It was another of her weird ailments, what her mother called her stress symptoms. It was the year of swine flu, and everyone was concerned. There were pump bottles of congealed hand sanitizer in every office cubicle. Each dorm room had its own personal package of cleansing wipes. If you so much as coughed, someone would give you the stink-eye. In the midst of this, Coraline scratched and scratched.
At first it was surreptitious. She would sneak a little scratch here and there, waiting until she reached the privacy of her bathroom to attack her skin ferociously. Dead skin lodged beneath her fingernails. The back of her neck was red and raw. Once, she accidentally broke the skin and thin rivulets of blood streaked down, pooling at her collar. She debated wearing clothes to hide the scabs, but turtlenecks were out of the question and it was still too warm for scarves.
Maybe go to the dermatologist, said Lyle. He lay on her beanbag body pillow, licking the gummy Life Savers he had around his pinky finger, stacked like a collection of sweet, pliable wedding rings. These are surprisingly delicious, he said. I mean, since they’re full of chemicals and everything.
Lyle was a huge proponent of everything organic. He worked at the Whole Foods downtown. Coraline’s mother called him “wholesome.” Coraline’s mother didn’t know about the pills. Coraline had done it once with him, watching him crush the pills on the counter top with the bottom of a beer bottle, then disciplining the powder into neat lines. She hadn’t known what it was—some type of upper—but it made her sneeze blue snot. When she inhaled, and the mucous dripped down her throat, it had tasted sweet.
A dermatologist, he repeated. They can give you cream and shit.
He looked dreamy. Coraline wanted to get to that place, the place of dreams, but instead she was like her pet Maizy when it got fleas.
A doctor won’t help, she told Lyle, positioning herself into downward facing dog on the carpet. You know it’s in my head. It’s okay. You can say it.
He shrugged. If you think it’s real… He trailed off. He waved his hand around and a Life Saver flew in the air and landed on her bed. Damn, he said, can you go get that? He didn’t move off the beanbag.
I’m doing my yoga, Coraline said, grunting a little bit as she transitioned into upward facing dog. I’m trying to bring in good energy.
You know this type of stuff always happens to you, Lyle said. Remember last fall, when we missed the Formal because you were too sore to get out of bed?
She did remember. First it was the back pain. Then it was the constriction in her torso. That’s when they—the doctors, that impenetrable, collective unit—referred her to a psychologist. The psychologist didn’t help her, but she met Lyle there, so that was a bonus. He was completing the last hours of a field experience practicum for his master’s degree, shadowing the experts. This is all very unethical, he had said, the first time they met for smoothies at the juice bar. But by that time he had finished his practicum, which made it better, if not okay.
Now Coraline moved into child’s pose, her second favorite yoga position. Am I the craziest you ever saw in there? she asked, face toward the ground. Her voice was muffled.
Lyle chewed for a moment. This one girl, he said. I shouldn’t be telling you this even, but she carved words into her belly with safety pins. Once, she wrote a sentence.
A sentence? Coraline tried to picture it, a line of bloody, dripping letters running around some girl’s torso.
It was a short sentence, he said. Lyle closed his eyes. He placed his hands on his stomach.
She stood up slowly. I want you to look at my neck, she said. She sat in front of him, facing the other way, and lifted her hair to the side. He looked at her skin, inflamed and oozing. She wanted him to touch it, caress the tender redness. He didn’t. Instead, he moved her hair back in place.
I think I’m dying, she said to him.
Lyle laughed. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. His lips were sticky from the candy. You’re silly, he said. Do your yoga. Lyle loved yoga, and he loved that Coraline had started going to the beginner’s classes twice a week. She did not take to it very well—her body wasn’t flexible, her mind was too fearful—but she loved that he loved that she was trying.
Later, after Lyle left to pick up dinner, Coraline lay on the ground with her arms spread as wide as she could stretch them. This was her favorite position, the savasana. It was the way her yoga teacher ended every class. All twenty students would lie in the darkened room, arms outstretched, and would breathe slowly. After five minutes of savasana, they would get back into lotus, put their hands to their foreheads, and say Namaste. The last five minutes were the best five minutes, and Coraline’s sole motivation.
She heard Lyle on the stairs but didn’t open her eyes. She heard the sound of him opening her door, then the rustle of the grocery bags.
Why are you in corpse? Lyle asked. Coraline’s eyes flew open. He was standing above her, his nose running a little bit.
I don’t know what you’re talking about, she said. She put her hands over her eyes. I was doing savasana.
That’s the same thing as corpse, he said. He lay down beside her. This is corpse pose, he said.
I don’t like that name, she said. He stretched his arms out. Her right hand flew to her neck, but he grabbed it. He held it. They lay still next to each other.
Jami Nakamura Lin is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at the Pennsylvania State University. She is a nonfiction editor at Revolution House literary magazine. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Rock & Sling, Niche, Monkey Bicycle, Thunderclap! Magazine, and Escape Into Life, among others.
Read an interview with Jami here.