In tenth grade you say to your friend Katie, “Let’s be anorexic.” You are joking, but not really, and she’s looking straight at you and she says, “Okay.” Katie takes to it like a house on fire, but you are weak. You break and eat after dark with shaking fingers in the cold light of the refrigerator. Katie pares her daily intake down to an apple and a can of tuna until she decides she’s enjoying the tuna too much, and then she drinks the juice but leaves the meat. Katie cuts her lip on the can and it doesn’t heal and doesn’t heal. She drapes across your bed, staring at the ceiling, and works the cut with her tongue while you do homework. You watch her skeleton emerge like a time-lapse video of decay. One day she passes out on her way back from the lunch line and breaks her collarbone against the corner of a table, and the blue plastic tray holding the red apple goes flying and you think of Snow White. People flock to her in slow motion while you sit watching with your chin in your palm. This moment of not caring will ring inside you forever.
You are in bed in a dorm room with a boy, the narrow twin mattress collapsing towards the center like a book closing so that you fall into each other. The room is dark and you sting inside, a high ringing ache. You are not yet used to sex, you don’t know what you want or how to express it, so you get hurt in small ways. His face is half lit by a lamp on your roommate’s dresser. He presses his palm into your breastbone and you think he is pushing you away but then he says, “Can you feel your heart moving inside your chest? Feel it,” and you try to, and he says, “Isn’t that the strangest thing, that it moves inside you all the time? Like something alive on its own but trapped inside.” You settle your hand over his and close your eyes and only then do you notice the sound of rain drumming the windows. His hand rests heavy and hot against your chest and you feel grounded by this attention, the mundane clockwork of your body made to seem magical by a boy who will doubtless return to his girlfriend in the morning. You don’t want to think that this could be the purest moment of your life, you don’t want to think that this could be the pinnacle, but somewhere deep in the back of yourself you suspect this to be true.
Katie goes to the same state college as you, but lives in a dorm far enough across campus to justify continuing not to know her. You hear from girls in her building that after her roommate dropped and she was left alone, she went strange–first refusing to speak or make eye contact, then refusing to leave her room, until university police broke down the door and found her upright in a chair, freshly dead. They say her skin was yellow as urine, her hair had fallen out, her fingernails were jelly soft, the contents of her stomach were blood and molars. You imagine her alive for all those hours of mushrooming silence, her teeth coming loose from the gums soundlessly like paper melting and the sockets giving that sweet ache as she probed and sucked and fanned the blood out over her tongue, and there is a cold-water flash in the pit of your belly. Here is this memory, suddenly, that you never knew you forgot: Katie on your bed working her cut lip with her tongue and you saying, irritably, “God, let it heal,” and Katie saying, “Blood is the only taste I really like.” And you rolled your eyes at your math book. You knew you wouldn’t be friends for much longer, family connections and elementary school notwithstanding. You remember also what you said–”Oh, okay, Vampyra,“–and you rise then with the rest of the congregation in the small church where you both took first communion in long white dresses, conspicuous as child brides, and walk towards the sunlight with your hand pressed against your gamely beating chest, leaving behind Katie’s heart: the small, stingy fruit of a body flying apart at the seams.
Chelsea Laine Wells has been published in [PANK], wigleaf, The Butter, Change Seven, and Heavy Feather, among others. She is fiction editor for Chicago-based Hypertext Magazine and founding editor of the forthcoming Hypernova Lit, an online journal dedicated to publishing the work of high school students. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and once for Best of the Net. You can find out more about Chelsea and read her work at www.chelsealainewells.com and you can find her on Twitter @chelsea_l_w.