Without looking in a mirror, Beth knows she will be sporting a fresh and fiery pimple to work. She can feel its dull throb on her forehead – separate from the hangover, but compounding it by a small fraction of misery. She lies in bed with the covers tangled around her legs, and runs a finger across her skin in search of the blemish, wincing when she finds it. It was the third night in a row she had forgotten to wash the makeup from her face, and her pores have finally had enough. Upstairs, her neighbor drops something heavy and her heart skips a beat.
She swings her legs off the bed and braces herself for the unavoidable dizziness. The room is impossibly hot, and the air dry and still. Beth plants her feet on the hardwood and is pleasantly surprised by the coolness of the floor. Briefly, she considers stripping herself and lying naked and prostrate on the refreshing floor – a pilgrim worshipping at the Temple of Shithead Behavior. But her alarm has worked its way through four snooze cycles, and she is in serious danger of passing the point at which a shower was impossible. Against the screaming of her body, she stands.
In the bathroom, her suspicions are confirmed. Rising like a horn from the center of her forehead is an angry, apple-skinned witness to her negligent personal hygiene. Her makeup is streaked and smeared, and both her earrings remain dangling in their perch. They are her current favorite pair – a gift from her father, directly plucked from the exhaustive list she’d provided him to avoid another keychain pepper spray canister or self-help book. She unhooks them and lays them on the counter next to her toothbrush. She fills the basin to the brim and dunks her face, sinking to the back of her ears.
Beth breaths hard from her nostrils, bubbling the cold water and soaking her chest. After a few more seconds, she rises from the water and hovers inches over its surface, letting it drip from her chin and tip of her nose. In pieces, the weekend comes back to her – a set of tableaus, each unique and vividly colorful in spite of the fuzz surrounding it. A series of taxis, bars, loud music, and screamed conversations, and always, always a steady stream of alcohol and sickly wet, snotty tears. His voice leaks into each scene, backtracking the chaos with the sound of grunts and assurances that she is the sexiest woman he has ever known. A small burp sneaks out of her, and she tastes both last night’s wine and the bitterness of his mouth six months ago.
She drops her clothes to the tile and steps into the shower, cranking it as hot as she can stand. Her lungs fill with steam, and each muscle begins to unkink. She fills a cloth with peach hibiscus scrub and starts soaping her body from the shoulders down, careful not to linger anywhere sensitive unless strictly necessary. Under the suds, her body feels foreign and sinister – a wolf in supple sheep’s clothing. Outside, she hears the 8:30 am J-Line rumble past. She is on time, but barely. She dries herself and dresses in a hurry, forgetting her glasses on the way out the door.
Her hands full with a coffee and half a bagel sandwich, Beth backs into the door, spinning into the small office with her name on the glass of the door. Her receptionist, a mousy girl from a breadbasket state, has headphones in and is texting.
“Good morning, Dr. Saunders,” she says, “your 9:30 is running late. She’ll be here in twenty minutes.”
Beth nods and says something in return, but the girl’s music is too loud to notice. She moves through the waiting room and into her office, kicking the door shut with her heel. The room is dark and quiet, and for a moment, the sound of the city streets drains from her ears in a dwindling ring. She empties her hands and takes a few long slow breaths. Her heart steadies in her chest, and for the first time this morning she feels like she can think clearly.
She finds a pad of paper and a pen from the top drawer of her desk and sinks into the chair by the widow. She smooths her skirt, laying an errant wrinkle flat against the skin of her leg. As she waits for her first appointment of the day, Beth makes a plan for afternoon margaritas and prays none of her patients today ask her how to stop feeling like a victim.