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Counting Days

Patricia Lundy's short fiction has appeared in the speculative fiction anthology Strange California, and her non-fiction has appeared in History Today. She lives in California.
*****Editor's Note: This story may be triggering around issues of self-harm. Reader beware*****
Locked in my bathroom, I pull at the stitching, the color of old blood, grooving over my wrist bone, wincing as the thread moves, taffeta-soft. I pull until I don't wince anymore, until I don't feel anything, and tonight I go too far, because I'm feeling too much.
My stitching comes loose. I exhale as my rainbow-hued left hand lops off, tumbling onto the tile. Bone juts out, the color of murky seashell.
For just a moment, my whole body feels high.
In the locker room, I change into a sweater with bell sleeves to hide last night's pulling, even though we're running the mile today.
"There's a loose stitch on your sweater," a girl says. I look up to find her staring at me as I finish the last lace of my sneakers.
Jameson Lee. We had history together, freshman year. She has liquid black eyes that I find myself drowning in.
"So?" I say, because the stitching is from my clavicle, not my sweatshirt, because I have stitches all over my body, keeping me together.
"It looks like mine," says Jameson, and then she shows me her arm.
What once was a huge, vertical gash has now been sewn up. The stiches are almost ready to come out. But she'll always have a scar. "They put me in a place for a while but I'm doing better now. I'm not a freak."
The saliva in my throat gets thicker. Everyone's gone to class and we're alone. She showed me hers, so I decide to show her mine.
I lift up my sweater and pull down my shirt, so that just my bra is showing. My normally sluggish heart is beating so fast the skin on top of it pulses in and out, in and out.
I let her see the deep v across my chest. The stitching goes all the way up to my neck.
Jameson stares, bewildered. She's the first person I show who doesn't run.
We meet up after school that day, under the oak tree.
"Did you have an accident?" she asks me.
I tell her about my parents, how they tried IVF, how it didn't work and they couldn't afford any more treatments and so my mom decided to build me from scrap parts, stolen from the hospital fridge and fresh corpses waiting for the morgue.
"Badass," says Jameson.
I never thought of it like that, before Jameson.
"My dad left. He thought she was crazy."
"You mean radical," says Jameson, flicking the ash from her cigarette.
Before I can talk myself down from it, I unroll my sleeve. I unwrap the parchment from my stump, still tender. I show her the bone and I tell her what I've never told anyone before.
"I pull my stitches. The other night I pulled too much."
I quickly wrap it back up, already feeling the urge again.
"How long since you last pulled?" says Jameson.
"Three days."
"Tomorrow will be four."
The way she says it, so sure, so confident, shocks me. I look up at her.
"How long since you last cut?" I ask.
"Twenty-seven days," says Jameson.
After that, we meet under the oak tree every day after school. Sometimes we read poetry, like Anne Sexton, or listen to music. Jameson likes The Kills.
But we always start with the question.
"How long, Yaz?"
"Sixty-one days," I say, but today my voice falters.
"Okay," says Jameson. "Tell me."
She always knows. I tell her about the feeling, how I had to sit on my good hand to keep from doing it. "Tomorrow will be sixty-two," she reminds me. It's been eighty-eight for her.
"When you get to one hundred we should throw a party, or something," I say.
"A party?" she laughs. "Who would we invite?"
I crack up.
"A small party. A two-person party."
"We'll serve peppermint schnapps in hot cocoa. It's the best," says Jameson. "Trust me."
I do. I trust her more than anyone.
It's the second day of November, the day of the first frost, when Jameson ditches me.
I check my phone again. It's been thirty-eight minutes since the last bell rang. I'm starting to feel bad, how I feel when I want to pull.
I call her when my stomach is in my throat. When she doesn't pick up, I get sick behind our tree.
"Ninety-seven," I answer for her, my whole body shaking.
I go to the hospital before it's dark, the bile still sticky in my mouth. I get stares as I walk down the hall, because of my mismatched features, my mottled skin.
My fingers itch. Without Jameson, the bad feelings curl around my thoughts.
You can't do this. You can't do it without her.
I want to scream down the hallway so that she'll hear me, so that she'll know how much I need her, but the words unravel before they can come out.
I turn back, my fingers burning. I look for a bathroom to begin my pulling. I want to yank the stitching loose from my collarbone until I come undone, completely, all at once, and then I smell something warm and sweet and familiar, and it sends salt tears rushing down my face.
When I finally get to Room 214, there is a waifish girl on the bed, her wrists restrained.
"It's a little much," says Jameson. Her voice is hoarse.
I pull up a chair and hold up the cup of hot cocoa from the hospital cafeteria.
"It doesn't have schnapps," I say, frowning.
"I want it."
I give her a sip. "I fucked up, Yaz."
"It's okay. How long?"
Jameson shakes her head, overcome by sobs. "Tomorrow will be two," I remind her, confident because she can't be, and I reach for her hand under the restraints and squeeze her, hard, because right now it's all I have to give her, and I can only hope it's enough.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 1st, 2019


It was important for me to be truthful to the darkness of this story, a darkness that has been real for me and for so many others close to me. It was equally important for me to have these characters find the ability to continue. My young adult self has a special place in my heart. This story is for her and all the girls like her.

- Patricia Lundy

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