tiles white and walls washed over, the windows were blanked with newspaper rubbish-- a white jugged mosaic crossed with blue plastic labels dominating the walls of the tiny living room that a reclused boy and his cadaver of a sister called home.
he stocked them stoic, set them in line-- the forty-seven bottles under the kitchen sink proving three short for the week.
"one more hour today," he'd always say. "and then you'll be better tomorrow."
laid up and tied down by her very longlived specimenship, she counted. the bottles and the hours, the cramps and cringes, every day accounting different numbers to the attributes of her illness. she kept track, indelible by way of needle points and chemical burns, so that every single day, she could tell him.
it was the closest thing to truth she could still feel.
"thank you," she would always say, between her shivers. "thank you for taking care of me."
and if she could smile without crying, she smiled just for him.
with every drop of winter down the porcelain peel of her avian spine, he marveled more-- so far gone with the love of a sister that he couldn't see that
than his meagre means could breach.
whitewashed hands circling the breadth of a twenty inch waist, he dried her delicately and loved her to sleep, laid her out to rest before the next day's holistic treatment would tear at the seams of his grievous faith for the fifth week counting.
"tell me you're almost there," he begged from her, desperate in all his unforsaken folly. "you'll get better, won't you?"
a slaughterhouse brand in all force of conjecture.
closer and quicker than the chemical burns across her synapses, she told him what would make him happy, because she couldn't bear to see him cry.
"i'll get better. i promise."
her oath leaked from her eyes, brushing against his lips in timid contamination.
"even though it hurts, sometimes. i'll get better for you."
& he believed
& he believed
& he believed
of every truth and every retraction, every frayed and displaced reaction
he believed in her truth & his folly
and turned a blind eye to all faults otherwise.
because she wouldn't lie
and she wouldn't leave
so confident he was in the power of the good in this unrequited farce.
her sincerity sunk to the bottom of the bathtub, making drainage rings and leaving its soaked debris. her processes were irreversible, complete in their putrefaction.
she was his pestilence, culture, & vaccine. stripped paint and promises and everything but well.
and when her voice swarmed out of her in infested creaks, she only told him of the hope her view from the window gave her, and nothing deeper than the skin he sought to purge.
to love and to live and to breathe and to follow
every day and every hour that he breathed her in,
sugarsoak sweet in her chloroform water,
he forgot that the water was clouded when he brought her out to dry.
"you seem thinner today," he murmured in doubt-- a hole in his blindness finding his fist closed around her thigh. "i wonder why."
her body was becoming an empty statement. in his cautious hands she stilled herself, dizzy and evaporating.
the sharp air,
her fading heartbeat,
even his hands
in their quiet inspections,
muffled by the echoes
of their movements,
reverberating through the tiles -
and she said with every intention to blind him against his misplaced convictions,
you're imagining things.
i'll be well again."
in the deadened night of their toiled rest, he held her, tighter than ever, to the rigid hollow of his half starved chest.
their count was down to twenty-two total-- diminishing numbers in the full bottle lining of their bathroom cabinets. twenty-two to go before
she'd be well again
and then all would be well and the newspaper blackout would fade and burn away.
he woke up with her body caked to his but he smiled anyways, wiping away the sputum from her perfect porcelain cheek.
"today we'll go a little longer," he said as he kissed her. "i can't wait-- i need you."
& he loved
& he loved
& he loved
above all else
and every part
he could see
when he took her to her bath, she dripped like water,
and he thought it was a funny trick that his mind played
on the selfsame sacrifice he pitied to call his own.
but oh, she was his own,
his very own,
when her crooked bonescape collided with the porcelain, every vertebrae, his every promise and her every consent, her every wish, their only hope, the exact sensation that coursed through her sterile blood, encompassed by her reassurance and her
that it was the best for both of them.
she couldn't bear to look at her seeping skin, and so she stared into the ceiling's cracks.
"i'll be strong."
she promised and promised and promised.
"i want to be clean for you again. yours again. please-- help me."
when he licked away her tears, swallowed them whole, he spat up his heart, his fearless sense, for all the burning glazed across the surface of his tongue.
it stained the water red and slipslow faded away, forgotten means for all the pain left asunder.
"i'll help you," he promised and promised and promised, breaching the rim of the tub she'd learned to breathe in. he promised, "i'm here-- i'm yours and i'm helping."
she was cold when he kissed her and she was acid on his tongue, but still he loved her and loved her and loved her
for all the wrongs he'd never truly done.
for all the rights she could never overlook, she moved her lips, her jaw, her self, fingers working their rot across his shoulders, and cried because she was so, so happy that she couldn't stop pretending.
for that distempered spin out on the ruins of her body, she was there and she was his and he was ripping her apart.
"...and it makes me feel so much better."
to be a woman and not an experiment.
to be a lover, a brother, and every self sufficient step between the shambles.
a selfless cry and a tapered drawl, fingers clutched around a dwindling twenty inch waist that registered silver soft in negated fault,
so happy to breathe chemicals underwater.
love would salvage the remains. surely, it would--
for the sake of
a lover, a sister, and every unadulterated fissure between their skins.
finally, there was nothing there.
between her fingers.
between her and walking free. standing tall.
her stirring was mechanical, her eyes creedless.
and when she looked into the mirror, she saw herself and him behind her. expectant.
"are you better now?" he asked, high on the fumes and her hypermasked scent, the tepid intoxicant feeling of her fingers in his hair. he leaned over the edge of the basin to watch her move, watch her walk, watch her pride take root. "i've washed the sickness out, haven't i? you'll live now... for me... won't you?"
she was crumbling alive, statuesque and perfect.
one last time
"i'll live because i love you."
one last time,
she told the truth,
and then her strings were cut,
tangled in her hair across the bathroom floor.