they shuttle me out of the building, me cradling armfuls of acclimation pills (overpriced sedatives), the nurse with his head held high. like he's escorting a prisoner, though my stasis passed without incident. you know, i couldn't have caused trouble if i tried, is what i would say if i didn't know his type already. he'd make a fine statue.
there you are, sleepyhead!
mother, who could be my grandmother now. she drives us through the adjacent neighborhood, and i startle as the dead white luxury keeps spilling nearer and nearer to our home address. she rattles off a list of marriages, pet deaths, and old playmates working dead-end jobs. i try not to hear the satisfaction in her voice. nearly thirty years, she says, and that's all. she helps me out of the car. her knotted fingers touch my bloated ones gingerly, like she's scared the frost will rub off on her. the miracle of life doesn't seem to have endeared me any more to her than before. our joints creak from disuse as we climb the stairs to the porch.
there's new paneling where the wall used to warp: in just this one aspect, it fits right in with the houses we saw on our way back. i remember mom wanted to sell the place, and wonder if they kept it for my benefit, even though my room is just as drafty as before. i take down another one of my old posters, from before science decided i was an object rather than a subject. the other one, with the zombie catgirl, can stay. a collector would probably have a heart attack seeing the piles of shit i left here. magazines, novelty controllers, a tub of sauce the manufacturer had to recall for sanitary reasons. when the tarp covering them comes off, the dust hangs in the air like phantom dunes.
i phoned henry, mom yells heartily from downstairs, as if we weren't talking about my ex. gangly, bug-eyed, chatterbox. she did everything she could to keep us at a distance, last i heard. he must've made a big impression in my absence; such is the privilege of those without. maybe he could put in a good word for me, the way i used to. or maybe it's more of an obligation. i fiddle with a plastic toy caked in grease. i try on clothes i could only buy with three layers between me and the person i wanted to be when i wore them. that, and three districts away from home. somehow, none of it moves me.
i remember my friend at the institute, where the lights were spotted with a hundred small carcasses. she twisted her neck in ways no live human could, first to send me running so that she could have the room all alone, and later to punctuate jokes about a naughty owl that were almost too bizarre, even for me. we laughed with eyes wide open when they smeared us in transparent gel and went, still shaking, into the exam room. we shared a bed after the nurses made their last round and played stupid games with the palette knife she had tucked into the bedframe. she never once asked me if i was sure about anything. on that bedsheet with a hundred thousand small holes in it, with names no adults would call us by. i press my knuckles to my temple. the star-studded pain doesn't come.
i think of how lucky i am. i think of my sister's facebook page full of plainclothes vitriol. i consider being the ill one, and the impulsive one, and the one nobody will recognize in a few years all at once. i think of the house.
when henry calls for me in that private way, i flinch and pull him away from the entrance. like always, his hair is raised like a many-towered superstructure, eyes twinkling with sleep. i thought him handsome a lifetime ago, but now his face is a child's streaked with shadow. i'm sure he sees me the same way, but he has the sense not to let it show. since when?
mom pours champagne while he tells me about the work he's been doing studying fiddler crabs. something about being shortstaffed and weird interns. dad is nowhere to be seen, but when i think to ask, my tongue goes limp in my mouth. he was the one who helped me pick out the ugliest suit to wear to the charity gala, who told me never to trust those people, no matter how much gold-foiled mystery meat they might feed me at the facility. joke's on us, i think as i scratch flakes of skin off my elbow. they kept their promise. i only wish there was more to it.
to your return, they say in sync as we knock our glasses together.
to me, i say, the corners of a smile etching wrinkles in soft skin.