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Oct/Nov 2001 Fiction

Numb

by Becky Ohlsen


Art by Bob Dornborg

 

When Lucy starts to drink, her skin and her nervous system trade places. It's the only time she can stand to be touched-­drunk, in fact, she NEEDS to be touched. At all other times, it's much too painful. Her nerves are raw, they're outside the skin, playing around where they don't belong. Other people can't see them, but they're out there, naked, dancing in the world without a scrap of protection. She drinks to make them crawl back in, to take shelter underneath the surface of her skin. When they're outside, she stays in the house. She can't wear any clothes. She can't sleep, not under the covers, not even lying down. Nothing can touch her. She stands, or sometimes sits, in the middle of the floor, a safe distance away from all objects. She doesn't answer the door; turning the knob would be impossible, and there's always the chance that someone would try to shake her hand or touch her shoulder.

Alcohol offers the only relief. On weekends her friend brings her a 12-pack or a fifth or a couple of bottles of red wine. He puts it in a glass for her, with a straw so she doesn't have to hold the glass; he puts it on the floor next to her and he backs away until the alcohol has coaxed her nerves far enough inside her skin that he can move closer. By the second beer she can hold her own bottle. After the third or fourth, she starts to feel scared ­ her nerves are pretty far under the skin now, and she can't feel anything. Is it better than the pain? What if they never come out? What if she's numb forever? Wouldn't that be worse? That's why she needs him, her friend, waiting there to kiss her, to see if she can feel it. She needs him to stroke her forehead, her cheek, the palms of her hands, to reassure her that it's only a temporary numb. Rays of sunlight filtering through the rainstorm. The nerves come up one at a time to the places he touches, like surfacing trout. When the alcohol wears off, she has to roll away from him quickly because his arm is slicing through the flesh of her shoulder where it's resting, his fingers little razors. He doesn't know, he's asleep, he can't help it. The nerves have come past her skin again, to frolic in an orgiastic Mardi Gras torture pageant.

When she was younger, Lucy drank every day, all day ­ constant numbness. But of course it didn't last, she grew immune, and pretty soon NOTHING WORKED. So she's learned to let them have their fun, to let them play most of the time, then lure them back inside only when she can't endure it any more. Her friend doesn't really understand, but he knows she needs to have him there during the numbness, when the nerves are far below the skin, to make sure they don't sink all the way down and never come back. She wishes she could stay drunk all the time and he could be there to touch her at the critical moments.

Her skin has started to dance again. She should get up, get away, out of bed and into the middle of the room. Maybe this time she won't. Maybe this time she'll just lie there and wait for his Ginzu-knife body to slice her into a thousand little pieces.

 

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