map Remodel

by Neva Bryan

Published in Issue No. 247 ~ December, 2017

When I trip down the stairs, I go head over heels, then heels over head.

I land on the newly installed hardwood floor in our entryway. As I lie with my cheek mashed against the cool walnut surface, I’m pleased to see that it gleams in the morning sunlight. I had second-guessed myself several times over my choice of a dark wood.

It looks great, I think.

When I raise my head, my neck makes a peculiar sound, like blisters popping on bubble wrap. That reminds me of the day we unpacked our new dinnerware. The kids had snatched the bubble wrap from the boxes while Christopher and I arranged the delicate pieces in our china cabinet: chargers and plates, cups and saucers, salad plates and soup bowls, and a tureen.

I had chosen white porcelain with a hand-painted thistle pattern and, despite my husband’s protests, had redecorated the entire kitchen to match it. Countertops, tile floors, wallpaper, curtains, all in shades of thistle and dusty green. By the time we finished, Christopher agreed that it all came together perfectly.

I climb to my feet, shaky as a newborn foal, and stagger to my well-appointed kitchen. I pull a pitcher of cucumber-and-verbena infused water from the refrigerator and splash some into a spotless tumbler.

The cold liquid soothes my parched throat. “S’good.”

My tongue feels thick, uncooperative.

When I set the glass in the sink basin, I see a red smudge on it. Then I notice that my fingers are smudged red, too.

“What’n worl-d-d-d?”

I probe my scalp, gasping in pain and surprise when I feel a soft gash on the back of my head. It feels wet. Squishy.

“Squesh. Eee.” I giggle.

I make my way through the house to one of our three guest bathrooms. This one is my favorite. The white birch pattern wallpaper works well with the black enameled-lava vanity top. Christopher had balked at the cost, but it was well worth it. It gleams.

I had arranged birch twigs in a simple crystal vase, just to pull everything together. Pushing it aside, I lean on the counter and stare at myself in the mirror.

At first I am puzzled, for all I see is my lovely wallpaper. It takes me a moment to realize that my head is cocked to the left, frozen in position. I have to turn my entire body to the right in order to see my face.

I have an ugly black bruise on my chin.

After letting my hands fumble around along the vanity, I grasp the antique hand mirror we keep there for our guests. I picked it up at an estate sale for a steal. I hold it up and maneuver my body so that I can use both mirrors to see the back of my head.

Although I can still smell the Sicilian citrus fragrance of my shampoo, my gently tinted hair is dark with matted blood. My skull looks lopsided.

I pull my iPhone from my back pocket and dial a friend. When Madelynn answers, I’m not able to make her understand what I’m saying. Frustrated, I hang up.

I spend ten minutes practicing what I want to say before I dial her number again. When she answers, I speak clearly.

“Maddie, dear. What’s the name of your plastic surgeon? I’m thinking of having some work done.”

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Neva Jean Bryan is the author of three novels and a collection of short stories and poems called Sawmill Boys. Her works appear in a large number of literary journals, as well as in the anthology We All Live Downstream: writings about mountaintop removal. Her short fiction and poetry have won numerous awards and prizes.