To move the nights along you have taken to performing tremendous acts of dental hygiene. You begin with careful brushing using all-natural wintergreen “tooth powder” that you picked up at a life-enhancement retreat, because your friends think you are the kind of person who uses all-natural wintergreen “tooth powder” and would appreciate being invited to a life-enhancement retreat. After the careful brushing is the flossing, each tooth one by one, even the ones that bleed, one by one, and after you finish you do it a second time just to make sure you are doing it right and also because it is 8.30. A flush of herbal mouthwash signals the finale, and you look in the mirror with pride, knowing that this ritual is the measure of a real life. You congratulate yourself for becoming the best kind of adult. You are doing so well.
The next morning you drink tea and then brush your teeth again whilst reading your book, not paying as much attention this time but still brimming with pride – you are doing it, you are brushing your teeth twice a day like they always say you should. When you spit into the sink you notice something more solid amongst the foam. At first you assume it to be a tooth, that you have somehow fucked up flossing so badly you have actually pulled a bone out of your head. But it is gelatinous, more connective than skeletal – something that regenerates, restored and continuing on. Nothing to stop a life over.
But then you think about tuberculosis and remember something about blood clots. You draw on your bank of knowledge on the subject, but all you come up with is Nicole Kidman coughing blood into a hanky in Moulin Rouge; because no one gets tuberculosis anymore, and you have never seen a slow death crawl. Every dead person you know went quickly and violently in machines and chemicals.
You think about the hospital and the balloons and flowers surrounding the bed. Will people still bring balloons or have they become like plastic confetti at weddings, the mark of a monster? In hospital you’ll be allowed to read the bad magazines, the ones that tell you who is too thin and who got her boyfriend through stealing, and you read them because people bring them to you so of course you have no choice and no one can tell you you’re not a feminist.
You won’t have to ride your bike everywhere and pretend to enjoy it or spend all your money on organic vegetables that sit rotting for weeks in the bottom of the fridge. You won’t have to eat kale, because all you can hold down is orange jelly that tastes like cancerous colouring and heaven. Your friends will say it’s so sad, the state of hospital food. How can anyone get better on this processed muck? And you’ll nod slightly and murmur, but you won’t have to speak much because you simply must conserve your energy. You will begin to waste away, everyone will watch as you lose half your body, and it will be accepted because you are sick. It is ok to be half a person when you’re sick.
You leave the toothbrush in the sink amongst the foam and make the first phone call, informing your brother of the news. He asks if maybe Dad can take you this time. You call your father and leave a message. You remember the life-enhancement retreat and the workshop on the power of the voice, and you make sure your tone is lowered so the full gravity of the situation is effectively conveyed. Then you sit on the couch in your pajamas and wait, not bothering to get dressed, because you are very unwell and you don’t think that is appropriate.
Eloise Dowd has been a finalist in the Tethered by Letters Fiction Competition, and has an article forthcoming in Transgender Studies Quarterly. She is completing a Masters in Arts (Writing) and recently moved from Australia to California, where she writes about love and the apocalypse.