An Unseen Arena.

This was my entry for an online short story contest. What do you think?

I twist my hair into a ponytail, tucking it under my cap and lowering the brim. Then I take a final look around the room full of strangers wondering which of them would help me escape and which would try to kill me.
“Lillian, why do you wear that silly cap?” asks Lita, stepping in the room and pulling the chart off the bed. She makes a few marks and slides it under her arm, ready to move. They prep my bed for removal. The pops and clicks echo through me, building layers of necessary armor.
“I’m not letting them take my hair,” I say.
Lita smiles at me, her eyes sad but dancing. She takes her cool hand and rests it on my cheek for a split second. It gives me a little more strength because she knows I’m going to battle in an arena I can’t see.
Lita was the nurse with the gold nail polish. A little Spanish woman from the Bronx, she was the one they called in when I showed signs of ‘mental distress.’
“No you listen here, child,” she’d said, leaning over me, eyes locked with mine, “It’s just something you’ve gotta go through. You see a lot of things as a nurse, and I’m telling you, you’ve got it good.” Her hands had felt like gloss from overmoisterizing, she put them on mine and squeezed tightly. “Stay strong and you’ll live. Fight, and you’ll prosper.”
I held onto her words like a holy mantra.

I’m a prisoner, and my body is my jail.
The second cracks apart, Lita’s hand is gone. The bed is moving and I can’t help but start fidgeting, rattling my bones as if to say ‘wake up boys, you’ve got a job to do.’
The hallway is an ambient silence of rubber medical shoes and humming machines. I fold my arms and scrunch my eyes when we reach its openness, binding myself up in my eyelids, crossed limbs, wool cap, and lucky pink windbreaker with five dollars in the pocket.
We pass the waiting room where shouts stir the stagnant air. In my rigid state of isolation I remember my parents fighting last some time spring. Some inflammatory bill was clutched between my father’s ruddy hands, his face hardening like ice in trays.
My mother screamed things like “It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me!” breaking already because she’s made of paper.
I remember them then hugging, my mom crying, her eyes turning into bluish, milky saucers. That sadness turned into day-long phone calls, shouting at banks and credit card companies and my mother’s bare arms pulling me close when she couldn’t handle the world any longer. She cried into my hair as the city midnight tumbled in from the four by four window.
“Some people are just no good, darling,” she muttered into the crown of my head. “They’ll cut you down, kill you. Especially when you’re at your most vulnerable. They won’t lose a wink of sleep either. I can’t fight it Lil, I can’t keep fighting it. There are just too many.”
She kissed me and cried as I fell asleep in her arms, dreaming about sickening moments like this one, only not so real.
A minute slides us up the elevator and out of corner of my eye Trace the transport guy wheels me through the heavy, metal doors. Three doctors walk by his side, two of which never smile.
Those are the kind with shots and gas masks, inoculations and injections. They’re always sticking needles where they don’t belong. They’re the ones to watch out for.
It’s only about half a minute later that I feel a whisper work its way through my ear canal. “Lillian, we’re coming to the room,” Lita tells me, just like I had asked her to.
“Stop!” I yell, my voice carrying louder and further than anyone thought it could. I hoist myself up into a sitting position, slowly.
Trace is bewildered, but he slows the gurney and gently, it stops.
“Why are we stopping?” asks one of those tight-lipped doctors to my right.
“Shh, let her take a minute,” says Lita with undertones of her lilting Spanish accent.
They’re not important anymore as I stare down that faded white lettering adjacent to the doorway. It spells out ‘Oncology 4-106’ on a little green panel underlined in Braille.
They aren’t the enemy, those white and careful, Times New Roman figures, but I pretend they are. I need something tactile to size up and stare down, my real captor never shows its face.
I hear a distinct ringing in my ears as I prepare myself. I imagine that some various battlecries sing out through my pores and coat everything in a tremulous based courage.
They’ll cut you down, kill you. Especially when you’re at your most vulnerable.
Stay strong and you’ll live. Fight, and you’ll prosper.
I bunch up the starchy sheets in my fists.
“Okay,” I say. “Let’s go.”
Trace slowly wheels me onto the battlefield, because I’m not too good with walking anymore.
It’s the oldest doctor that is to insert the IV. I can’t trust him, but I don’t protest as he starts prepping the chemo. I lock eyes with Lita. Her strong and committed presence is the only thing keeping me sane.
“You ready?” asks the doctor, I slide my eyes over his name embroidery. Doctor Robert Rail.
“Yes, Dr. Rail.”
Another needle spears through my barriers and both fronts charge. Their collision resounds in my every bone.
When I finally lose track of the hours, it’s over.
My mother comes in then. She’s off from work and I can tell she’s had a hard day by the way her lipstick smudges in the corners.
“Hi baby,” she smiles at me, frail as ever.
I’m feeling too weak to talk, but I wrap a finger around hers, needing her.
A minute passes, pregnant and silent.
“Why, it’s pretty warm in here, isn’t it?” asks my mother, pulling at her scoop neck.
“Now, I know you’ve got to be burning up in that wool cap, Lillian.” She reaches out for the brim.
I barely have time to choke out a scratchy “No!” before she peels it off, leaving gravity to pull half of my beautiful curls to flutter into the sheets in a shower of brunette, dead.


~ by Jade Elizabeth on September 16, 2011.

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