gather enough of them to whisper in the nurse's ear. Where...is...Sonnie...?
The nurse wheels Sonnie into my room. The right side of her head has been shaved, and staples run from her temple to the nape of her neck. The wound is purple and swollen like an earthworm. Blankets cover her lower half. I wonder if her legs still work. The nurse parks her at my bedside, and she reaches for my hand. I wish this would've happened to someone else, she says. Tears slip down her face. I worry she can smell the burnt parts of me. She asks the nurse to roll us to the window. The parking lot is laced with fog, the air silver in the glow of morning. We watch an elderly woman navigate the pavement, lifting her walker, inching it forward, setting it down again. She's like a caterpillar, moving slow and from the middle.
My mother is a constant shadow in the doorway, always speaking to the doctor, their voices low, conspiratorial.
It's not that I can't look, they say. It's just that it would be better if I waited. Still, at my request, the nurse brings me a dust-speckled mirror, yellow plastic handles on both ends. Remember, she says as she unwraps my face, there's still a lot we can do. This is just phase one. But I'm a wax figure cast into the summer sun. A fist of crayons held against a scalding radiator. My lips are blistered, peeling, and between them are my old, familiar teeth, the gap on top and the crooked pair beneath. Gone is the nose my father gave me, nothing left of it but bone arches, a bridge in ruin. I want to eat the mirror whole. It and every other shining thing. Let the coroner cut me open to find jewels. But the mirror slips from my hand, clatters on the tile floor, unbroken. The nurse picks it up and hurries from the room. Please, I say, the bandages.
Trey Adams is a poet and fiction writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned his BA from University of Tennessee and MFA from Stonecoast.