1. She’s in your bathroom forever.
A) She’s looking for prescription meds to scarf.
B) She’s sniffing nail polish remover.
C) She’s sick to her stomach.
D) She’s cutting herself again.
She comes out and you feel, as you slide your hands gently on her arm, the bandages. There’ll be more lines on her arms above the wrist, scratches like an alien language of grief. Never deep enough, except for those few times, to warrant a trip to the hospital. She says they remind her she is alive. But you aren’t sure how.
2. She faints at dinner with your family in the restaurant.
A) She’s pregnant.
Don’t pregnant women on soap operas always faint? You’ve never seen a real pregnant woman faint. Your pregnant sister is chasing your nephew around. She never faints. But everyone glares at you and your Dad’s lip tightens into a line as you try to revive her. Your Mom is flustered, suggesting splashing water on her face.
B) It’s that pesky brain tumor no one sees, but she knows is there.
There are scans all over town, from every ER, of the contents of her brain. You wish they’d all get together and compare notes, because every other month or so, she clutches her head, crying. Wanting whatever is inside her brain to come out.
C) She’s faking.
You can hear her steady breathing, and you know that flutter of eyelash, her long mascaraed hairs softly brushing her skin, just after she’s opened those luminous turquoise blue eyes and shuttered them again quickly. She’s checking, always checking, to see if anyone in the universe still gives a damn about her. She can never check enough. You tell her you love her every day, but it’s never enough. Maybe it will be better when you’re married.
D) Like Grandpa says, it’s a bad jalapeno. Mexican food isn’t for everyone.
She won’t admit it, of course, not even in the car. She whispers she’d like to go the ER, That something is wrong with her blood, it’s the wrong color. More purple than red. It must be the new meds the doctor gave her.
Next morning, she refuses to take her pill. You can’t find the bottle. You call her doctor, pacing outside the apartment in the parking lot. They won’t talk to you because you aren’t family. I’m her fiancée, you say three times. You hear her phone go off. Her doctor has called. She goes in the bathroom and slams the door.
You don’t realize she’s swallowed pills again until the fireman knock on the door. She always calls 911 before she passes out.
3. She loses her job at the fish fry restaurant. She’s only had the job a week. She won’t tell you why, and you have to guess if:
A) The manager groped her in the back room, just like the guy at the pizza place.
And the guy at the hardware store. And the guy at the apartment complex leasing office—but she was only applying for that job, didn’t even have it yet. She has a body, people tell her, like a model. Or a stripper. You notice men staring at her. That long red hair. Those amazing eyes. And the huge breasts which owe nothing to silicone.
B) She didn’t show up.
Your friend Joey told you he saw her that afternoon she got fired from the coffee shop, buying shoes at the mall when she told you she was working. When she told you she dropped a plate of eggs and got fired by that mean woman with yellow hair that looked like a squat dandelion sitting on her head. Who eats eggs at four in the afternoon? You asked. Old people, she snaps. Old people always eat eggs.
C) She slapped that girl Debbie with the ugly mouth, the one who was such a bitch.
D) They were overstaffed, and last hired, first fired. Lent is over and no one eats fish in May.
The girl Debbie wants to press charges and says she chipped her front tooth. She wants money. Your girlfriend is a crazy bitch, Debbie says, when she comes to the door with her boyfriend. You should put that bitch on a leash before she bites someone. Before they have to put her down. You slam the door in Debbie’s face. She does have an ugly mouth.
4. She tells you it’s over, but she’s said that so many times you keep a count on your calendar. Seventy-two times since January 1. You don’t remember last year. Neither does she. Is it over?
A) It’s never really over.
This is true love, and true love never dies. You listen to every song on your playlist. They are all about love. You are drinking flat beer. It tastes like the Gulf of Mexico.
B) It’s that guy on the motorcycle she’s in love with.
The one she rode off with after that fight. The guy with the cool tattoos and the long hair in a braid. He’s big, but you could take him. If he was drunk, maybe really, really drunk.
C) Your mom and your sister were right. And your friends. Everyone who knows her, even her mom and dad.
D) It’s true, what her doctor says. She has that Borderline personality disorder.
When you hear, six months later, that the EMTs didn’t get to her in time, even after she called about the pills, you can’t quit crying even though you’re at work. Checking Facebook at work is bad that way. You wish she hadn’t moved out of town where you couldn’t rescue her.
“It was the schizoaffective disorder,” her Dad says at the funeral, where everyone covers her pretty white coffin with daisies—pink, orange, and purple, even blue. She hated white ones.
You can’t help feeling somehow you took and failed a test, the only test that really mattered.
Elizabeth Archer has published flash, short stories and poetry. She lives in the Texas Hill Country, and dreams of snow.