Candy and Figs
“Breathe. Stay still, don’t panic. Good, now breathe out.” The whispered words startled me.
Blood rushing under my skin felt like a thousand tiny needles. “I feel weak,” I whispered back.
“That’s excellent. You need to feel your flesh. People are looking right at you. I’m sorry but we had to switch. You’ll be okay.” The instructions were clear but the sting of injury on my cheek brought my hands to my face. “Can you feel the people next to you? Heal yourself.”
Other people were near me. Thick coils of moist heat bounced from their skin to mine. The exchange didn’t seem to concern them. I only took the scraps. It felt natural at first. Their energy was thick and soothing like warm honey being poured over my skin. The taste of peppermint leaves formed in my mouth. I had done this before, but I couldn’t recall when.
“Stay still. Breathe in slowly. Take small amounts of energy from each.” The voice instructed.
“I can hear you in my mind. I know your voice. Who are you?”
“Don’t worry about that. Heal yourself. Your flesh is dying. I stayed too long.”
“I can taste their energy. It’s minty,” I replied silently.
“ Accept their energy don’ t think about anything else.” The whispering in my mind sounded familiar, but the velvety voice was out of place with my thin hands and pale skin, it didn’t fit with the frailty and pain.
This distracting thought was all it took to shift my focus. Weakness overtook my legs. Gravity brought me to a knee. Dark blue carpet covered the floor below me. The smell of fresh paint and the acidic tingle of heavily dyed fabric filled my nose. The brightness and confinement felt like an indoor space, but I had no idea where I was or what was happening to me.
The sound of my heartbeat filled my ears. It beat slowly at first and then it would speed up. Panic began to overtake my thoughts. Waves of Deja vu calmed my mind replacing fear with instruction. This was all familiar. There was no reason to get excited.
Acoustic tiles and a maze of air ducts hung from the high ceiling above me. The large metal pipes were painted dark rust blending in well with the exposed brick walls. Floor to ceiling burgundy drapes framed large plate glass windows that spanned the wall near me. Across the room, overturned tables and chairs were being tossed aside to make way for paramedics. Gurneys piled high with medical gear rolled behind them.
The sound of glass breaking turned my head towards a group of firemen busy removing long shards of a broken windowpane. On the other side of the glass, atop the black pitched parking lot, lay the crumpled body of a man. He was dressed in a black suit and black lace-up shoes. An entourage of blue uniforms hovered over his corpse. His shirt cuffs were white, but the chest area looked like wet, red tissue. Officers were busy inspecting his pockets and snapping pictures.
“Such a flurry of activity for a dead man”, I thought. There was no response this time. I was alone.
Awareness of all the people surrounding me brought with it a powerful wave of desire. Both of my hands came to rest on the gooey carpet below me. Casually stealing energy from the air around me was no longer possible. I knew if I indulged my desires I would drain every last person near me. I bit my tongue to focus my wandering mind keeping it distracted while I pulled just a bit more life from all the warm bodies I could reach.
A gun I didn’t recognize lay perfectly centered on a patch of blood-soaked carpet. As I reached for the weapon long, glossy brown tendrils of hair slid over patches of pink skin that peeked through the rips in my black slacks. Everything I saw looked foreign. My pearl white arms were encrusted with clear glass dotted with bright red blood. It was beautiful.
I admired the random patterns of light that were cast by the golden Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling. I wore the skin that I found myself in. I didn’t feel the full impact of my injuries, but I felt a primal need to heal.
A large shard of glass protruded from my side disappearing into a fold of silky, purple fabric. My fingers wandered to inspect the sharp object, but it wouldn’t budge. I was too weak to pull the glass from my side.
A man crouched down in front of me. His face was bruised, and the wet cut above his eye had only just stopped bleeding. His head was covered in thick, caramel brown hair just long enough to hang in his eyes. The sunlight that found us on the floor turned his hair to gold, and he smiled at me. I could see how everyone who saw that smile would have no choice but to smile back. It was intoxicating.
This man was speaking softly, calling me sweetheart and brushing the hair off my forehead. His eyes were a dark hazel green. Daggers of gold metal and emeralds were hilted in cold charcoal. There was a connection between us that I was missing.
I stared at his angular face and tried to match his energy to his image but I couldn’t. His color was everywhere. A perfect fresh green glow, like a new lily’s stem, but he was afraid. The thick red swath of fear almost camouflaged the actual age of his soul. He was an infant compared to me, perfect and unflawed by the benefit of experience.
“Sweetheart, don’t touch the glass. You have to leave it alone. Can you hear me Caylnn? Baby, please say something.” The man pushed aside the debris that littered the floor between us and cradled my arm atop his.
There was a noticeable contrast between my pale flesh and his tanned arm. The sun loved him. He was warm and I could smell a hint of fabric softener and perspiration mixed with a spicy aftershave. Thick, strong fingers wrapped firmly around my wrist as he began to pull the sparkling pieces of broken glass from my arm.
The smell of his skin, or maybe it was the feel of his touch, something pierced through my thoughts of energy and flooded my brain with new information. I knew everything there was to know about this man. He hates to have his neck touched but loves to feel my fingers on his back. He likes chocolate milk but can’t stand chocolate cake. Our bed has light blue sheets and a moss green coverlet. We have a home and a son. We have a life together that fits perfectly with the weak, pale pink body I can’t seem to heal.
“David, what happened here? Where’s Matt?” I took a deep breath of air. As I exhaled, all my wounds came alive.
Blood percolated from each injury and ran dripping to the carpet. The pain and cold gripped my core. It felt as if every muscle was ripping away from my bones. David’s touch and the soothing sound of his voice had dragged me into the present. I could see our child clearly in my mind, and I was ashamed to have forgotten him even for a second.
“Oh God don’t move anymore. You must have ripped something open. Don’t worry about Matt, he’s completely safe. The police have him outside. Don’t move Baby just stay still.” Determined looking people hovered over me. I was being prepared for something they assumed would be unpleasant.
The noise in the room faded and I began to remember everything that I had done. I could see the men waving their guns in the air. And I could see the skinny bastard’s knife blade resting on my cheek. I could feel the rage roll thick and hot in my chest. People were screaming for help. My actions were not entirely my own, I was sure of that, but it was self-defense.
Someone told me how to move, so I moved. Someone in my head told me right where to shoot, so I shot. There was no hesitation or thought. There was no pain. I merely acted.
“Sir, are you hurt? Who is this woman with you? Is this weapon yours? Officer, we have another weapon here!” Police cleared the room, and the paramedics were scrambling to reach the injured.
“My wife. Please help her. I think she’s been shot. All this blood can’t be hers.” David was frightened I could feel his arms tremble behind my shoulders as he held me out of the broken glass littering the floor.
“Sir, I need you to think now. Does your wife have any medical conditions? Is she allergic to anything? Does she take any medications?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m not sure. Vitamins, big vitamins, and fish oil.” Dave squeezed my hand as the young man inspected my wounds.
Before long I was up off the ground and moving. A bulky oxygen mask was tied to my face. Each breath I succumb to was followed by a stabbing slicing pain that wandered deep into the pit of my stomach and trickled down my legs. I didn’t want to breathe that badly anymore, so I stopped.
A flood of images filled my mind: Matthew in his bassinet, my mother in her garden, my sister in her wedding dress, a fig tree in the bright sun, the sea turtles on Oahu. Like an old photo album, thousands of images flew by. Each moment was real as if it lived on its own without me.
“Base we have a female mid to late thirties, possible GSW and multiple lacerations. Confirm Northview General is our destination.” I could hear radio chatter above me. The oxygen mask blocked my view and smashed my cheeks into my eyebrows. I tried to lift my head. “No, no don’t move. You’re doing fine. Stay with me, we’re almost there.” The young man’s voice was calm and reassuring but he was a poor liar.
“NVG confirmed. OC standing by for patient status.” The crackly voice on the other end of the radio was waiting for information that I didn’t want to hear. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath causing my mangled body to shudder in pain.
Blinding golden light came from high above me. Hot sun sizzled my skin. The loud crunching of leaves under my sparkly sandals overpowered the birds singing high in the trees. Every sound I made echoed off the burgundy bark of the Manzanita trees. The red dirt below my feet puffed the scent of fresh cut cilantro into the air. The sweet smell of sticky fruit filled my lungs as I approached the gnarled fig tree.
Something rustled in shadows below the gnarled branches. It rolled the crispy leaves and disturbed the mushy pink and purple flesh that lay baking in the sun. I knelt down and brushed some leaves aside. I wanted to see the small creature that was making the noise. I was curious but afraid to crawl any closer.
Loud, pounding footsteps came from behind me. Two people were running and yelling in my direction. “There she is. Grab the baby!” A rifle shot split the earth throwing chunks of dirt, leaves and white meaty flesh into the air.
“Check her legs. Did it bite her? Is she okay?” Growled a panting, coughing man.
Rough hands wiped down my arms and legs. “I don’t see anything. I don’t think it bit her. Is she breathing?”
The inspection ceased and I was lifted off the ground. My cheek rested on the shoulder of a warm, tan shirt. The wood buttons pressed into my knee, and I could feel the edge of his leather gun holster under my thigh. Pipe tobacco and gunpowder filled my nose. It was all familiar and I knew that I was safe.
“It’s okay Conjita. Papa will get rid of all the nasty critters.” A large hand patted my back as weathered lips kissed my face. His heart was pounding hard against my chest. He was still recovering from the chase.
The smell of roasting pig greeted us as we approached the old cabin. My aunts and grandmother were busy setting out foil-covered trays of tamales and pineapple upside-down cake. My uncles were trying to goad their white friends into eating hot pickled chilies. I knew to stay away from the mason jars completely. The sounds of laughter, tinkling glass and the squeak of the wooden picnic table was mixed with the far off melody of an acoustic guitar.
“There now mi Cielita. Stay close so Papa and Tia can watch you.” He sat me in the shade. My pink, rhinestone embellished sandals dangled from the old gray picnic bench. The sun was peeking in from behind the rim of his Panama hat. All I could see was his silhouette.
Conjita was what he called me. Bunny, it was appropriate for me at the time. I hadn’t heard his accent in so long. The smell of his aftershave, the sound of his beating heart. I had forgotten what it felt like to be completely safe.
My grandfather and his friend that shot the rattle snake died when I was young. They had likely saved my life. I was no more than three, very small and mischievous. The venom would have overtaken my tiny organs quicker than I could have been driven down the mountain to the nearest hospital.
When they died, I attended both funerals wearing beautiful velvet dresses and patent leather Mary Janes. To this day the feel of velvet conjures the scent of carnations and heavy incense. I honestly didn’t remember why I hated the fabric so much until now.
Their final days on earth would be years from this family gathering. As much as I wanted this moment to be real, it was not. This afternoon had long since passed. I closed my eyes tightly and tried to find the writhing pain that led me to this place. If I sat on that picnic bench much longer, I wouldn’t be able to make myself leave.