Jeanine awoke gasping. It was the same dream again: coming to during the operation, seeing blood everywhere, her blood, staining the gloved hands and scrubs of the faceless men looming over her. Hearing the beep of the heart monitor pick up pace as she understood that the acidic pain overwhelming the room was part of her body. Crackling that scratched against her eardrums as the screws tightened in her femur. The harsh stench of antiseptic and wet copper mixing into a ghoulish cocktail. The smell was still in her nose as she struggled to her feet, stumbling and half-hopping to the toilet.
She lay on the bathroom floor afterwards, her stomach muscles aching, and ran her hands over the smooth wooden floorboards. She thought it strange when she first saw the apartment; why would someone put unvarnished wood in a bathroom? She felt affectionate towards the old boards now, waxing them weekly and sleeping on them whenever the dream came back.
Dawn crept through the dimpled glass of the shower door and lingered on the tips of her long chestnut hair before driving painfully into her eyes. Jeanine glanced at the alarm clock she kept on the cistern of the toilet and groaned. Grimacing, she grasped the edge of the counter and pulled herself up. She shifted onto her right foot, her left thigh protesting loudly at the mistreatment it had suffered in her hasty retreat to the restroom, and scrubbed the tang of batteries from her tongue.
The dream stayed with her that day, following her onto the bus, lingering over her coffee. She couldn’t bring herself to eat, visions of her blood flooding her mind every time she thought about food. The friction between her hand and the handle of her cane was a welcome distraction, a corporeal reminder that she was awake.
“You look like hell,” Sondra said, leaning over the top of her cubicle into Jeanine’s. “I say that only with love in my heart.”
“Yeah, thanks,” said Jeanine, pushing away from her keyboard and swivelling to face her neighbor. “I had the dream again.”
“Ouch.” Sondra sipped placidly from her coffee mug. “You should really, like, talk to a therapist or something. This is what, the third time this week?”
“I don’t even know anymore,” Jeanine said as she massaged her temples. “I feel like I haven’t slept in a month. There’s got to be a way to make it stop, right?”
“Well…” Sondra’s mug played between her hands. “I don’t know, I probably shouldn’t even tell you. It’s gotta be fake, anyway.”
“At this point, I’d try doing some Wiccan spell where I bury my period blood to stop this, so please, give me your possibly fake solution,” Jeanine said, a tired but wry smile working its way onto her face.
“My thing isn’t that far off,” Sondra said, screwing up her face in embarrassment. “I heard about this from my cousin. There’s this man who runs a bodega on Fourth Street. You go in and ask for a bag of lentils and a box of chalk. Then he takes you into a back room and - I don’t know, my cousin kind of stopped there, but he and his wife are finally pregnant, so he believes in it.”
“And what does this wizard charge for his mysterious services?” Jeanine couldn’t help giggling.
“My cousin wouldn’t tell me, except to say that it cost less than he thought it would,” Sondra said, her voice lifted by her own muted laughter. “Anyway, it’s Fourth and Quince, if you want to try it.”
The walk to catch the bus to Quince Street was twice as long as the one that would take her home. Her leg and face both burned as she limped down Second Avenue, each step second-guessed and hesitant. The day, though, had worn her down; her throat still burned with the memory of bile.
The bodega was unremarkable, compact yet crammed with items ranging from mouse traps to diapers to sandwiches. The thickset man behind the counter watched a small TV beside the register. He held out a finger as Jeanine walked up to him and kept it there until the tinny jingle of a local mattress store plinked over the airwaves.
“What do you want?” He sounded impatient, as though having a customer was an unwanted intrusion on his day.
“Um… a box of… wait, no, a bag of lentils, and, um,” Jeanine looked wildly around the store, trying to remember the other half of the demand. Her gaze fell on the dilapidated and picked-over display of school supplies to the right of the counter. “A box of chalk!”
He sighed and ran a heavy hand over his thinning hair. His muddy gold rings glinted under the buzzing neon letters hanging above the cigarettes.
“Are you sure?”
Jeanine hesitated until headlights cut across her face through the dingy glass and metal bars fronting the building; for a moment, she had seen the bright, disorienting light of the surgical suite. She swallowed hard and nodded.
“Come with me,” he said, turning and sliding out from behind the counter with difficulty. Jeanine followed him past tall stacks of canned foods and a basket full of rubber snakes, and walked through the door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY.
The room she entered was cramped and dim, with cardboard taped over a broken window and a single, naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. Fragrant violet bundles of Russian sage hung like a garland above the door and dropped tiny dustlike petals onto Jeanine’s hair and shoulders. Candles flickered and oozed on precarious stacks of cardboard boxes and a plank balanced on one side of a massive plastic sink. Shelves mounted on the wall opposite the door showcased tiny creatures, with claws as delicate as needles and bulging eyes that seemed to glow, suspended in amber liquid and bottles of bleach and glass cleaner. In the center of the room, a metal folding chair sat beside a round table that was a scant few inches larger than the glass jar sitting atop it. He gestured towards the chair and she lowered herself onto it, kneading the scars on her left thigh with quivering fingers.
He spoke over his shoulder as he perused the shelves. “I take some of your blood, and I give you what you want. No questions.”
Jeanine’s eyes went wide and her stomach clenched, a familiar bitterness spreading across the back of her tongue. “What are you going to do with my blood?”
“That’s a question. No questions.” The man pulled an ornate knife from one of the shelves. The blade seemed to suck the light and color from the air around it. “What do you want?”
Jeanine swallowed. She had said, hadn’t she, that she was willing to do anything? Fingers trembling, she unbuttoned the cuff of her shirt. “I want the dreams to stop,” she said, her voice more certain than her mind.
“Okay.” The man touched the blade of the knife to Jeanine’s wrist and pulled. Her blood pooled in the glass jar. “No more dreams.”
An honest man. She never dreamed again.
Carling Mars (she/her) is queer, genderqueer, mentally ill, and disabled (those last two go together). Her book, feeling things in public places, is available now on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com (Eliezer Tristan Publishing). Her two writing/book arts projects, e/x and antihistamine, are available for purchase through carlingmars.com. She helps run the Writers with Mental Illness book club (which you should totally join!). She lives in SLC with a wife, a rabbit, and a cat.