art by Jonathan Westbrook
by Beth Cato
Christina drew her first map at age five, nubby red crayon in her fist. She thrust the sheet into her grandmother's lap, warring for attention against four squalling cousins.
"What's this?" asked her grandmother, her smooth, ripe lips pursing in a frown.
"That's where you'll die," said Christina.
The maps continued, etched only for herself or loved ones, though not all were dire:
"This is where I'll have my first kiss."
"This is where Jimmy'll fall from a tree and break both legs."
"This is where the jasmine will bloom, even though you don't plant it."
None bore a timeline, only saying where, not when. Her fingers preferred drawing in dirt most of all. No sticks, no rocks--nails and flesh furrowing through dust.
The social workers, the therapists, each noted it in her case file: "A manifestation of a turbulent youth, a desire to seize control over aspects of her chaotic life." Christina already showed strong anti-social tendencies, running away to the woods for hours at a time. A consulted magi theorized that maybe she contracted something there, but if so, it was impossible to tell; she was like a fly flitting through the undergrowth, still for mere seconds at a time.
Christina's grandmother died where depicted, despite her strong avoidance of that intersection. Cousin Jimmy broke his legs. Jasmine bloomed, fragrant as heaven.
Christina didn't want to draw her maps. She screamed and fought against the compulsion of her left fingers. Her hand, bound in bandages, would writhe its way free. In the night, her nails gouged pathways and words onto the headboard as she slept. In a way, foster care was a blessing, distancing her from attachments and love, as that love seemed requisite for a map.
At age nine, on a rare visit to her mother, she battled against her fingers as they jabbed through the rock bed of the apartment landscaping to find dirt beneath.
"This is where you'll get AIDS," Christina said, hating the words, the way the knowledge trickled from her fingertips and up her arm, the sensation warm as pee. The map showed the apartment complex itself, an X on the residence of her mother's boyfriend, a man she had never met or known about.
Doctors, psychiatrists, and magi examined her, trying to determine what magic graced her. When one told her she was blessed, Christina screamed and lunged for the shrink's eyes, her right fingers curved as claws.