Page 13 of Mud Vein

I needed something to distract myself. When I looked around, the first thing I saw was the fridge. I made a sandwich with the bread and the cold cuts Isaac kept stocked in my vegetable bin, and ate it sitting cross-legged on my kitchen counter. For all of his save the earth with hybrids and recycling bullshit, he was a soda fanatic. There were five variations of carbonated, stomach-eating, sugar-infested soda in my fridge. I grabbed the red can and popped the tab. I drank the whole thing watching the snow fall. Then I dug the CD from the trash. I listened to it ten times … twenty? I lost count.

When Isaac walked through the door sometime after eight, I was draped in a blanket in front of the fire, my arms wrapped around my legs. My bare feet were tapping to the music. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me. I wouldn’t look at him, so I kept to the fire, focused. He moved to the kitchen. I heard him cleaning up my sandwich mess. After a while he came in with two mugs and handed me one. Coffee.

“You ate today.” He sat down on the floor and leaned his back against the sofa. He could have sat on the couch, but he sat on the floor with me. With me.

I shrugged. “Yeah.”

He kept staring at me and I squirmed, pressed down by his silver eyes. Then, what he said hit me. I hadn’t fed myself since it happened. I would have starved if not for Isaac. That sandwich was the first time I’d taken action to live. The significance felt both dark and light.

We sat in silence drinking our coffee, listening to the words he left me.


“Who is it?” I asked softly. Humbly. “Who is singing?”

“Her name is Florence Welch.”

“And the name of the song?” I sneaked a glance at his face. He was nodding slightly, like he approved of me asking.

“Landscape.”

I had a thousand words, but I held them tightly in my throat. I wasn’t good at saying. I was good at writing. I played with the corner of my blanket. Just ask him how he knew.

I squeezed my eyes shut. It was so hard. Isaac took my mug and stood up to carry them to the kitchen. He was almost there when I called out.

“Isaac?”

He looked at me over his shoulder, his eyebrows up.

“Thanks … for the coffee.”

He tucked his lips in and nodded. We both knew that was not what I was going to say.

I put my head between my knees and listened to Landscape.

Chapter Seventeen

Saphira Elgin. What kind of shrink goes by the name Saphira? It’s a stripper’s name. One with scabby track marks up her arm and greasy black roots growing inch-deep above brittle yellow hair. Saphira Elgin the MD has smooth slender arms, the color of caramel. The only things decorating them were thick gold bracelets that stacked from her wrist to the middle of her forearm. It was a classy show of wealth. I watched her write something on her notepad, the bracelets tinkling gently as her pen scratched across the paper. I categorized people by whichever one of the four senses they exhibited the strongest. Saphira Elgin would fall under sound. Her office made sounds, too. There was a fire to the left of us, snapping as it ate a log. A small water fountain behind her left shoulder trickled water down miniature rocks. And in the corner of the room, past the walnut bookcase and chocolate couches, there was a large, brass birdcage facing the window. Five rainbow finches hopped and chirped from tier to tier. Dr. Elgin looked up at me from her notepad and said something. Her lips were the color of beets and I watched them vapidly when she spoke.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

She smiled and repeated the question. Smoky voice. She had an accent that put heavy emphasis on her ‘r’s’. It sounded like she was purring.

“Yourrr motherrr.”

“What does my mother have to do with my cancer?”

Saphira’s leg bounced gently on her knee, making a swishing sound. I’d decided to call her Saphira rather than Dr. Elgin. That way I could pretend I wasn’t being psychoanalyzed by Isaac’s choice of shrink.

“Our sessions, Senna, arrrre not just about your cancerrrr. There is morrrrre to your composition as a perrrrson than a disease.”

Yes, a rape. A parent who left me. A parent who pretended he didn’t have a daughter. A slew of bad relationships. A lost relationship…

“Fine. My mother not only walked out on her family, she also probably passed this disease down to me. I hate her for both.”

Her face was impassive.

“Has she trrrried to contact you afterrrr she left?”

“Once. After my last book published. She sent me an e-mail. Asked to meet with me.”

“And? How did you respond?”

“I didn’t. I’m not interested. Forgiveness is for Buddhists.”

“What are you then?” she asked.

“An anarchist.”

She considered me for a moment, and then said, “Tell me about your father.” Tell me about yourrrr fatherrrr.

“No.”

Her pen scratched on her notepad. It sounded itchy. Or maybe I was just aggravated.

I imagined her writing; Will not talk about father. Abuse? There was no abuse. Just nothingness.

“Your book, then.” She reached under her notepad and pulled out a copy of my last novel, setting it on the table between us. I should have been surprised that she had a copy, but I wasn’t. When it was made into a movie, I didn’t think I would see it, but I did. Chances were they’d turn my book into some bastardized Hollywood knockoff. At least my book would get good publicity. They anticipated a small release, but on opening night the movie grossed three times the expected amount and then went on to top the box office for three weeks before it was knocked out by a tights-wearing superhero. My book became an overnight sensation. And I hated it. All of a sudden everyone was looking at me, looking into my life, asking questions about my art, which I had always deemed highly private. So, I bought a house with my money, changed my number and stopped answering my e-mails. For a while I was one of the most sought after interviews in the book world. Now I was a rape victim and I had cancer.

I hated Isaac for making me do this. I hated him for making this the condition for performing my surgery. I’d taken to the internet, searching other surgeons who could cut out my cancer. They were plentiful. Cancer was trending. There were websites you could go to where you could see their pictures, where they went to medical school, how their former patients rated them. Five stars to Dr. Stetterson from Berkley! He took the time to know me as a person before dissecting me like a live specimen! Four stars to Dr. Maysfield. His bedside manner was stiff, but my cancer is gone. It was like a damn dating site. Scary. I’d quickly closed the window and resolved to see the shrink Isaac was forcing on me.

The only peace I had at that point was knowing it was he who would cut the cancer from my body. Not any old stranger—the stranger who’d been sleeping on my couch and feeding me.

“Let’s talk about your last relationship,” Saphira said.

“Why? Why do we have to dissect my past? I hate it.”

“To know who a person really is, I believe you have to know first who they were.”

I hated where she put her words. A normal person would have said you first have to know who they were. Saphira mixed everything up. Threw me off. Used her dragged out ‘r’s’ as a weapon. She was a purring dragon.

In my hesitation, her pen scratched on paper again.

“His name was Nick.” I picked up my untouched coffee and spun the cup in my hands. “We were together for two years. He’s a novelist. We met at a park. We broke up because he wanted to get married and I didn’t.” Some of the truth. It was like sprinkling artificial sweetener over bitter fruit.

I sat back, satisfied that I’d filled the session with enough information to keep Saphira the Dragon happy. She raised her eyebrows, which I figured was the prompt to keep talking.

“That’s it,” I snapped “I’m fine. He’s fine. Life moved on.” I pulled out my grey and smoothed it back behind my ear.

“Where is Nick now?” she asked. “Do you keep in contact?”

I shook my head. “We tried that for a while. It was too painful.”

“For you, or him?”

I stared at her blankly. Weren’t breakups always painful for everyone involved? Maybe not…

“He moved to San Francisco after he published his last book. Last I heard he was living with someone.” I looked at the finches while she wrote on her notepad. I had to turn my back to her to do it, but it felt good, like passive-aggressive defiance.

“Did you read his book?”

I waited a second to turn back around, just enough time to rearrange my face. I lifted a hand to my throat, wrapping my forefinger and thumb under my chin. Nick used to say it looked like I was trying to strangle myself. I suppose subconsciously I was. I quickly pulled my hand away.

“He wrote it about me … about us.”

I had thought that would be enough, that it would divert her attention and allow me to breathe. But she waited patiently for my answer. Did you read his book? Her chocolate eyes were unblinking.

“No, I didn’t read it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I can’t,” I snapped. “I don’t want to read about how I failed him and broke his heart.”

It felt okay to say. The problems I had two years ago with Nick felt welcome compared to what was lurking in the shallow tide pools of my memory.

“He mailed me a copy. It’s been sitting on my nightstand for two years.”

I glanced at the clock … hoping. And, yes! Our time was up. I jumped up and grabbed my purse.

“I hate this,” I said. “But my stupid surgeon won’t operate unless I talk to you.”

She nodded. “I’ll see you Thursday.”

I was shrugging my coat on and opening the door when she called after me.

“Senna.”

I paused, one arm not all the way in my sleeve.

“Read the book,” she said.

I left without saying goodbye. Dr. Elgin was humming softly as the door quietly shut behind me.

It was the first time I’d driven myself anywhere. I brought Isaac’s CD, and I played Landscape all the way home. It calmed me. Why? I’d love to know. Maybe Saphira could eventually tell me. It was the only song I owned that actually had words attached to it, and the beat wasn’t particularly soothing. Quite the opposite.

When I got home, I carried the CD inside. I set it on the kitchen counter and climbed the stairs. I had no intention of listening to anything Saphira Elgin said, but when I saw the cover of Nick’s novel lying next to my bed, I picked it up. It was a reflex—we’d been talking about the book, and now I was having a look. There was a fine layer of dust over the top. I wiped it off with my sleeve and studied the jacket for clues. The cover was not his style, but authors had little say over what cover went on their book. There is a team that does that at the publishing company. They brainstorm with cheap Flavia coffee, in a windowless conference room-that’s what my agent told me at least. If I was looking for Nick in the cover, I would not find him. The cover looked like a close-up of bird feathers: greys and whites and blacks. The title is angled in chunky white letters: Knotted.

I opened it to the dedication page. That was as far as I’d gotten in the past before slamming it shut.

For MV

I breathed through my mouth, flexing my fingers across the open page like I was preparing to do something physical. My mind caressed the dedication again.

For MV

I turned the page.

Chapter One

She bought me with words; beautiful, promising and intricately carved words…

My doorbell rang. I closed the book, set it on my nightstand, and went downstairs. There was no way in hell I was reading that.

“We should just make you a key,” I said to Isaac. He was standing on my doorstep, arms loaded with paper grocery bags. I stepped aside to let him in. It was a snarky comment, but I’d said it with familiarity.

“I can’t stay,” he said, setting the bags down on the kitchen counter. There was a brief sting, like a bee had wandered into my chest cavity. I wanted to ask him why, but of course I didn’t. It wasn’t my business where he went or who he went there with.

“You don’t have to do this anymore,” I said. “I saw Dr. Elgin today. Drove there myself. I—I’m better.”

He was wearing a brown leather jacket and his face was scruffy. It didn’t look like he came from the hospital. And on days he did there was always the faint smell of antiseptic around him. Today there was only aftershave. He rubbed his fingers across the hair on his face. “I scheduled your surgery for two weeks from Monday. That way you’ll have a few more sessions with Dr. Elgin.”

My first instinct was to reach a hand up to feel my breasts. I’d never been one of those women who prided themselves on their bra size. I had breasts. For the most part I ignored them. But, now that they were going to be taken, I felt protective.

I nodded.

“I’d like you to keep seeing her … after…” His voice dropped off, and I looked away.

“All right.” But I didn’t mean it.

He tapped the granite with his fingertip. “All right,” he repeated. “I’ll see you later, Senna.”

I started unpacking the groceries. At first I felt nothing. Just boxes of pasta and bags of fruit being shelved … put away. Then I felt something. An itch. It nagged at me, tugging and pulling until I was so frustrated I threw a box of soup crackers across the room. They hit the wall and I stared at the spot where they’d landed, trying to find the sound of my emotion. Sound. I ran to the living room and hit play on Florence Welch. She’d been singing this song to me nonstop for days. Her real voice would be tired by now, but her recorded voice called out to me, unfailing. Strong.

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