She’s choking on the inspirational music
from the nurse tech’s radio, something about running and fire
but like it’s a good thing, like the fire is what drives all the running
and the running is toward something good and not from something so violent
that when it catches her she ends up here
standing up slowly, blood still trickling down into her sock.
It’s tinny, she realizes
when she swipes a taste in the elevator
on her way out.
She passes each of the neat houses with red shingles
near the hospital in the posh part of town
and as she moves further away
the shingles take on an ashen color
the color of steak when it first starts
to move beyond bloody.
It’s the color of the newly dying, is what she’s trying to say.
It’s the color of the world with all the bodies dying.
She’d meant to make a hook rug. Do you know those?
That’s the kind of thing people did before computers
the kind of thing girls did before they were forced to suck dick
in the back of somebody’s car.
The hook rug was of a reindeer, out of season,
and one of these seasons she had hoped
to be done with it and she’d lay it on her floor
like she’d been laid on the floor before and she’d lay on top of it
and she’d pull the threads out one by one
until her fingers burned and bled
and then she’d rage at herself for the ruin
and then she’d throw the whole ridiculous thing away
because whatever made her think she had any talent
for domesticity anyway.
There’s an enduring chart on her.
When they need somebody with indefinable eyes
they call her up, they parade her around and inspect her.
They don’t –what’s the word– they don’t help her
but they like to stand around with their tongues down each other’s throats
about how hot they are at rescuing girls.
Meanwhile, the blood keeps dripping down her legs.
Meanwhile, the blood is awaiting exit at the wrist.
She takes a job in a video store.
That’s where people located porn before computers.
She watches men disappear
into the back room and she wants to tell them
she doesn’t care what turns them on
but she wishes they wouldn’t look crushed
when she won’t touch their hands at the counter.
It’s not the worst job;
it’s just the kind of job you’d expect a girl like her to have.
But she doesn’t care what you think.
She’s going to get out of here eventually.
She’s going to run triumphant circles around all you jerk-offs.
She’s not bad at basketball, as long as nothing is flying at her face.
She likes the way asphalt smells like sweat smells like rubber.
That’s the grace of being knocked nose-down,
that smell which is richer than skin, which suggests there once was victory
even in this defeat.
Some nights at the discount laundry prove exciting.
This is where she finds herself with a scarf around her neck
holding a tissue just for effect. She’s not crying anymore.
All her clothes look beige even when they are the colors she thought
would change her life into a life like other people might have
when they don’t have blood dripping down their legs.
A stray gets into the building and everyone’s got something to worry about
and everyone’s a hero here because they are all so fucking concerned
about the dog, but she’s taking her clothes
out of the dryer and taking her scarf from around her neck and hanging herself
or hoping to, except she’s too afraid of heights to climb higher than her height.
She’s shorter than you think
when you picture her at night
when you imagine what holding her down was like.
You maybe imagined her taller, more leggy, less bruised
about the thighs, about the throat, less hoarse.
She walks past the hospital where they long since took her chart
and used it to wipe between their legs,
the hospital where no one remembers her
now that the worst thing
that ever happened to her happened
in the last century.
She stops bleeding.
Eventually, even metaphorically,
she stops bleeding.
She’s going to go where no one knows they can’t see her.
She’s going to go where no one is getting high off her suffering
and then she’ll be approximating a whole person
who may not play good basketball and may not finish a rug in time for gift-giving
but wait, because she’s waited.
She’s going to do something amazing.
A man on a park bench wants to tell her a story.
It isn’t what you’re thinking.
he doesn’t want to grab at her.
He wants to tell her about the weeping willow tree that grew
in his childhood backyard
in a different, easier land
and she listens because it’s the first time she’s learned the name
of a tree. It’s not that no one ever taught her anything
it’s that she couldn’t hear
above the screaming.
Lynn Melnick is the author of If I Should Say I Have Hope (YesYes Books, 2012). She lives in Brooklyn.