FICTION: Tea for Two

When the scalding water hit the small of her back, Camille shuddered. The burn was exquisite, a pain that seared through her flesh and went right to her core. In the liquid pooling on her skin and steaming off she could feel its history: the whistle of the kettle it had been boiled in, the rush of the tap it had come from, the miles-long journey through pipes, the processing plant where it was filtered, and finally, its origin, in a lake or a glacier or a stream. This water had come so far, and she was grateful.

You’re humming again, Robin told her. Camille turned over and looked at the heavy, painted eyelids and the mouth pouting down at her from above. Robin hadn’t showered yet today; Camille could tell from the way her armpit hair was matted from this morning’s deodorant. Without another word, Robin poured the hot water on Camille’s exposed stomach and breasts, pausing at the base of her neck.

Thank you, Camille whispered. She was still delirious, she must be, because she usually couldn’t smell Robin’s scent, a sharp unwashed stink that Camille loved to burrow her nose into. But she wasn’t allowed to do that anymore, she remembered. She shouldn’t be naked, or here in this room, or anywhere near Robin at all.

How could she forget such a thing? In the frigid snow, and the hours, or maybe minutes, in which she’d likely contracted hypothermia, it seems she’d lost many bits of recent history. Just enough to push her to Robin’s cabin, which she’d assumed would be empty, because Robin was meant to have left this place a week ago, when she’d left Camille’s heart and soul and body aching for her.

But she could think about it all later, when she was warm again.

Fuck, Camille heard Robin’s voice saying, retreating from her, and she wanted to shout No don’t go, but her jaw was stuck together, and Robin’s voice, fuck, fuck, you’re shivering, I think you’re going into some kind of shock or something, fuck, I’m calling Miguel. And Camille realized that yes, she was shaking, so badly that the pain she was feeling in the back of her head was the repeated knocks against the long steel table she was lying on.

She slipped in and out of the world, the rigidity of her body and its small convulsions far away somewhere, and when she next opened her eyes, she was wrapped in a heavy green quilt decorated with dark, brooding flowers. She remembered this quilt. She’d fucked on this quilt, under it, practically with it. And now it was saving her life, she thought idly. How nice.

He’ll be here soon with his truck and we’ll get you to the hospital, Robin was saying, and it seemed like she was saying bits of this sentence over and over again, Soon, soon, he’ll be here soon, and Hospital, we’ll get you there soon.

Okay, Camille said, or thought she said, but Robin wasn’t looking at her, she was looking at her phone, at the clock on the wall, at the door, anywhere but at Camille’s face. Was something wrong with her face, Camille wondered, and tried to move her hand to touch and see, but she was wrapped so tightly she couldn’t move. She thought about thrashing, but it seemed like that would be very difficult and she was so tired. She tried to smile at Robin again and closed her eyes.

Maybe, she considered with a sense of déjà vu before slipping firmly into unconsciousness, maybe she’ll get back together with me if I die, almost.

Ilana Masad is a queer Israeli-American fiction writer and book critic. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Joyland Magazine, StoryQuarterly, Broadly, Lit Hub, and more. She is a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is the founder and host of The Other Stories podcast.

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