Volume 30, Number 1

Pink Band-Aids and Microwave Pizza

Lucas J Burford

This is my ritual: 9 a.m., pink band-aids and microwave pizza. It’s sloppy and secure. I wrap one band-aid on my finger tightly. The slick oily bandage with that bubble in the middle looks like a short fat worm with a hundred pin-pokes. I can’t eat in the morning without just one pink band-aid on me. I tried it once and felt motion-sick for the rest of the day. The microwave pizza must be refrigerated and never frozen. I prefer a flimsy pizza in a cardboard box creased around the edges, never home-made or ordered. It must be wrapped in plastic and cooked on high for exactly two intervals of fifty-five seconds each, with a short, very short, break in between. This is exactly how I prefer my pizza.

While it cools, I peel off another band-aid and place it on another finger, but a different hand. It’s very important that each pink worm is not on an identical finger; it must be mismatched. The pizza has now cooled off enough, and I love the way it looks in the plastic, sloppy and trapped. I pinch a hole in the center of the plastic while the band-aids keep my fingers from shaking, and I peel the plastic off. This is when I eat, and sometimes I scream at myself while I chew. This helps me block out the sound of my teeth and spit. If I scream loud enough, I can finish eating within twenty minutes.

I gather the cardboard box and place the greasy plastic inside it, leaving it on the table. I try to be as careful as possible during all of this not to make a mess of things. I can’t risk washing my hands or taking a bath this early; it might make my band-aids slip right off my fingers, and my hands would just shake too much to get any work done. It’s very important that I get my work done, for everyone.
Work starts early in the morning and happens every morning. I try to be early each day, but I manage to get there exactly on time. I work alone. There is a thick sheet of blank paper in front of me, one black ink pen and an eraser. My job as an artist is to carefully draw a list of animals. I wait for my list while taking deep breaths. I tend to get nervous before work, but I never scream at myself during work; it’s not professional. A lady miss brings me my work instructions, and I don’t feel as nervous now.

Today it’s a giraffe, two pigs, and a bird of my liking. Sometimes I forget what the point of a bird is, other than to draw it. Sometimes I forget what the point of me is. I place the pen in my hand, and I feel it rub against my band-aid, and I know it’s going to be a good drawing. I start with the bird and make it have short feathers of all different colors, I can see the colors in blue ink. I am god in this moment, but only of this fat little bird. When I say I am god in my head, my hands get warm to the touch, but I don’t tell anyone that underneath what they feel are like blisters full of boiling water to me. Today the blisters don’t feel as hot. Some days I want to kill myself; not today, though, because it’s Wednesday. I finish the bird and lady miss gives me her approval with an outside break for a reward. This makes me very happy.

Outside is very cold today, and the sunshine hurts my eyes, but I don’t mind it today. Today is the last day for me to smoke; even if it’s pretend, it’s a nasty habit. I blow the cold air out and suck in. My fingers make a V in front of my lips, and I suck in. I breathe in the world and its cancer one last time and throw it on the ground while wafting my shirt to get the smell off me. I can hear a voice yell at me because I’m not supposed to smoke at work, but that’s pretend as well, I think. There are many lady misses outside today. I don’t mind them when they help.

I finish the giraffe and two pigs, and lady miss asks me to redraw them. I just smile at her, imagining pulling out her teeth with my fingers. I hope she wouldn’t bite down and chop them off; my band-aid would protect me, I know it. I could pull out each tooth one by one and keep them in my mouth to chew and she could smile at me and say I did well. I hope I could hear her over the screaming.

I stop smiling and get back to work. I adjust my feet under my legs, and I focus on one giraffe and two pigs. I wish I could draw birds all day. I finish work, and at last lady miss approves, and I smile, all the while imagining me putting her teeth back in her mouth, one by one. She would be happy about this, I know it. I don’t think anyone would be happy with a sunken-in face, not even lady miss. On bad days, unlike this one, though I am imagining it now, I see her sunken face being pulled over her skull, down past her shoulders, around her feet like taking off a dress. She is still smiling while sweeping her loose skin and mop of hair a few feet away from her, a tripping hazard for most, and it’s quite nice of her to do this for me.

11 a.m. is nearly my worst hour. I try to extend this time to reflect but a tension in this place with all the hungry lady misses and others seems to change the air. I can hear their rumbling bellies throughout this place; it’s the loudest part of the day. This is when nobody smiles. I smile, though, underneath my face for none to see. I don’t think it’s polite to smile when nobody else is.

I go back home and wait for a lady miss to walk me to lunch. They are rarely late, so I tend to get less nervous around lunch as well. I sit and look around my room, trying to make it spin by swinging my neck back and forth to pass the time. It’s a task to make a room spin when it’s still like this, trying to knock the picture frames off the wall. I did it once while shaking my head very hard. At two minutes before a lady miss knocks on my door, and I peel off my pink band-aids and apply two fresh ones. Since it’s the afternoon I don’t mind putting them on the same hand; I never do, though. I did this once, and I felt like everyone was looking at me, to get me, for the entire day. That day, unlike today, was a bad day, and on bad days the lady misses are stronger than me.

The lady miss knocks on my door twice, always twice, and I reach out my hands to show her my fresh pink worms wrapped around two opposing fingers. Though this is the worst hour, it has my favorite part of the day in it, the long hallway. In this hallway I never step on the white tiles, only on the black. I once stepped an inch onto a white tile and I nearly threw up. I swallowed it, though.

At lunch, the lady misses are not very happy. I hold the lady miss’s hand while I pull her around. She steps on any tile black or white, which annoys me, and I try to pull her away. No luck. I stare into the passing doors’ windows. Each door has a specific name on it; I’ve passed four doors, all whose names I don’t care for, or for the girls inside. I love to look inside the windows and see the beautiful animals inside, waiting for the other lady misses to take them away. Most sit on their beds or breathe fog onto the glass, writing bad names with their noses. Sometimes I yell out the bad names in my head while my fingers tap on the glass as I pass by. Lady miss doesn’t care for this, and that’s when she gets very strong. Sometimes I wish she was my mother. Sometimes I wish she was dead.

All the animals are now free in the cafeteria. There are exactly ten round tables with seven seats per table. The two tables at the front are closest to the long food station where three mister misses work; they are each fat and old, and I rather enjoy looking at them. They are very kind and give extra scoops to the good girls. The three tables in the middle of the cafeteria are for the bad girls, and each chair has a bum leg or sunken seat. No fat girls sit in the middle, not because they are bad, but because they are fat and the creaks of bum chairs might just start a panic. I am not allowed in the middle; not because I am bad, but because I am fat.

It is exactly thirty-five steps from the mister misses to my table in the back. I sit next to the other fat girls who eat like fat girls. I daydream of microwave pizza before I eat. I hope my thoughts will trick my tongue, but they never do. I am the fattest girl at the table. I used to be not fat, but now I am. I wish I could throw up like the skinny girls, but I only throw up on occasion. I punched a skinny girl in the mouth for whistling in the cafeteria, and her soft teeth sort of popped out of her mouth. I kept one tooth, so she will always be ugly.

For lunch today, we are having none of my favorite things, but I will eat it all. Sometimes I pretend I’m a skinny girl and make sure I eat everything on my plate. I guess in a way it’s good to have more skinny girls, so when they die they won’t take up as much space. I bet the world is a skeleton of dead bodies. I bet if we buried the dead in glass coffins above ground not a single person would walk through a graveyard, except the weird girls. I would walk through it, but very carefully so as not to look too close. There is a good amount of privacy being dead. All the girls here are just walking dead bodies that are alive, barely eating their lunch, hoping they might choke to death instead of taking another bite more. Some days, three during the week to be specific, I am a fat girl and I pretend to eat like one.

I tend to feel nervous walking back with the lady miss after lunch. Today I feel strange, not myself. I feel fatter today without the emotional side of being happy. I think lunch is kicking in because I feel full and hazy. Mister misses put something in the food, I know it. I know this because one mister miss likes me and gave me a kiss on my forehead one night, I think. He said not to eat the food and to kill myself, I think. It might have been a dream, again, but I don’t think so, because before bed I part my hair one way, and when I wake up it’s all different. When it’s different I know someone has come into my room. It used to bother me, but not anymore.

At noon, which is just five minutes away, I usually sleep. Not because I am tired, but because the lady misses need a smoke break, a nasty habit. At exactly noon I feel wide awake and at one minute past I feel very dizzy. I am always very sore when I wake; I am sore now around my privates, and I went to the bathroom this morning. I go to the bathroom once a day because I’m afraid to drown myself from drinking water. I also don’t like to waste water because it’s not very fair to the sea creatures. I hope this pain goes away, though I deserve it, but maybe a nap would be okay. I close my eyes, and I see the sea creatures floating around, millions of them, with millions of their dead on the seafloor. I feel the bed spin, and I hope I get sucked to the bottom of the ocean like a long violent whirlpool. There’s no time to waste in getting to the ocean floor or to bed.

At two o'clock I wake up and a lady miss is standing over me, nearly red in the face. A mister miss is next to her with his hand on her shoulder. I look at them, and he places his hand off her shoulder. I feel dizzy, but alert to how the room feels, and it’s warm. I usually wake up at one o’clock, not a minute later or before, and now that it’s later I can hear a voice in my head yelling again. It’s not appropriate to sleep in later than on schedule. I place my feet on the ground, and the voice stops yelling, and lady miss directs me to the night stand where a glass of water and six vitamins are lined up.

This part of the day, though I am late, is called the drowning machine. I never tell lady miss this because it would only be worse for me. Mister miss is here to help if I don’t take my vitamins, and I don’t plan on it. I stand up and walk to the glass of water, holding it in one hand and making sure it doesn’t touch my band aid and pick up one pill with the palm of my hand in the other. This is the beginning of the drowning machine, and I just stand still. Lady miss is getting annoyed, and I can see this with her hands joined in front of her apron, squeezing tightly. I raise my eyebrow at her and remain still; mister miss walks towards me and takes the glass of water while I struggle to fight him off. He is very strong, but I can’t let my band-aid get wet, otherwise a bad thing will happen. His hands are large and hairy, and he pins me against the wall while lady miss bends my fingers to take my vitamin. I scream on the inside to not make things worse. Lady miss shoves the vitamin towards the back of my throat, her fingers taste okay, and I bite down while she pulls her hand out, yelling over the yelling in my head. I can just barely hear her over me. Mister miss grabs my jaw and squeezes, and the pressure of his hands that smell like cleaning detergent and vegetables makes me gag. Lady miss put the vitamin back towards my throat, and mister miss pours water in my mouth while shutting my mouth and plugging my nose. I feel my body shake after ten seconds and see their lips move while I look into their eyes. I can’t breathe with all the water in my mouth, and I drown just a little before swallowing. I gasp for air, and lady miss shoves another vitamin in my mouth, and mister miss comes with the water again. By the last pill the voice has quieted his yelling, and though I am shaking and can feel tears on my cheeks, I haven’t drowned today. That makes it a good day.

Mister miss walks me to my bed and places me in a sitting position. Both mister miss and lady miss leave me, and I am an upright statue of stone. I sit straight but soon I feel hunched over; I fight this by remembering my dream. I imagine this while replacing items in my room in front of me. My walls become a dense forest; the light coming in is snow falling thick and soft. My bed becomes the ground, and it’s hard with cold dirt. I can see my feet now hunched over completely and I breathe just enough to live.

The noise of the forest is tiny pings of the snow landing on my shoulders and on the ground. I am afraid and wait for the bad animal to get me. My feet are covered in snow, and I feel a tremble in the ground while I see a long snout sniff around. I can’t stand or move, and I watch as it sniffs closer to me inside my legs. I hear the voices get louder, telling it to go away, but I can’t yell loud enough. The dark snout buries under the snow, and I feel a pain in my legs. The snout lifts from the snow, and I see tiny gray hairs towards the end and blood is pasted in the hair. Its teeth open and separate from the hairy tissue, like pulling apart an overdone slab of meat. I feel the tear, and the voice inside me screams while the snow is matted with the pasty blood. It takes one more bite before the pain becomes unpleasant. My arms freeze in the snow, and I am awake and motionless against the animal.

I wake myself in a sweaty haze. My arms feel heavier than they look, and I wipe away the wet from my forehead. I walk exactly six steps to my room’s light and flick it on while holding my belly. There is no forest in my room but shiny red droplets on the ground. I look around my feet, and the tiny specks of red are at my feet, and I can see my privates, for lack of a better word, vagina, and I am soaked in blood. This is when the voices came back, screaming at me you’re fucking dying. I don’t appreciate the vulgar language, some of which I’ve seen drawn, again, with fog, on other girl’s doors. I feel my lungs expand with my silent scream, just a faint noise of air blowing snot through my nose while tears are falling into the small tiny puddles of blood. I never understood death, but I am dying. I feel sore and swollen walking back to my bed where a soggy patch of red sits on my yellowed comforter. I look to my right and see it’s now dark, and I run to my door and peek out the window, and it’s quiet. It’s impolite to bother the others during rest, so I stand for a moment while the blood keeps coming.

I hold below my intestines and try to keep the blood in me. I feel a racket in my brain of voices and my own thoughts, some of which I haven’t thought in quite some time. The voices are yelling you are fucking dying. I reach for the door handle and turn it quietly, so as not to touch my band-aid to the copper door knob, and I softly walk down the hall, away from the cafeteria and towards the staircase. I pull on the door handle, which is white with crusted over paint through however many decades and make my way up. My legs are tired after the first flight, exactly eight steps of seven inches high. I am careful not to think of my mother or God during any of this. I am dying, and I know me better than any lady miss or mister miss. I keep going up the stairs, a total of five flights. I am proud that only a few droplets of blood fell onto few steps, which I did wipe clean with my feet. I open the door to the roof but it’s locked. I pull harder and harder but I’m only getting blood everywhere, and I know lady miss wouldn’t care for this, and it would only get me into trouble. I bend carefully over the railing and see a spiral of stairs and levels with an opening down to the floor. I feel the blood on my hands, cold and rubbed into my clothing. I feel my feet carefully navigate with my toes onto the railing, I close my eyes and think of pink band-aids and microwave pizza with the angles. This makes me very happy.