December 7, 2011
The hum of dairy refrigeration clogs my ears: it is a buzzing, an army of wasps trying to claw their way into my head. My eyes squeeze shut, slowly prying themselves open again as I allow myself to admire the stark row of milk bottles in front of me, taking comfort as I watch beads of perspiration gather on the lip of the nearest bottle, swelling to a breaking point, spilling down the bottle’s sides, dripping onto the shelf below. My body convulses as a flash of dirty blond hair shreds my mediation. I do not want to turn my head; I do not want to lose the safety of my milk. Forcing my head to turn a fraction seems to crack each cervical vertebra, but my eyes have already locked onto the woman slipping through the grocery store’s electric doors. Fear slices my chest into ribbons as I notice she has not bought anything- again. She brushed past me last week too, same time, same milk. Does no one else notice her? Her filthy hair is a red flag, a warning.
Two weeks ago, on the bus, I had been admiring the flickering of the fluorescent light above me, pulsating in imitation of a heart. The brightness sears my eyes, I feel my corneas peeling back, cracked and dry. I blink, the sweet relief marred as I distinguish a mess of unwashed blondness, starboard. She is a magnet, my gaze unwillingly drawn to her mouth as she lifts a gnarled hand to her lips, her fingers and thumb pinched together. I know there will be dirt under her jagged fingernails, dirt she now has against her mouth. Dirt touches worms. I imagine squirming bodies wriggling out from behind her eyes, forcing them to swing loose from their sockets.
Three days ago, I stood in line at the post office, marveling at the forty-seven dog hairs occupying the coat of the man before me in line. Two perfectly straight hairs form an upwards-pointing arrow. My fingers itch to fi¬¬nd another hair, complete an equilateral triangle, each angle precise, absolute. Unwelcome electricity shoves needles through my skin- I know she is here. Impossible. Improbable. She must have clones, stationed to meet me at every day’s chores, for how else do I encounter daily the filthy nails, the greasy hair that shrieks threat. I cannot escape this demon’s beckoning fingers.
This grocery store has become only a shell, the beads of the bottles’ perspiration an illusion of safety. Repelled, I tear myself away from the milk-laden shelves, out the store’s door, my footsteps claps of thunder that bludgeon the pavement. My strides kick up brittle leaves, leaving them victim to the frigid gusts of an unforgiving autumn. She stands motionless a mere ten yards ahead, her fingers and thumb once again pinched together, rubbing across her mouth. Tension grips my body, muscle spasms jumping through my shoulders. Each step drags me closer, yet she only shrivels inward, the familiar buffets of wind whipping her head as if she nods with intense agreement.
Her magnetic pull obliterates any intention of passing by- I halt. Apprehension stabs my stomach; acid burns through my flesh. Her fingers fall motionless against her lips, muffling her whisper.
“Two months. You’ve followed me for two months,” her voice cracks on the last word. “Why?”
I remember the vivacious creature she was sixty-one days and five hours ago. Her body has aged since then, crippled.
Unbidden, my hands encompass her neck and I twist, feeling each vertebrae crack. I step on her left hand as I walk away, grinning at the crack of her fingers.

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