Ran held herself inside. She imagined hooks against skies of gray, black hooks, interlocking, pulling away from each other, like curled, intertwined fingers, or chains, holding together and rising out of slate-colored dust, holding on to a black monolith pointing toward the sky. She felt the links, invincible, lock and tighten, every little beaten piece of metal straining. She was straining, compacting, crumbling down. She was trying to stuff this down, slather it, and shape it into a sleek black or gray block of matter, like a block of garbage at the dump. But all of it kept slithering away from her, like slimy mixtures of greasy, forest green liquids seeping out between her fingers.
She was shouting so loud, in her head, that she was afraid someone could hear her. No, maybe, someone could see the thoughts spiking out of her, like jagged spires of black and purple crystals tearing out of the pink vestiges of her skin, wrapped tightly and futilely around a geological mass she could barely hold in. Or maybe, they could see her thoughts oozing out of her pores, like mustard-colored pus. But they couldn’t. They couldn’t see or hear how she felt.
Here she was, running all over herself, just begging for them to see. She blamed herself. But her face was an immobile piece of china, shaped into a neutral expression. This had never happened to anyone she knew. She’d only heard about it. Polycystic ovaries. Somehow it was her fault. It was all seeping out of her, a river of black gunk, flowing over the deck and leaving a black ribbon behind the ship.
Why were they going back to the Caribbean? To try again? To get the feeling back, under mango and breadfruit trees? To forget, in a land with dark hills and paths of red dirt with little stones that would get into her tennis shoes and cut her toes open? For what? Maybe, Alli sensed that something was amiss. She couldn’t stand her. Alli couldn’t stand to look at her, Ran thought. The chains tightened and jangled like they would pop.
“Calm down,” a part of her thought. But she raged inside her head. Always thinking, never doing. Always standing there, slack-jawed, arms swinging – when the doctor came to her and said those garbled words – always standing there, helpless! It was being done to her again. She stood there passively. Somehow it was her fault. “She has a cyst? That can’t be right,” she must have said. “Go back and check again,” she must have thought. But there was nothing they could do about it. The spikes grew sharper, driving their way out of her skull, forming a fuzzy purple halo. She had stood there helpless.
“What could you do?” her guru Briana had said, “It isn’t your fault.” But what did she know? What pain did she go home to nurse? Ran kept picking at it, probing it with her tongue, trying to flip it over and see the raw dermis underneath. Her stomach was roiling but she was still at the rail. Nothing would stay down anyway. Sweat covered everything. There she was on this cruise ship, the Queen Victoria, helpless. Navy-blue water, right off the brochure, stretched all around. She could get little pink umbrellas with her drinks. Ran was crumbling, crumbling inside – little gray specks of clay and rubbish fell off that compacted block inside.
“How do you keep such pain hidden away in your heart, like a black slug under a stone?” the guru had asked her. Pain from what? She didn’t know. Or she did, and she didn’t want to know. Flames of rage fanned out of her, like tongues of a peat bog fire sparkling, leaping in a hole. She didn’t know why. It just came out. She could bite her tongue until she tasted the salt of blood, but the heat of her fire would puff, in her belly. Somehow it was her fault. That unconfirmed, irrational fact, sat like a slug, like a stone, in her belly.
She couldn’t let Alli brood. She couldn’t sink waist-deep, in self-pity. She had to keep reminding herself that for however bad she felt, Alli was feeling ten times worse. But she couldn’t imagine feeling any worse than she did now. But she should go talk to her. Ran had the best understanding of how Alli was feeling. They were both going through this together. Her dry tongue slid over her teeth; she couldn’t find the words. The dry heat licked her belly. Do something. Stop thinking. Nothing but a dreamer after all.
“A drink, ma’am?” a waiter asked. Ran’s thirst clicked behind her teeth. “I don’t drink, I apologize,” Ran said. The waiter moved on and she stared back out into the night in silence. The moon hung over the water, dropping its moonbeams lazily into the ocean for the fish to twitch around in. There was much more to her than this – her current marketing firm, self-owned. But what if she had failed already? The chain links clinked.
She hadn’t known what to say. All she felt was soreness and a great desire to keep sleeping under the covers. Every time, she’d wake up, look at the red digital numbers and roll over. What to do? What to do next? Nothing but a dreamer after all. She wanted to roll over and not be bothered.
Banging around in her, clanking and scratching away at her cellophane skin was an odious black, twisted form, all arms and legs, with no head, trying to dig its way out. But no matter what, she could not vomit it out; she could not spew forth this poisonous lump – so it hung there in her belly, like a hollow, pockmarked, abscess-filled tumor, its black seepage trickling out of her pores. She could not give birth to it.
“I want you to remember the last time you were happy,” her guru had said to her, “Squeeze it out. Grab hold of it. Hold it in your hands. You’re there.” Ran imagined herself splashing in cool, iridescent water that broke, like tessellated glass, all around her, as she clawed at the air, looking for the lifesaver.
They had the requisite two careers, and a house in a ‘good’ neighborhood. Alli was staring at a wall in the cabin. Ran could go in there and do the right thing, talk to her. But the black, rusty hook rooted to the bottom of her stomach said ‘no,’ anchoring her there. Easier not to do anything. Roll over. Go to sleep. Easier not to do anything. A blank life stretched out in front of her, like the dark sea.
Ran wanted happiness and love, not this clear, mushy feeling that broke up and slipped through her hands. How far away was the shore?