Chapter Nine--Purple Flowers

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My heart seizes when I feel the pressure of a hand on my shoulder.  Every muscle in my body cramps up in fear and I clamber to my left, hitting the bedside table wildly, trying to find the button that will alert a nurse of me being attacked by someone.  Finally, two hands grip on my shoulders and shove me flat against the mattress.  Frozen with fear, I prepare myself for the worst until my eyes open into Jenna's desperate ones inches from my own, begging for me to be quiet.

"What is your problem?"  She mouths, her face melting in relief when I stop thrashing about.  "Calm down."

Tiredness seeps back into her bones as she collapses onto the floor next to my bed, pulling her knees up close to herself.  "I just wanted to talk about her before we see her today," her hands murmur.  I watch her transform from an angry adult to a terrified child.  Her fingers flex as if she's afraid to use them.   

"What did you remember her like?  Tell me about the last time you saw Josephine."  She leans her head back against the wall, obviously in anguish over this.  She barely fingerspells the name, like it's been an unmentioned curse for so many years.

I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and rest my face in my hands for a second, trying to form a coherent thought; what's appropriate to tell her?   "Ah, lemme think."  All of a sudden, she grabs my arm and yanks my hand toward her.  That's when I realize I'm not wearing a shirt and lunge to throw one on.  

"John!  Do you have a...tattoo?"  She takes turns glaring at my face and my arm, obviously unimpressed by my concern for being shirtless and woken up in the middle of the night.  

"No!"  I clutch my arm to my chest.  "Well, yes, actually.  But it's an ID that got inked in me when I was like, four." She hardly touches the M-0314 engraved above my elbow, fading after so many years.  "The M is for male, and the numbers are some way to know who I am if I go insane and gouge out all my facial features."

"That's lovely."  Her fingertips run over the only letters on my skin. I yank my arm back yet again, motioning with my head for her to sit back.  "I'll tell you about the last time I saw her if you quit invading my personal space."

She sits back and looks at me expectantly, still scouring my asinine mark.  "I haven't seen her since she was twelve."

"Well, I should be able to describe how she looked."  I close my eyes, trying to conjure an image of who she was.  The walking oxymoron.  The Atlas girl.  I can picture her tattoo, F-0911, right in the same place.

"She was all sharp angles," I begin. "Prominent collarbone, jabbing elbows, hipbones that managed to stab through clothes.  She ate plenty, but just managed to stay so small, her skin thin.  She got cold all the time, too."  I shudder, remembering how her arms were always covered in goosebumps.  "She was tall, too.  Thin wrists, tiny hands and feet.  You would think it would all clash, but she looked perfectly proportionate.  Five feet, ten inches.  So tall, and yet still five inches shorter than me."

Jenna nods slowly, her eyes far away.  

"But one of her most profound components was her hair."  I laugh a little to myself.  "It was so dark, you know, the color of dirt.  That sounds gross, but her hair was that rich, black-brown shade of fertile soil that grows the best stuff.   And was it ever curly.  Like yours, but her's are more long, squiggly S-shaped tendrils.   And because of her surgery, the one side was always shaved and covered in stitches or scars."  I pause, grinning to myself at the memory of her.  "She has this light birthmark right above her ear that you can only see when they just shaved it.  As soon as it started to stubble, you couldn't see the mark anymore.  It's how I usually gauged how close she was to going under the knife again."

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