Lilah Wakes Up

by Michelle King

Lilah wakes up in the morning with a bite on her finger. Fourth finger, left hand, just above the knuckle.  It feels like a sign, but she’s not sure of what.  Her Gramma used to see signs all the time: in clouds, beetroot stains on a tablecloth, the pattern of pickles floating in a jar.  Gramma read the signs with ease, she understood them the way she understood life.  She was supposed to teach Lilah how to understand too, but somehow there was never time.  There were so many hours, but never time.

The bite is red and angry.  Inflamed.  “You should put something on that,” Josh says. “Some cream or something. It’ll get infected otherwise.”

He looks disgusted. Disgusted, disapproving, disappointed. Josh’s expressions are easier to read than signs and omens; they all begin with “dis.”

Lilah picks at it instead.  It weeps clear liquid and doubles in size.  She bites it, and while that feels satisfyingly vengeful, it also hurts like fuck. Tastes like it, too.

“You should go see a doctor,” Josh tells her.   Maybe a head doctor.  He doesn’t say that part out loud, but she hears it anyway.  Or maybe she reads it in the clouds, in the spilled foam of beer and the ashes of a cigarette. Maybe you can’t be taught how to read the signs, you have to learn by experience.  Maybe the bite was the key, the opening doorway.  Maybe it wasn’t a bug or a snake or a spider that sank fang into her body but a fey, a pixie, a dancing sprite from other worlds.

“You should get your shit together,” Josh says. “You’ve always been crazy. You and your whole family. All batshit crazy, the lot of you.”

The bite has become beautiful. Colours, textures, a living canvas. Even the pain is beautiful. Pain can be art, can be self-expression, if it’s handled right.

Josh never handled Lilah right. She sees that in a spray of blood on white sheets. She sees it all, now.

The bite was a gift, an opportunity. Flesh is temporary; it swells, bursts, and opens up.   Opens up and lets the light inside.

Lilah wakes up in the morning with a hole in her life. An abscess lanced, a fever broken. She knows it’s a sign.

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Michelle Ann King reads her stories out loud to her stuffed penguin. He’s a harsh critic.
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