The Amnesiac

by Anna Konradi

Grand Prize Winner, Written Category
The Monster Challenge

 

            When Zelly McClellan is four, she falls off the roof of her uncle’s brand-new jeep. Her fall is muffled by the sound of summertime fireworks, and it takes a moment for anyone to realize she lies broken on the ground. Zelly stares at the sky, stars in her eyes. Her uncle sees her first; he shouts to Zelly’s parents, come quick, and to Zelly’s aunt, bring the frozen peas. They inspect Zelly’s swollen ankle and lift her into the jeep.

            At the hospital, a bearded doctor who smells of peppermint aftershave knocks on Zelly’s knee with a rubber hammer. He pokes and prods and sticks her through whirling, whizzing machines.

            “Broken ankle, I’m afraid,” says the doctor. He does not sound afraid. Zelly turns her nose into her shirt so as to smell detergent and sweetgrass, a respite from peppermint aftershave. She picks a purple cast and wears it until its insides yellow with summer sweat.

            Zelly bears a scar, fifteen years old and fine as thread, on her ankle. When it storms, her ankle aches, and Zelly’s fingers remember her broken bone and find the scar. Today the rain falls in a solid sheet, too heavy and too fierce for the family cruiser’s wipers to stand a fighting chance. Zelly’s father squints through the glass. Zelly sits in the middle seat behind her parents, elbows resting on the center console and eyes playing metronome pendulum as she scans the highway.

            “Daniel,” says Zellys mother. “Have you given thought to Capetown in the spring?”

            “Capetown,” says Zelly’s father. “In the spring?”

            Zelly sees the crash unfold. First, the red car flips: It hurdles over the median; It tumbles like a toy; It is crushed and cracked. The second car swerves from its path, but the red car catches its tail. Zelly’s father curses; Zelly’s mother screams. Zelly plays the silent observer as the world speeds up and stills, all in a moment. The cruiser joins the carnage. In a breath, glass and flesh embrace. Metal carcasses litter the street, and Zelly lies among the wreckage.

            “Oh, god,” cries Zelly’s mother, when she sees Zelly’s body. She tugs at her seatbelt, which is locked tight against her torso. She turns to Zelly’s father, who stares at a dark stain blooming on his checkered button-down. Finally, she eases the seatbelt away from her body and pushes the car door open.

            Zelly’s heart is beating. Her mother feels it—slow, but present, nonetheless—in the small of Zelly’s neck, and again at her wrist for certainty’s sake. Zelly’s mother screams for help; but then, everyone screams for help, and her cry is lost in the chorus. A crowd gathers, and fate-favored passengers from cars farther down the highway pull bodies from the cars near Zelly. Zelly’s mother only looks up for a moment, having no more than a second to spend wondering about the state of those souls, before her eyes fall back to Zelly. She brushes shards of glass from Zelly’s hair; when she pulls her hand away, it is warm with blood. The rain continues to beat down on the highway, and Zelly’s blood washes away in tiny currents.

            The scene is that of a child’s tantrum: playthings thrown about; dolls discarded; and in the middle of it all, a mother, clutching the child, murmuring in her ear, you’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay.

            The rain continues to fall, and across the median cars trudge sluggishly on.

            When Zelly wakes, she lies not on the highway, but on a bed covered in scratchy white linen. Zelly knows almost at once—from the scratchy linen, and from the steady beeping at her head—that she is in a hospital.

            Zelly begins to question her presence there. Her skull is pregnant with heavy clouds, dense with rain, yet-to-fall, and murky thoughts. Zelly reaches to swipe a loose strand of hair from her face and finds that her hands and arms are painted with deep bruises. Her right foot is wrapped in thick bandages; Zelly attempts to wiggle her toes and finds that the movement sends a tingling pain up her leg.

            The shades are drawn, but light streams through pores in the fabric from a little window in the corner of the room. Zelly squints against the brightness. A dull ache at the base of her neck grows, and soon Zelly’s head is pounding. She forgets the pain in her foot.

            A woman with orange hair and tired eyes enters the room. Upon seeing Zelly, all the breath leaves her in a huff.

            “Oh, god,” says the woman. Zelly raises a hand to her temple; thick bandages circle her head.

            “Daniel,” cries the woman. “She’s up.”

            A man—and this must be Daniel—steps through the door.

            “Zelly,” he says. “Oh, Zelly. Thank god.”

            Zelly opens her mouth to tell the couple that they’ve got the wrong girl. A different Zelly, however unlikely, must be checked in at the hospital. But Zelly’s mouth is dry as a desert. She scrapes her tongue along her teeth to invite moisture. The man rushes toward Zelly and reaches for her hands. There is a moment, before the man touches Zelly, in which she is trapped inside her body, unable to scream for help or ask, who are you, or even pull her hand away. Though she could not tell you so, Zelly feels as she once did, when a doctor (who, though this detail is lost on Zelly now, smelled of peppermint aftershave) placed a mask over Zelly’s face and counted backwards from ten. Six, five, four. She wanted to scream, but trapped as she was, no sound spilled from Zelly’s lips. Now, frozen once more, Zelly’s eyes follow the man’s hand. He brushes her wrist.

            Zelly’s mind goes blank.

            The sky is alight with fire. Bursts of red, gold, and green flower in the night, and Zelly cranes her neck to watch. Summertime fireworks are a staple of Westhaven, and since her brother and his wife, whose pregnant belly pushes at the seams of her pants, are in town for the week, it seemed the obvious choice to enjoy the spectacle with them. They had finished revamping the house the week before, painting the kitchen yellow and the outside shutters grey. Zelly was pleased with the results and happy to revel in them with her family.

            “Pass the melon, would you?” says Zelly. Three beers in, Zelly’s voice is slow and sleepy. Zelly’s brother hands over the tub of melon. A woman—Zelly knows her touch and smell instantly—wraps slender hands around Zelly’s waist.

            “What a night,” the woman murmurs. Zelly nestles her nose into the woman’s hair. It smells of gardenias.

            Zelly’s brother startles. Zelly follows his gaze to her brother’s brand-new jeep. He must’ve seen an animal—a raccoon, maybe, or even a fawn. The woodland things come out at night in Westhaven. But Zelly’s brother takes two quick strides toward the car.

            “Come quick,” he shouts. And then, to his pregnant wife: “Bring the frozen peas.”

The firework finale drowns out any sound thereafter. Zelly’s brother hunches over the ground, shoulders tense with worry. A child, Zelly’s child, lies still in the grass. She’d been fine, fine only a moment ago, plopped cross-legged on the jeep roof. Now the girl’s ankle splays from her body at a nauseating angle. Zelly rushes to the girl.

            Zelly’s brother takes the frozen peas from his wife. Zelly cradles the girl’s head in her lap. The child stares starry-eyed at the sky, bursts of light reflecting in dilated pupils.

            Zelly’s wife—the woman with gardenia-scented hair—lets out a muffled cry when she sees the child on the ground.

            “Oh, Zelly,” she says. “Daniel, help me lift her up.”

            Together they lay the child in the backseat of the jeep. She whimpers when the car door grazes her ankle. The sound is like nothing Zelly has ever heard before. A child in pain—her child in pain—is all Zelly knows in that breath and in every breath thereafter. She knows the sound will stay with her always, as much a part of her as a bullet wound. Zelly lets her sister-in-law, sober by circumstance of her swollen belly, drive them to the hospital. The child turns her cries into Zelly’s shoulder, leaving a tear stain behind her. Zelly feels shame like a living thing.

            Zelly starts. Her eyes dart wildly about the hospital room, as though she were a caged animal. She focuses on objects: the scratchy linen, the curtains, a crooked television on the far wall. The orange-haired woman reaches for Zelly. Zelly knows the woman at once. She’s seen her only a moment before.

            “Stop,” she manages. Her lips are cracked. “Don’t touch me.”

            Hurt flashes in the woman’s eyes, but her hand retreats. She takes note of Zelly’s scratchy voice and hands her a flimsy cup of water. Zelly takes care to avoid the woman’s fingers and takes the cup.

            “I need,” begins Zelly, though at that moment she has not the slightest idea what she needs. Her eyes find the door to the bathroom.

            “Of course,” says the man—Daniel, Zelly remembers. “Let us help you.”

            Zelly sits up and wraps the sheets around her shoulders, tucking her hands safely inside the makeshift cocoon. She allows Daniel and the orange-haired woman to place hands on her shoulders and steady her. Her right foot is tender, and she leans against Daniel for support. At the bathroom door, she pauses.

            “I’m good,” she says. And then, seeing the worry on the woman’s face: “I promise.” Zelly closes the door behind her.

            In the mirror, Zelly sees the child from her vision. The girl’s hair is longer now, her eyes bigger and framed by thick lashes. Still, Zelly is certain that she stares at the child she saw broken on the grass. Her head pounds. Zelly runs cold water over her hands and splashes some onto her face. When she opens her eyes, she expects to see the child gone. But the reflection is steady. Zelly sinks to the bathroom floor. When her fingers find the scar at her ankle, Zelly fears her skull will shatter for the pounding of her brain. She stands and opens the door. Outside, a doctor joins the couple.

            “I can’t remember,” she cries, hand kneading over hand as if they were clay.

            “Oh,” says the woman. She motions to the doctor. “That’s normal. What happened was traumatic. Forgetting this kind of stuff happens all the time.” She looks at the doctor for approval. The doctor nods, but his eyes stay trained on Zelly.

            “What is it,” he starts. “That you can’t remember?”

            Zelly wracks her brain. She hopes to find something—anything—there: a memory of a first kiss, of school hallways, of the couple in the room.

            “Everything,” she says. “I don’t remember anything at all.”

            The day becomes a blur of worried faces and inconclusive tests. Finally, the doctor sits Zelly and the couple—her parents, they tell her—down on the bed.

            “Retrograde amnesia,” says the doctor, and he sounds afraid. “Not to worry, though. Your memories should come back—maybe not all at once, and maybe more slowly than we’d like. But they’ll return.”

            Still, they call her a miracle. Zelly is the girl who flew through glass and lived.

            Zelly’s parents take her home to a neighborhood cluttered with yard signs and garden gnomes. She watches roofs of all colors pass by through the car window. She doesn’t remember the houses, nor does she remember the bus stop two blocks down, the telephone pole covered in painted handprints, or the people strolling by. Zelly’s mother stops at a tall house decorated with yellow flowers and crawling vines. The house’s shutters are not grey, as Zelly had expected them to be, but blue—as blue as a robin’s egg.

            “Blue?” says Zelly’s mother, and then a look of understanding washes over her face. Zelly hadn’t realized she had spoken aloud. “That’s good. You remember the house. We painted the shutters years ago. They haven’t been blue—well, for a long time now. It’s something, though.”

            Zelly doesn’t remember the house. She is certain by now that the vision was not a memory—at least, it was not her memory. She nods back at her mother in the rearview mirror. Zelly’s father helps her out of the car. Her mother hurries inside to unlock the door and make Zelly a cup of tea, which, with a meaningful look, she claims is Zelly’s favorite. Zelly tells her parents that she’d like to sleep.

            “Of course,” says Zelly’s father. “Anything you need, you let us know.”

            Zelly glances around the unfamiliar space.

            “There is one thing,” she says. Her parents, eager to cater to their broken child, wait wide-eyed. “Can you tell me where to find my room?”

            Zelly spends a sleepless night sitting in the strangeness of her room. Her hands find photographs, some of Zelly and some of smiling strangers. In the early morning hours, she explores the rest of the house. She pauses at portraits nailed to the hallway walls, at an urn on the mantle, and at an empty fishbowl in the kitchen. As the first light begins to find her, Zelly climbs upstairs—slowly, for the pain in her foot—and through a sliding door to a vine-covered balcony.

            Zelly, many such sunrises as she had witnessed, looks cheerfully at this one. She watches blue and violet drain from the sky and begin to glow, to catch fire and hum a warm and familiar tune, before the sky goes light. To see the world for the first time is a marvelous thing, and even Zelly, for all the aches in her body and questions in her mind, finds that she can do nothing but pause and soak it in. She knows what a sunrise is; she could describe it, even. But try as she might, Zelly cannot recall a sunrise before this one.

            Zelly’s mother scrambles eggs for breakfast. Zelly smells them, and vanilla, too, when she returns inside. Downstairs, she shuffles food around on her plate. When she notices her parents watching her, she scoops eggs into her mouth.

            “Being here,” says Zelly’s mother. “Do you remember anything? Anything at all?”

            Zelly feels a pang of guilt. She wades through the events of her vision. She remembers everything, but the memory isn’t hers. She pulls for a detail.

            “A cousin,” she says. “I remember that I have a cousin.”

            Zelly’s mother offers her a small smile. “That’s something,” she says. Later, Zelly stops halfway down the stairs when she hears her parents whispering.

            “Of all the things to remember,” says Zelly’s father. “It’s not something we even talked about with her, before—before all of this.”

            “Her doctor told us her memories might come back in bits and pieces. This is just a strange piece to remember first,” says Zelly’s mother. Even hushed, her voice is steady. Zelly feels a tightness in her throat. She wishes she could give them a memory of her own.

            By evening, the pounding in Zelly’s head has dulled. She has a clunky bottle of prescription pills to thank for that. She sits across from her parents after dinner and searches for familiarity in their voices. Her mother cradles a glass of red wine in her palm. Her father’s fingers fumble at the bandage peeking out of his shirt, a reminder that Zelly was not the only one damaged in the crash.

            Tonight, the sleeplessness weighs more heavily on Zelly. She makes her way downstairs, reaching for her father’s wallet before she knows what she is doing. She thumbs through soft bills and stuffs a few in her pocket. Zelly slips outside and walks until she reaches the bus stop two blocks down. The driver opens the bus’ doors a few minutes later and takes no note of Zelly when she limps up the stairs. Zelly takes a seat across from a birdlike woman with a shock of hair atop her head. At the next stop, the woman stands to exit the bus. As she does, her bare leg grazes Zelly’s hand.

            Zelly calls her Lolita. Her lips are on the girl’s collarbone, on the curve of her shoulder, on the small of her neck. Zelly says her name, and the sound disperses against soft skin. Lolita, Lolita, Lolita. Zelly moves a stack of paperwork off her rickety desk and eases Lolita onto its surface. She stares at Zelly with glassy eyes. Zelly wants to shake her. To tell her that it’s easy, to pretend. She closes her eyes and kisses the girl instead. She takes Lolita’s chin in her hand.

            “Say my name,” says Zelly. The girl’s eyes dart away from Zelly’s, landing on a spot far past her shoulders. Zelly presses a hand against her thigh, grips her face a little harder, so that her soft skin turns white around the tips of Zelly’s nails. “My name,” says Zelly.

            Lolita looks at her; the girl’s eyes are shiny with unshed tears.

            “Lady,” says Lolita. “Lady Jane.” Lolita’s voice is barely a whisper.

            Zelly starts. She jerks her hand away from the aisle, but the woman is long gone. The doors are shut behind her, and the bus continues on. Zelly raises a finger to her lips. Lolita’s voice rings in her ears. The girl, no older than Zelly now, was wrought with fear. But Zelly doesn’t care. She remembers the way Lolita’s muscles tightened under Zelly’s touch, how her eyes refused to meet Zelly’s. She feels a rush of excitement. Lolita was hers.

            There is a moment, when she breaks free from the rush of the memory. She is appalled at her own desire, at the thrill that makes her heart pump hard and loud in her ears. But then the memory consumes her again, and Zelly can think of nothing but Lolita.

            Zelly stumbles off the bus when it reaches downtown. She walks through the doors of the first bar she finds. The bartender squints his eyes and smirks at Zelly when she plops down across from him. He tells Zelly to pick her poison, fills up a glass of beer, and slides it across the bar. Zelly takes a swig and wipes foam off her lip.

            “You got a name?” he asks. Her heart skips a beat.

            “Jane,” says Zelly. The name is hers; she is certain of that. She is Lady Jane, as much as she is Zelly.

            The bartender throws a rag over his shoulder and watches Zelly. Soon two more men join Zelly at the bar, and it is clear that they are regulars. One of them orders two whiskey sours and places one in front of Zelly. She watches bubbles rise in her half-full glass of beer.

            “Jacob,” he says, though Zelly had not asked his name. Zelly offers him a small smile.

            “You’re pretty young to be out here drinking by yourself, don’t you think?” Jacob has a smoker’s voice. She rolls her eyes.

            “Not too young for you to buy me a drink, though,” says Zelly. Jacob’s friend slaps a meaty hand on the bar and throws his head back in howling laughter.

            The bartender, who had been watching Zelly throughout the whole ordeal, flicked his rag at the men.

            “Now, boys,” he says. “Don’t go bothering my friend Jane, now. She’s VIP.” A look of understanding passes over the men’s faces. Jacob’s friend lifts his hands in surrender. Jacob raises his glass toward Zelly.

            “Cheers, then,” he says.

            Zelly finishes her beer, the whiskey sour, and a stream of shots—all “on the house,” says the bartender, when she tries to shove a crumpled twenty across the bar. Wildness was no trait of hers; but then, no trait was. Still, she tosses back shot after shot as if she might find answers at the bottom of each glass. Later, when Zelly is sufficiently tipsy, she cranes her neck to find a clock. Her eyes find the ticking gaze of a cat, its belly home to numbers one through twelve. She watches its tail swing back and forth and, beginning to feel dizzy, stands to leave the bar.

            The bartender follows Zelly outside. He tosses a clinking key ring behind him, to a squat man that Zelly hadn’t noticed before—though truth be told, the edges of her vision are blurred, and the world’s gone topsy turvy. She squints toward the doorway, but the man is gone.

            “Hold up,” calls the bartender. He flicks a strand of Zelly’s hair over her shoulder. “What’s the rush? The night is young.”

            Zelly shrugs the bartender’s hand away, but the movement makes the night spin.

            “Woah,” says Zelly. She holds her hands out for balance. The bartender places a steadying hand on the small of Zelly’s back.

            “Woah,” he says, and his breath is hot on Zelly’s neck. She places a hand on his chest to push him away, but he takes Zelly’s shoulders and pulls her closer. “Let’s take a breather.” He leads Zelly toward the bar’s back entrance. Zelly opens her mouth to tell him she should be getting home, but her words get caught in her mouth, and she realizes that she should, probably, take a breather.

            Around the corner, the two men from inside lean against the backdoor. Jacob takes a long drag from a cigarette and holds the smoke in his lungs. When he talks, it comes out in a huff.

            “How’s our VIP?”

            “Ask her yourself,” says the bartender. He shoves Zelly toward Jacob. The men’s laughter echoes in the alleyway. Jacob catches Zelly and blows a puff of thick smoke in her face. His hand finds Zelly’s waist and pushes up the fabric of her shirt. When his skin touches hers, Zelly loses herself.

            Zelly’s feet kick up a cloud of dust as she runs. Flashing blue and red lights follow suit, but Zelly knows this neighborhood like the back of her hand. She makes a sharp left turn and sprints down an alleyway. Another boy with freckles dusting his nose is quick on Zelly’s heels.

            “C’mon, Jimmy,” Zelly calls. The second boy, younger and smaller, is red in the face. A backpack, heavy with stolen liquor, slows him down. Zelly climbs a chain link fence and hops to the other side.

            “Toss the pack,” Zelly says. The boy swings the backpack over the fence. Zelly catches it and slings it over her back. She points to a foothold at the bottom of the fence and tells the boy to hurry. As the boy finds a grip, the first police car screeches into the alleyway. The boy turns, wide-eyed and chalk-white, to Zelly. Zelly’s feet move before she can think. She jerks her eyes away from the boy’s, takes one last look at the approaching cops, and turns on her heels. Before she rounds the corner, Zelly pauses. She ducks behind a dumpster and cranes her head to see the boy, her friend. The boy’s hand is in his pocket. Zelly watches him pull out a gun—a toy gun, she knows, having played cops and robbers with the boy in preparation for today’s event. The boy raises the toy with shaking hands. Zelly watches his body convulse with the impact of bullets hitting his body before he can make a move. He slumps against the chain link fence, toy gun at his side. Zelly’s lunch spews from her mouth. She runs until she’s far from the neighborhood she knows, until all she knows is the ache in her lungs. This time, Zelly doesn’t look back.

            Jacob’s mouth is on Zelly’s neck. He raises his cigarette to his lips and takes a long drag. Nausea—from the memory of the murdered boy, and from Jacob’s cigarette breath—sweeps through Zelly. She pushes at Jacob’s hand. Jacob laughs and shoves Zelly toward his friend, who steps aside as Zelly stumbles toward him. Zelly lands on her hands and knees. Shards of gravel and concrete scrape her palms. Jacob’s friend stands over Zelly and loosens his belt buckle. Zelly begins to crawl from the men, but the pounding in her head is so loud, and besides, the ground keeps shifting under her weight.

            They take her in their hands and make her theirs. When Jacob’s friend touches Zelly, he becomes all she knows.

            Zelly lies on a leather recliner with a TV dinner on her lap. She lifts a beer bottle from the cup holder by her hand, and finding it empty, waves the thing above her head.

            “Mary,” says Zelly. “I’m out.”

            Mary paces in the kitchen with a child against her breast. A second child, pink in the face and with a tangle of blonde hair haloing his head, sits with handfuls of plastic ware under the kitchen table.

            “Can’t you get the beer yourself, Henry?” says Mary. She jerks her chin toward the baby. “She’s finally asleep.”

            Zelly’s blood begins to boil over. Mary stays at home all day, curling her hair and painting her nails. Zelly works all hours of the day to make sure that the babies have clothes and expensive mush to eat, that Mary has her paints and her magazines, and that the fridge is stocked with beer. Zelly mumbles under her breath.

            “I can hear you, Henry,” says Mary. “I’m not deaf.”

            Zelly’s palm finds Mary’s face. She stares at Zelly with a mix of fear and hatred. Zelly knows that hatred; she feels it, too. Zelly watches a handprint bloom on Mary’s face. The baby wakes, and a wail mutes the static noise of the TV. Mary is still. She lets the baby cry, and when the second child begins to wail, she lets him cry, too. Zelly reaches past Mary and pulls a beer from the fridge. She takes it to her recliner and settles in. At the next commercial break, Zelly looks toward the kitchen. Mary and the children are gone, and save for the TV’s buzz, the house is quiet.

            When Zelly comes to, the pain in her head is unbearable. She tries to shrink in on herself, but her body betrays her. But Zelly remembers the power she felt as she struck Mary. She raises a hand and swings. Zelly’s fist connects with the bartender’s sternum. He reels, stunned, and turns to Jacob and Henry.

            “Get out of here,” he says, voice low and strained. Henry glances at Jacob. Slowly, Jacob nods. They retreat down the alleyway. After a minute, Zelly hears an engine start. One hand holding her arms high, the bartender yanks Zelly’s shirt over her head. His hands are warm against her stomach.

            Zelly meets Margot at the bank. She reads Margot’s name on a shiny name tag on her chest.

            “That’s a pretty name,” says Zelly. “Pretty face, too.”

            Margot blushes. Zelly tells her to stop by the bar— “Drinks on the house; you’ll be VIP.” Margot files Zelly’s paperwork and scribbles her number on a business card. That night, Zelly keeps a steady supply of liquor in front of Margot. She takes her in, watching the way Margot talks with her hands, the way she gets nervous when Zelly looks at her too long. Zelly makes a point of looking at her too long. When Margot says it’s time to call it a night, Zelly offers to drive her home.

            “It’s really no hassle at all,” she says.

            “A ride,” slurs Margot. “A ride sounds nice.”

            They don’t make it out of the parking lot. Zelly pushes against Margot’s ribs and looks into her eyes as she squirms. That’s the fun of it: the movement, the discomfort, the anticipation. Zelly covers Margot’s mouth when she starts to scream.

            Zelly leans into the bartender. She finds strength in his strength—and in Jacob’s, and Henry’s, even Jane’s. Zelly musters all her power and shoves the bartender. His head slams against the crumbling brick with a sickening crack, and dazed, he slides to the ground. Zelly revels in the rush of seeing the bartender at her mercy. Zelly is high from the memories that have been restored to her. She tastes Lolita on her tongue, sees the betrayal in Jimmy’s face, feels Mary’s cheek give under her palm, and hears Margot’s muffled cry. Zelly’s body buzzes. She pulls the bartender’s pants down to his ankles. She finishes what he started.

            Zelly does not return home. As the sun comes up, she hops on the first bus she comes across. Zelly brushes hands with everyone she can. The thrill of shame sustains her, fills her like a drug. Zelly knows not who she once was, but she takes the darkest parts of each new passenger and becomes someone, or something, else entirely.

            When men ask Zelly’s name, she tells them to call her whatever they please. She brushes against them and, in seeing the most shameful parts of their souls, suggest the names of their mothers, their wives, their mistresses. Soon, the men’s shame is not enough. Zelly toys with their memories, ciphering out the details that will turn blood cold.

            “Give my regards to May,” says Zelly to a round man at a truck stop. The man had drunkenly driven into a tree last fall; May, his girlfriend, died two days later. Zelly claps her hands and throws her head back in laughter when the man calls her a witch. The shame of those she touches is all she knows—all she remembers. They fear her, because she sees them for who they are. Zelly likes the irony of that.

            When it storms, Zelly’s hand drifts toward her ankle. She discovers a scar there and spends a moment wondering about her life before; she can’t imagine it was much of a life at all. Zelly’s mind turns from the little scar. She touches the hand of the passerby and slips away.