If you include the ice cream sandwich I almost took from that kid and the way those flowers called me to them until I found my face smooshed against the Michaleson’s bay window, then there were quite a few warning signs. The most obvious being Husbands polo shirt; that distinct, emetic shade of a color I couldn’t explain. I hated that polo and couldn’t be near him while he was wearing it.
I believe it took root in me on the overnight camping trip. I have never liked camping, too many bugs, too quiet, too much open space, too many trees. Husband was an entry-level outdoor enthusiast, the type that will spend two nights in the wilderness covered head-to-toe in Patagonia and then talk about the magic of the forest for weeks after. He insisted that I go with him this time. He thought it would be a good experience for us as a couple. Thought we could use a night away before going to the annual neighborhood BBQ, which was always a chore. Husband wanted quality time; I wanted him to stop talking so I reluctantly agreed to go. We put the tent, sleeping bags, beach chair, and cooler in the back of the Traverse. It was about a 45-minute drive to the campground, a 45-minute drive that felt like hours. Husband let me choose the music and I chose to play a Christmas CD that I knew would drive Husband bonkers. A small punishment for forcing me into the wilderness.
Once we arrived I flung open the beach chair, popped the cork on a bottle of red wine and watched Husband set up the tent.
“You’re not going to help?” He asked.
Holding up the wine bottle with my left hand and wine glass with my right hand I replied, “Can’t, my hands are full.”
He laughed, or huffed, or sighed, and continued his project.
I sat in the beach chair sipping wine, listening to the insufferable sounds of nature, infiltrated by the occasional swear word that jumped from Husband’s mouth. I leaned forward to refill my glass. When I relaxed back into the chair I felt something pinch just below my bra line.
“Sonofabitch!” I leapt out of the chair, wine sloshing everywhere.
Without looking up from the pole he was holding Husband asked, “You ok?”
“No, I’m not ok, something bit me!”
He peered around the now half-erect tent, “Bit you? Or stung you?”
“Bit me.. or.. does it really matter? My back is on fire!”
I threw the wineglass down and took my jacket off. I tried to reach around to where the pain pulsed but my inflexible shoulders kept my hands a few inches away from the epicenter. I turned in frantic circles until Husband stopped me. With his sluggish but strong hands on my shoulders he stilled me. “Pull your shirt up.”
I crossed my arms and tugged my shirt up around my neck. Husband leaned his head down to look at the damage. A sound came from his throat, the same sound he made when searching his mind for the correct crossword puzzle answer.
“Is it bad? Am I going to die?”
Husband made his sound again then said, “I don’t see anything.”
“What? It hurts! There has to be something there.”
Husband pulled my shirt down. “There’s nothing there. Maybe you’re manifesting…”
I wheeled around and thrust my elongated index finger in his face, “Don’t start with that crap.”
Husband put his hands in the air, and resumed setting up the tent.
I woke up the next morning to the sun slicing through my retinas. The tent door flapped in a breeze. I sat up then maneuvered myself onto all fours to crawl out of the tent. Standing up I almost lost my balance. My brain hurt, no, not hurt, it felt full, my brain felt full, like it had expanded and my skull was desperately trying to keep it inside my body. Husband was loading stuff into the car. He stopped and stared at me.
“Morning sunshine,” he said without a hint of sarcasm.
“I think I’m dying.”
“You’re not dying, you’re hungover.” He walked over to me and brushed the hair from my forehead to put the palm of his hand flat against my head.
“You’re a little warm but you’ll live.”
Pain throbbed in my ears and I slammed my eyes shut. “We’ve got to get a move on, it’s going to rain.”
Husband looked up at the sky, the cloudless blue sky, then looked at me through his eyebrows and said, “Maybe you should take an aspirin.”
At a gas station near the edge of town, I saw the kid with the ice cream sandwich. He was in the back of a beige four-door sedan, strapped into a car-seat, ice cream dripping down his chin. The car and the kid were about 40 feet from me but I swear I could smell the sugar as if it were in my own hand, as if it was me biting into the cold sweetness. I closed my eyes and let the smell overwhelm me.
“Honey!” I heard Husband shout.
I opened my eyes and I was standing by the beige car, hand stretched through the kids open window, fingers mere centimeters away from the ice cream sandwich. The kid looked startled, his face pushing his head into the car seat, giving him a double chin. I yanked my hand back and said, “Uh, sorry, wrong car.”
I turned and walked back to the Traverse. Husband was already in the driver’s seat. I climbed in and looked straight ahead. I could feel him staring at me but I said nothing.
“You don’t look so great,” Husband said, “Your skin looks a little yellow.”
“I’m fine, just tired.” I was tired, and my invisible wound throbbed.
We arrived home and had to immediately change for the neighborhood BBQ. I turned on the water in the shower, hoping a rinse would alleviate the pain radiating through me. The water was loud and scary. I didn’t want to go anywhere near it. I turned it off and left the bathroom. The bedroom seemed different to me somehow. Everything was brighter, cleaner but dirtier at the same time. That’s when I noticed the shirt Husband had chosen, it wasn’t a shirt I recognized and the color, or lack of color made my stomach lurch. I made him change.
Husband held the door open for me and I stepped into the sunshine. The path from our front porch to the neighborhood BBQ was glowing. Not just the sidewalk but the sky above it and the air in between them, it was all glowing. I blinked hard, shook my head, and blinked hard again. Everything was definitely glowing.
I turned to Husband, “Does the sidewalk look different to you?”
He bent slightly to survey the concrete walkway we were on. He looked at me, dumbfounded then understanding, “It’s probably your new sunglasses. They’re polarized.”
We made our way to the end of the cul-de-sac. Husband walked ahead but my mind was drawn to something in the periphery of my vision. I closed my eyes and saw the most beautiful purple flower. My face and hands felt cool and flat.
“Honey!” I heard Husband shout.
I opened my eyes and realized I had my face smooshed up against a window. I looked down and saw my feet in the dirt of a perfectly manicured lawn, next to a tiny bearded statue holding a sign that said “Welcome Gnome”. I was standing in the Michaelson’s yard, but why?
“Honey!” Husband shouted again.
I turned and saw him making small talk with the neighbors. Jan Michaelson stood next to him, looking at me like I’d asked her to explain quantum field theory. Suddenly embarrassed I took three steps toward them. My feet felt as if they were buzzing, my head hurt and the invisible wound on my back vibrated. I thought I might pass out so I shouted to Jan Michaelson’s scrunched up face, “May I use your bathroom?”
Once inside I rested on the cool marble floor. Every bit of me was buzzing, it was so loud I thought for sure the neighbors would hear me from outside. But no one came. I buzzed and vibrated. The hair on my arms grew thick and fuzzy. My vision blurred then honed. The buzzing was too much, I felt as if I might explode. Then I did.
Samantha Crane lives in Chicago. When she’s not riding bicycles or petting cats she’s pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University.