SAFE MODE

Pieces (fiction and long)

She stared at her reflection. Instead of a face, she saw skin stretched tautly over where her mouth, eyes, and nose should have been. Something was watching, but she couldn't see it. She sensed it, as it hovered in the air somewhere above. Even though she had no eyes, she could still see that her whole face was gone.

The alarm went off. Susan peeled back the dream from her consciousness like a snake sheds its skin. Shaking her head to rid herself of the nightmare's confusion, she stumbled into the bathroom.

She first noticed that all of the fingers on her left hand were missing when she reached for the faucet. Left-handed, she looked down in surprise when she found herself unable to turn the round handle. Along with the missing fingers, the large diamond that Frank had given her was gone. There were no bloody stumps; rather, it looked as if she had never had fingers on that hand.

Maybe she was still asleep, the nightmare continuing to unravel her subconsciousness. She pinched herself with her good right hand. She drew blood. She was awake. She passed out. Just before everything went black, she felt a light caress on her left arm.

When she awoke, Susan was uncertain about how much time had passed. Frank was home, leaning over her.

"Are you okay, honey?" he asked.

"I must have fainted," Susan said as she sat up. "I had the most bizarre nightmare."

"What?" Frank asked.

"I dreamed all of the fingers on my left hand suddenly disappeared," Susan replied.

Frank tilted his head to the side, giving her an odd look. "Are you certain you're all right? You didn't hit your head or something, did you?" he asked.

"No, why?" Susan said.

"Honey, you don't have a left arm. You never have," he said.

Susan then looked down, and saw that the left arm and hand that she clearly remembered having only that morning were gone. She jumped up, staring into the mirror. her one-armed reflection stared back at her. With her good right hand, she tore off her shirt, inspecting her torso. There were no signs she had ever had an arm. Where her left shoulder started, the skin rounded smoothly into her side.

That night, Susan dreamed she was standing alone in a desert, her toes gently curling into the sand under the bright and searing sun. She didn't feel the xerothermic heat. She was then standing on water, waves curving endlessly into the horizon with no land in sight. Although she was not swimming, she could somehow stand motionless on the surface, as if her feet could reaarange the hydrogen and oxygen atoms to reduce the space in between them.

She was waiting for someone.

She saw a figure moving towards her then, gliding over the water's surface. The figure was formless, seemingly not having a body, but nonetheless, it was coming towards her. She did not feel fear: she felt curiosity blended with a sense of knowledge. The figure paused in front of her briefly, then passed inside. She felt the light caress on her right arm from the inside. All of her teeth fell out.

"I had the strangest dream," Susan told Frank. "I dreamed something went inside of me and all of my teeth fell out."

"You have all of your teeth," he said, shaking his head. "Guess it's time for me to go to work. I'll see you later."

Susan got out of bed and went into the bathroom. She tried to reach for her toothbrush, but nothing happened. Looking in the mirror, she saw that her right arm was gone.

Susan used her left foot and her teeth to pull off her nightgown. Like the left arm, the skin from her right shoulder blended smoothly into her rib cage, no scars or evidence that the right arm she clearly remembered had ever formed.

"Should I even ask if I've ever had a right arm?" Susan asked Frank when he returned from work Monday afternoon.

"That's a weird question, Susan. Of course not. You've had 32 years to deal with the consequences of Thalidomide. You have never had arms but I still love you all the same," Frank replied.

In her dream that night, she was weightless, drifting through the space above her house. She could see her neighbors sleeping in their beds. The absorbed figure pulsated inside of her, radiating a tingling sensation out through both of her legs as if they were electric. She touched her head: the skin was smooth and hairless.

Susan did not want to open her eyes on Tuesday morning. She was uncertain what she would see. When she did, Frank had long before left for work. As she tried to sit up, she saw her legs were gone. A wheelchair sat waiting next to her side of the bed.

"Help!" Susan cried. A woman Susan had never seen appeared in the room.

"WHO ARE YOU?" Susan cried.

"Ummmm... Nancy, the home health aide you've had for the last 10 years- ever since your parents died...." The woman looked at her quizzically.

"Never mind," Susan replied. "Help me into my chair."

She somehow knew how to use the mouth controls on her wheelchair. She wheeled herself into the bathroom, and in the full-length mirror, she saw a torso with long, blonde hair and perfect teeth staring back at her.

"Nancy, please don't think I'm crazy. I just had a vivid dream. Have I ever had arms or legs?"

"No," Nancy said, avoiding eye contact. "You were born without them. Let me help you into the shower now, and then I'll fix you some breakfast."

Susan was certain she was not crazy. She remembered her limbs. She remembered writing novels, running on her high school's track team, and when Frank had shyly slipped that ring on her finger. She remembered it all. "Maybe all of this is just one long nightmare," she thought to herself.

That night, she was standing on a stage, using the figure inside's legs and arms, which now radiated out of her torso. Holding a microphone up to her lips, she and the figure were singing. A large audience watched and erupted with applause. Their combined voice was electric. Reaching up with the figure's shadowy arms, she wiped sweat off of her forehead. She felt that she had no eyebrows or eyelashes.

When Susan awoke on Wednesday, she was lying in a single bed in a room that looked like a hospital or nursing home room. There was a button. She used a pointer that was somehow d****d on a necklace around her neck, and holding it, pressed the button. When she opened her mouth to try to speak, no sound came out. She no longer had a tongue.

A man came into the room. She only saw the back of his head at first, but when he turned towards her, she saw it was Frank. Opening her eyes wide, she willed a wave of thought towards him. Surely he could understand her. He continued flipping through her chart.

"Time to take your medication, Ms. Hayworth," Frank said. It was as if their marriage had never existed. Susan tried to scream, but no sound came out.

That night, Susan struggled to stay awake, but she finally suc***bed to the darkness, stepping into a dream in which and the figure were flying together. They were not on Earth. They were shooting through the empty space between the stars in shapeless blackness.

"Who are you?" Susan thought.

There was no answer from the figure. They journeyed in that manner for what seemed like hours or years in timeless, limitless flight. Susan felt a tingling throughout her body, followed by a sense of ultimate disconnection from her life.

She didn't awake the next morning. Formless, Susan hovered in the air. She saw Frank sitting alone in a chair, calmly reading a newspaper. Her body was gone as if she had never existed.

Turning her gaze, she saw the figure, fiercely beautiful, walking with her pieces: now-formed legs, arms, and a fully formed body stolen from Susan. She watched the figure walk up the front steps of Frank's front porch. It knocked at the door.

Formless, Susan glided away. She would find someone else's pieces. She knew she would.