THE NURSES by Verónica Jordán-Sardi
by Verónica Jordán-Sardi
They were the only friends I had. All of them had palms that changed colors when they stroked my hair, picked up an iron pot or peeled yucca. I remember one of them with more love than the rest—her palms turned purple when she showed me her lifelines. She was never able to show me her life, though. She would turn her hands up and the bright point of an amethyst’s reflection would lacquer her palms. At one point, I think there were five.
They would sometimes disappear. I found Father chasing after one on the black and white checkered marble living floors. She had her arms up over her face and ears like chicken feathers and Father laughed excitedly. I might have heard her laughing, too, but she was only a couple of years older than me back then. She had once carried me with her left arm and pushed my little brother in his shady lace umbrella stroller with her right and somehow also tugged on Cookie. Back then we would run into more stray dogs than Cookies on our way to the grocery store—she was a moppy mutt, but she was of the lucky kind, the kind that got pushed and pulled around and only choked a little and always fed at night. One of them must have been hungrier than the dogs because she sold my mother’s favorite pup to the man at the grocery store. I remember asking where Cookie was going and she told me she was getting a haircut. This was before she told me urine was the best moisturizer. I was getting old enough to wonder. I was getting old enough when she sliced the wet part of my little brother’s diaper with her nails and urine leaked out onto her cuspate hands. She splashed her face then splashed my own. She splashed my little brother’s vitamins on her face at least a couple of times a day.
The day I got sick, the one with the purple palms was the only one home. I don’t know where everyone else was, but it’s as if they knew I was coming and needed help. I had grown a belly for the white mane, the mangy toes, the infectious secrets inside me.
The Doctor says that in the morning, if I look up closely, if I tilt my head and look up closely at the sky, I can see that we pretend like something tangible is there, but no, it has never been true. The Doctor doesn’t know everything but he knows about the Nurses.
Balustrade, balustrade, balustrade, haught, haught, haught, I spin down the chandeliers and ching-ching the pugs are dead. What a scene. The sink in the downstairs bathroom is full of bloody chicken feathers like pillows because my bladder does not shut. Yesterday I was happier throwing doll heads into the empty pool. I kept thinking tachycardia was a gift every time I reached for one of their cigarette butts. Today I grow tired of waiting and wish my body would rot. Immediately upon wishing, I slip off the same marble stair eighty-eight times. I repent by spinning in circles for as long as I think it takes to tumble down magnetism and blow round the wooden wheels of my bicycle. I sit on rat shit while they peel potatoes and chug rum over boiling iron skillets. I’m sorry and claw skin off my wrists until my bones show and one of the Nurses comes for me. I run away from her. I run up and down the chimney and dismantle the roof then return to the bathroom where one by one I spoon out the wall’s mosaics. I stack the magenta and green pebbles on top of my toes and make out an orange star ahead, across the walls, on the other side of myself. I hear one of them still running behind me, dragging her collard cat nails inside wood, so I jump through the hole I made in the wall towards the orange gleam.
I sit in the room I carved inside the walls of my house. I never knew my organs could feel like parasites on my shoulders. The room is pitch-purple with dim orange fog emanating from that star I cannot touch faraway. I sit and count the toes on my feet when I see her. I feel the skin of a dead animal under me. One of the room’s walls is cut in half by a tunnel as thick as two apples side by side. A little girl walks through it. She is my mother as a little girl, tired and alone, I scream “Hello!” to see if she can hear me. She keeps walking to the miniature furniture at one end of the tunnel. She sits on a red rocking chair next to a record stand with a white wedding cake. I have not eaten for two days. I’m so hungry I reach for the cake, my vision fogged down by the fumes of my saliva. I cannot touch my baby mother or rocking chair or cake. Now I hear the Nurses’ bones crunching through the exposed bathroom wall towards me.
I have not eaten for two days because of the pain. Because I think I suffer from the sawdust and dust-lag of time. Every pit of my body releases a pound of dirt, nostrils, ears, mouth, urethra, and asshole, except the blood that gushes from in between and down my legs. One of the Nurses plugs the blood with a dirty cleaning rag hanging over her shoulder. She and the other four Nurses stand around me inside the purple-pitch room with my little mother. All five nurses wear white dresses and white caps; hold hay brooms with their right hands and yellow dusters with their left. My mother’s mouth looks like a creamy vagina crease. There is no more cake on the record table. I’m still hungry.
I sleep in my mother’s childhood bed and bedroom. I collect the petals of the bougainvillea that fall in through midnight’s cut on the ceiling. These flowers bloom and give birth before falling on the bed, their placentas scatter underneath me and drown my mother’s sheets with crimson trails that unearth the floor. My mother’s stench emanates from the floor; her regurgitated cells are pushed away on wheelbarrows. I wish to peel the dead skin off her bedroom walls, the smell of mildew, potatoes and cream.
I sleep in my mother’s old nightgown. I sleep all sanctimonious and clean with blondness rustling my skin. I wait for the Nurses to take me away in wheelbarrows, for their spiky hooves to puncture my skin and form freckles underneath where my arms hang. Trabecula, trabecula, trabecula, caught, caught, caught my mother’s sheets are dusty and kind. Night’s fumes sift through them and fly over my belly, wrap under my chin and enter my mouth. The Nurses think they’re helping me.
The Nurses come inside to slap the wet mattress. One untethers the sheets and dunks them in a cast iron pot of boiling water. Another wrestles a broomstick down and across with her triceps, sweeping the hay of head hairs unmeshed on my mother’s floor. I crawl off my mother’s bed holding onto one of their palms, but they leave me at the sound of the pugs eating a dead songbird by the empty pool outside.
I walk over to eat shattered window glass. I’m hungry. The shards get lost in the roof of my mouth; they tap and sink into my tongue. I spit out bloody crystal bubbles onto my mother’s nightstand and see a trail of ants cutting the wood in half, patterning solemnly, one by one with whiplashed saline shoulders. I follow them outside my mother’s room, down the marble winding stairwell and across the dining hall into the kitchen. I march with the ants underneath the kitchen stove. They feast on yucca and potatoes browned in feces. Two red palms pull and press down on my ears like curved tongs. The Nurse with the red palms twists and turns the vertebrae linking my head to my spinal cord; she opens a bottle of Pepsi cola and fills my hand with crunchy ice cubes. The cubes burn my hands but the Nurse piles the ice cubes even higher every time I shake them off. I carry a tower of snow on the skinny hand my mother made me—when one diamond falls the others reorganize. I run back underneath the stove. The Nurses are grilling dead trout with the ardor of lemons. Sour oil and hot water ignite and fall onto my ankles.
Underneath the stove with the ants I find a baby doll with loose glass eyelids. Her name is Aura and I pretend she’s small enough for me to hold. I pretend I can run my fingers over the end hairs of her arms. I sniff the space between her legs, stick my nose into plastic covered in pillowed cotton and do not smell yeast or rancid metal. She’s young. Cream, fish, cheese, powdered milk, and yolk sing a sad ballad of dead kings. Aura belongs to the smuggling ants crimping pieces with four limbs and two antennae like snake tongues. They have their own dinner table. Aura is the center of their castle, a mountain of oily grime and dead human skin. I feel at home here until the Nurses shrink and come after me. They throw poisonous missiles and cook ant brains with carbon monoxide. One Nurse takes a bird’s nest out of her dress pocket, another takes an Easter basket out of her hair, they both pick off the dead ants, collect them in mason jars to season the fish.
I find a room as small as a closet full of hay brooms and feather dusters. Underneath leftover bleach and rags drenched in vinegar, I find steps only big enough for my small feet to climb. Up one by one, one by one, until I face an unlocked door as small as the space from one thigh to another. The room behind the door has walls moistened with chunky butter—it helps me slide right in with somersaults, ricochet, ricochet, ricochet, womb, womb, womb, ting-ting a dinner party. No one turns their heads when I plop into the ballroom attic. I look back to where I come from; I look back to how I got here and see the passage was a slide dressed in greasy-horse-liver flesh. My body is still clean; I wear a light pink dress and tutu, glass slippers and white socks with ankle ruffles. I bow to the men in tuxedos and women in tight black silk gowns holding champagne glasses. One of the men talks to me; he’s holding a pug like a skull. My chest grows cherries, red bulbs popping into blossom, I pick one off to taste and the man slaps my hand away. The slap smells like loneliness and salty water, it appears in fingerprints on my hand. The man looks at his pug, pinches the tip of its ear, and says “suffer” (says ‘tis nobler). The pug gyrates its head and snaps into his own fur with his jaw. Dog bites spread like wildfires stampeding through the man’s chest. The pug hops on my shoulder like a parrot, I hear the tuxedo man’s heart, I hear live heart flesh beating, pumping human blood inside the pug’s stomach.
Originally from Cali, Colombia, Verónica Jordán-Sardi immigrated to the United States with her immediate family as a young teen fleeing sociopolitical unrest. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and French from the University of Florida, an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Iowa, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts. Her work can be found in Columbia Journal, Litro Mag, and Comparative Literature Commons. Verónica currently lives in New York where she teaches writing and reading in English as a second language at the City University of New York.
Image credit: Otis Historical Archives on Flickr