Umbrella, purse, keys, and—ah! I pluck the half-empty mug from the nightstand and kiss the rim as thunder vibrates the floorboards. A sip turns into a slosh, and my scrubs turn brown. As lightning blanches everything in sight, my insides convex and I momentarily separate from my breath. That’s when I discover her, crouching atop my uterus, tiny toenails digging into my sigmoid. The points of her elbows tent my midsection.
I free my hands, yank my top off, untangle it from my black hair, throw the pink mess into a corner.
Excuse me, I say. The squirming stops. Care to explain what you’re doing?
Nothing, she says, elbows on knees. I wanna play. After she piles my small intestines upon her head like curls, she beams. Pretty.
Play? You can’t play inside me. There’s no room.
She presses my stomach. It growls and gives. Room, she says.
Sorry, I can’t take care of you, because I have to go to work. And fight the parents who parked in the nurses’ spots.
Feral yawn. She drags a finger across my beaded lymph nodes. Can’t, she mimics. Have to. Can’t. Have to. She squeezes my diaphragm with both hands, pulling air deep into my lungs. Can.
The clock Dopplers as it fades. I inhale and exhale. Crumpled scrubs blink into view. I bend over to scoop them up, but a burning sensation forces me back up.
Can I have this? She shows me the spotted pebble she extracted from my kidney.
Yes. I mean no. I rack my brain. Tell you what, let’s play hide-and-seek.
My pelvis tilts under her weight as she shifts her balance. When she responds, her voice bubbles up through lobes and mucus. I was hided, but nobody seeked, she says. Pain balloons where her forehead knocks into my liver.
Between gasps, I say, What about swings? There’s a playground at my—
She takes a seat on my transverse colon. Swing! The whole of me buckles, and I reach for the nearest wall, the floor about to slide out from under me.
No, please. What about books? Do you like stories?
My abdomen grows taut with the shapes of her to suddenly slacken like the underside of a trampoline. I lose track of my edges. My teeth clench so they can do something. Meanwhile, her head finds space by my heart. Through the pelvic girdle, her little legs dangle. I like stories, she says, pulling herself up by my clavicle. Very. Much. She puts my arms on like sleeves, my legs on like pants. My spinal column shudders as she pours herself upward like lava. She giggles, the sound a harsh tickle in my throat. The moaning is me but also not.
Dry lightning flashes, and all colors jump.
I, no, we flex our fingers and take the world in through new eyes as everything sharpens and slows. We dump my purse onto the rug. A mercury thermometer, a pad of hall passes, reusable chopsticks, an old stick of stain remover. Also, a hairy brush, an emergency tampon, some ginger candy, and, finally, my cell phone. It glows in our hands as we dial from memory.
“Hi, it’s Jia-Ling,” we say. “Not so good, I’m afraid. Bad fever. Can you please get the other nurse to cover for me today?” She digs our elbow into our side. “Better make that five days to be sure.”
We hang up, shoulders lighter, eyes brighter.
Read! my inner child says, jumping back under the covers as the first rain begins to fall.
Read, I say, grabbing my latest library book from the nightstand.
Karen Yin is a peace-loving, riot-inciting middle child with one eyebrow permanently arched. Recent acclaim for her writing includes a Lambda Literary Fellowship, a Tending Space Fellowship, and a grant from Table 4 Writers Foundation. Winner of the ACES Robinson Prize in 2017 for furthering the craft of editing, Karen founded Conscious Style Guide to spread mindful language. She lives with her partner and their cat friends on a mountain not too far from Los Angeles.