The scent of coffee had followed her from Marie’s apartment to the church and, kneeling before the golden altar, the cross towering high above her, Luisa thought of Marie’s mouth—the way it moved, and when she smiled and when she spoke and it curved, melted on her skin, warm, soft as fresh cream—and she bowed her covered head.
The hallowed space echoed out around her with a silence as deep and unbreakable as sleep, and Luisa felt almost ashamed to breathe. The stone church rumbled with stillness—the sun, seeping in through the large stained glass windows of the apse, rays standing still and stagnant, cast glorious little prisms on the rough stone beneath her feet, the cross overhead glittering in the yellow sunlight. The air felt stiff and stuck around her, the empty, dark wooden pews crowded behind her in the nave like silent specters, peeking into her mind. Her thoughts were tangled in white bedsheets and the summer breeze, at the mercy of old coffee and warm sunlight on Marie’s lipstick-marked cheeks—and they knew. They knew she could see Marie standing on the mattress in her little white apartment, the blankets like snow-wrapped mountains around her feet, gently rubbing rouge onto her nose and lips and cheeks, her face inches from the gilded mirror above her bed. They knew she could see her look back at Luisa through the reflection of the glass, smiling, the warm glow of honey spreading across her cheeks—and they pretended to see nothing.
“It smells like bad coffee.” Mafalda jabbed Luisa in the ribs, and Luisa’s eyes flashed open to see her round face, giddy. “You smell like bad coffee.” She settled on her knees beside Luisa, her white habit skirt spread out around her thin, muscular legs and sandaled feet—the outline of her small, round stomach beneath the white fabric of her habit shaded gray as if with pencil.
“You’re late,” Luisa wanted to say, “Where were you?” But she said nothing, and watched as Mafalda crossed herself, her thin fingertips hovering over her skin, her chest, her shoulders. Luisa could feel the air shift around her as Mafalda entangled her dark fingers before her lips and prayed, her head tipped back toward the vaulted ceiling, her eyes closed and still. The sun shone on her face, warm and soft, and she took a deep breath, her chest rising to fall, every inch of her body collapsing in on itself, melting into the muscles, the bones—and Luisa’s mind swarmed with red cherries and green apples and blooming tangerine trees, shifting and waving and racing as the ripe fruit fell from the dark branches, splattering on the grass like rippling waves.
Mafalda peeked an eye open to look at her, the dark brown of her iris like gold in the sunlight, her dark skin shining like paint on canvas.
And Luisa let her hands fall, her fingers still tied, her body suddenly heavy and tired.
“Do I really smell like coffee?”
During study, Mafalda sat sprawled in one corner of the convent library, cloistered between the gray stone walls and the great wooden bookshelves, scripture spread out around her exposed legs like so many fallen leaves, her white skirts pulled up to her thighs, showing her slim, dark knees and shins as they shimmered in the light. The single window above her head shined golden on her bare feet, and pure white flecks of dust were floating in the air around her covered head, shifting and swaying. Her face was enveloped in shadow, making her eyes seem black and unending, the square edges of her jaw and nose stark and bare. She held up the book she was reading to her face and squinted, her thick lashes fluttering upon her cheeks, one arm wrapped around her stomach. “I’ve got no idea what this says,” she kept mumbling each time she turned the page, the yellowing paper crinkling between her pink fingertips. Her eyes scanned over the text back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, her brown lips twisted, forehead wrinkled, chest rising and falling like a stream.
Luisa watched her, sitting crosslegged, her back against the bookshelf across from her, her hands folded in her lap. She could feel the crisp cold of the stone floors seeping through her habit skirt and blooming across her thighs, and she imagined the fresh chill of water against her skin—pictured water rising through the cracks in the stone floor, slipping through the cracks in the stone walls, filling the library inch by inch until Mafalda’s veil was floating around her head as she read: the pages becoming gray as the ink bled.
“I’ve got no idea what this says,” Mafalda said again, strands of slick, curly black hair peeking out from beneath her white veil. The sunlight was moving steadily across the stale, dark room now, pushing back the shadows toward the empty corners of the library, stretching across the gray stone floors, over the dark wooden shelves that lined the walls, slipping over the golden-brown book spines and the framed black and white photographs of novices and postulants crowded before the back church steps, smiles plastered on their cheeks, the same image, the same frame repeated over and over with different women but the same face over each spare space on the walls. Luisa stared at their blurred figures as the sun glinted on their dull frames and wondered who they were, where they might be—wondered for the pain of it, of not knowing, of forgetting, of something lost, flooding into her lungs, stiff as sugar, surging through her body like water, like light, like fire, eating everything away until the eroded remains sat solely of muddied bones like stone chiseled perfect into place. She thought of Marie and felt doubt.
Distantly, Luisa heard Mafalda turn another abject page, the rustle of paper like thunder in her ears, bringing visions of storms and wild rains and Marie’s windswept curls stuck to her forehead—and she knew Sister Verde would say her mind was wandering. It was sneaking from her, from God, from real things—it must be drawn back, it must be fixed quiet and see that which is absolute, that which is true. Luisa could just hear her saying it, so softly, so sweetly, her cheeks pink like candy, her blue eyes like jagged rock at shore. “Quiet, quiet. . . .”
Suddenly, Mafalda closed the book she had been cradling in her hands with a loud thump and stood up, her skirt falling around her legs, her face shaded in shadow still, the sun’s reddening light shining around her head, tinting her white veil the color of gold.
“I’m sick of this,” she said, her breath hissing through her teeth.
Luisa opened her mouth to say something—because she could see it on Mafalda’s face, etched in the corners of her mouth, the ridges of her cheeks, the deepest color of her eyes that something had changed, something had changed, it had shifted and now Mafalda stood there rigid, every muscle wrapped around her bony body pulled tight and unforgiving, her mouth a thin brown line. She thought, Quiet, quiet, but said nothing. She said nothing and stood from the floor, her body solid beneath her skin, and helped Mafalda to put the books away, the brown shelves creaking as each volume settled into place.
Walking back from the dining hall, Luisa and Mafalda spoke softly to each other, hiccuping with muffled laughter, their fingertips pressed against their parting lips to stifle their glee like prayer. During supper, the eldest nun of the convent, Sister Constanca, had nodded off and fallen asleep with her head in her bowl of soup, her cap slowly becoming yellow as teeth, the ivory color gradually swallowing the white fabric like spiders swarming up a tree. When they had tried to awaken her, her nose blowing bubbles in the broth, she had swatted at them like a cat sitting on a window ledge, and now they could not get the image out of their heads. They walked down the corridor, the heels of their sandals clicking against the stones, and had become so taken with their jests, wandering hall after hall, down passage after passage, their feet carrying them carelessly, that they found themselves in the nuns’ cells, the last dying lights of day shining through the diamond-paned windows.
Suddenly, Luisa heard the soft rustle of movement and she stopped in her tracks. Mafalda turned to look at her. She saw Sister Verde drifting through the empty white beds that lined the corridor ahead of them, the Reverend Mother beside her, and Luisa and Mafalda stepped back to hide behind the nearest corner, their laughter settled in their stomachs like a bad meal.
Through the large windows, the sun was shone golden on both of the sisters, turning the white bedsheets and the gray stone walls around them blindly orange with the dying light. Luisa and Mafalda watched them move, peeking out from around the corner, their white veils gliding past their shoulders. Sister Verde was speaking in quick, hushed tones and the Reverend Mother was nodding her head thoughtfully in reply, her hands held behind her back, her face full of restraint.
“What do you think they’re saying?” Luisa asked quietly. Mafalda looked at her, then back at them as they strolled.
She placed a hand on her stomach, but then let it fall to her side. “Do you think they’re saying anything?” She asked, her voice strong and clear.
Luisa watched the nuns—their pearled fingernails glittering like sugar, their eyes shifting, unstill. Sister Verde was talking so quickly her lips were a blur of pink upon her face—the Reverend Mother’s mouth a thin straight line above her small chin. Their pace was steady and slow as they floated amidst the beds, but suddenly the Reverend Mother stopped in place and looked at Sister Verde questioningly, her thin eyebrow raised, a shadow upon her face.
Luisa felt the air around her shift as Mafalda’s hand flew to her stomach again.
Sister Verde reached a hand out and gently touched the Reverend Mother’s shoulder, the ridges of her fingerprints just barely brushing the slack, black fabric of her veil, the material shifting around her body like a breeze. The Reverend Mother’s crystal green eyes followed her hand, and she became rigid as dirt—took a step away—the absence of their footfalls suddenly now sharp in Luisa’s ears, filling her head with silence. Sister Verde froze, even the rise of her chest seeming to cease, and bent her head, her hands held behind her back, clasped and tightened. And the Reverend Mother walked passed her with no word, her skirts swaying with her feet amidst the waving white bedsheets, her expression unreadable. She walked passed Luisa and Mafalda standing in the stone corridor and didn’t even glance their way—a rush of air filled with the soft scent of spring blowing by them in her wake. Luisa watched her disappear down the glinting orange hallway and glanced back at where Sister Verde had been, her eyes following her as she walked away in the opposite direction, a pale stain glittering on the back of her black veil.
“No,” Luisa said finally, “I don’t think they were saying anything.”
Lying in bed, thoughts of Marie swarmed Luisa like hands slipping through the folds of her sheets. She saw her on the day they first met: the sky dark still as the sun was beginning to rise, her long hair whipping past her face as she raced by on her bicycle, the black tires thumping rhythmically against the blue cobblestoned streets, echoing against the pastel buildings that bordered them from the sea. Luisa was walking back to the convent from her childhood home on her last day of postulancy, and Marie passed her in a flash—she was a streak of yellow light in the darkness of dawn—but Luisa saw her smile, a slow spread of pink lips across her cheeks like morning light sliding over the tops of buildings, shining into the hidden corners of everything. And her dark eyes met hers for a moment, just a second, before she disappeared down the glittering street, and Luisa continued on her way, pretending not to have seen anything.
She saw her again that afternoon, standing in the church courtyard, budding green, wrapped in a gray sundress that hugged her body, the sun shining around her like a spotlight, a little boy dressed all in yellow peeking out from behind her long legs. Her skin was like the color of sand and her hair like that of night and her mouth moved like the ripple of water as she spoke to one of the sisters, her hands moving softly through the air. She met Luisa’s gaze through the diamond-paned window of the library—the blur of her body warped through the glass making her look like an angel—a look of recognition flashing before her eyes, and Marie smiled, that same soft light flooding across her cheeks.
It wasn’t until that night, when Luisa left the convent on one of her last free evenings of postulancy, that she saw her again, standing amidst the golden glow of an empty bar, the world outside and around her almost blue with darkness. She was wiping down beige table and countertops, dressed all in black uniform tinted blue, seeming a world away for only being across the street. Luisa watched her for a moment as she swayed among the chairs and tables, her long hair tied up upon her head casting curly black strands into her eyes. She slumped into one of the seats, her whole body caving in on itself, and Luisa began walking across the street before she knew where her steps were carrying her, the clip of her heels echoing out along the narrow road like rainfall.
In the bed beside hers, Mafalda suddenly began shifting. Her mattress creaked and groaned, and through the gray darkness, Luisa watched her creep toward the double doors which led to the corridor, a pair of shiny black shoes in her hand glinting in the moonlight, her thick black hair set loose upon her shoulders in short tangled strands. Luisa could hear her bare feet padding against the stone floors, soft and gentle, and heard the sharp rasp of one of the doors as it opened, a cold sliver of light flashing across the room toward Luisa’s face as Mafalda slipped through the crack in the door and scurried away, disappearing down the hallway, not closing the gap behind her—the thin shred of light yet gleaming in Luisa’s left eye.
The next morning, after prayer and study, Luisa and Mafalda stood on the threshold of the courtyard, the afternoon sun shining blindingly down on them and the budding green garden, glistening with dew still. The church and convent were bustling with life; the Sunday school children crowded around on the emerald lawn, the teaching nuns hovering around them, wide smiles on their faces as the children played, trying to climb the white stone sculpture of the Virgin Mary as she stood solid in the middle of the yard. Mafalda had wandered in late to morning prayers and disappeared before mass only to return a moment before it was over, later flitting in and out during study like a bird, slipping in and out through the bodies that crowded the halls and offices and church and convent and library like a snake—and standing beside her now, Luisa had a mind to ask where she kept going. Why she kept disappearing. Why, these past few days, she was constantly so late. But her tongue sat still in her mouth and she watched the children play in the yard with her jaw set, peeking glances at her every chance. Mafalda looked pale. Her dark skin had dulled and whitened, and she had suddenly begun looking sick—weak, her habit hanging around her like a dying willow, and Luisa could not think of why she should have all of a sudden become ill.
“Look! There!” Mafalda said abruptly, her voice full of excitement like a little girl.
She pointed, her movement sharp and clear, and Luisa followed the thin line of her dark finger. Perfectly-round little berries were growing on the trees in the courtyard and, below the heavy black branches, the children had all gathered, standing on tiptoes trying to reach them, their small fingers strained and stretching, their glistening pink tongues sliding around the corners of their mouths. Luisa waited for Mafalda to say something more as she stared at the fruit, her hands clasped before her stomach, hearing distantly as the kids preened and cawed, reaching for the berries.
Mafalda slowly tilted her head toward Luisa’s ear as if she were whispering a secret, “I think they’re poisonous—” She said, her voice like a hiss through darkness. “Dribbling with arsenic.” Purple stains littered the grass and the gray paved-path beneath their feet. “Like gasoline. . . if you lit their stomachs aflame. . .” A small boy sitting beneath the trees’ shade, a little ways away from the flock of children, was rolling a big red rubber ball back and forth against the grass, black berry pocks marking its skin. “They’d end up that way, anyway.” He wore all yellow, and wiped his stubby finger against the ball, sticking it into his mouth as if it were a lollipop. “Dead. . . .” A raven, its head black as silver, flew in and settled on a branch, its eyes blinking blindly. “Dead—I mean.” Luisa had a sudden urge to vomit, but Mafalda grabbed her arm, and led her away, her arm looped through Luisa’s, her eyes red-rimmed and glossy, glinting bright like the berries.
Sister Verde was standing at the large wooden door that led to the dining hall, her hands folded before her waist, smiling at each nun, novice and postulant who passed her way. When Luisa and Mafalda drew near, she ushered them aside with a flick of her wrists as if they were animals, a serious look upon her face.
“Would you both come with me, please?” She said, her voice quiet and stern.
She walked passed them without another word, her skirts wooshing around her feet, and they both followed her, Luisa looking to Mafalda as she stared ahead down the hallway.
Outside Sister Verde’s cell, Luisa stood and waited. The sun had been covered by a patch of gray clouds and she could feel the chill of summer rain settling over the convent, a soft breeze shivering through the windows that lined the gloomy corridor. Just the night before last, when Luisa had been with Marie, it had rained and the sky had looked just like it did now, solid and cold, unwavering—ready to break. She supposed all of the children that had been in the courtyard must have been corralled back inside by now to shelter for the impending rain, and she felt the phantom touch of Marie’s hand at her waist, leading her as they walked down the street that night—saw, in the curls of her hair, the forms of bodies tangling through the bends of gravity to lay on her cheeks and her forehead, sleeping on her skin, tied in her golden earrings. Luisa felt the first visitant droplets of rain against her skin and saw Marie’s smile widen as the rain began to pour down around them, the air smelling thick with summer.
Suddenly, the door to Sister Verde’s cell opened and Mafalda traipsed out, her body seeming small and frail despite the grin upon her pale-green face. Her habit skirt hung around her as if it had gotten too big and Luisa saw how flat her stomach had suddenly become.
Sister Verde gestured for Luisa to come inside, her white hands flat and dull as bone. And, reluctantly, Luisa went, glancing back at Mafalda as she grinned at the darkening sky.
Sister Verde’s room was simple, small—just. It smelled strongly of dust and old fabric; a fraying red carpet lay beneath their feet, and on the walls soft-white paintings of clouds and crosses and Jesuses hung from thin black wire, lightly swaying in the draft. There was a desk, piled with books and picture frames—the yellowed pages and black stands all Luisa could see of them—and two simple wooden chairs facing each other. Sister Verde sat behind the desk and gestured for Luisa to sit as well. She did and, flattening her skirt, looked at Sister Verde, the sky outside the window behind her becoming darker and darker with each moment that past.
“Luisa,” Sister Verde said at length, her voice ringing clear, “As I’m certain you well know, your beginning as novitiate in our community is coming to a close.” Sister Verde placed her hands upon her desk, her slim fingertips pressing against the dark wood like a raven’s talons. “And the sisters and I want you to know, we think you a worthy and valuable member of the community. Which leads me to why I am sitting here with you right now. I am pleased to say we believe you ready for your first vows.” A smile spread across her face, her pink lips parting to show teeth as white as snow. “But I wanted to ask you if you feel yourself ready—if you have any doubts—at all—that this is not the path for you.” Sister Verde looked at Luisa with a kind yet stern compassion painted upon her face, her white cap cradling her jaw and neck like hands, her black veil resting upon her shoulders like a lion’s mane—and Luisa looked past her, to the window and the sky, watching as the rain began to fall against the window, tapping against the glass, perfect droplets slithering to fall as a raven flew by the pane, her lips parting.
The next morning, it rained.
The sky was dull and gray and looked smeared with thick dry paint, the clouds like one all impassable wall, slowly drifting down toward the city. The storm came in short, violent bursts of sharp raindrops that tapped against the stained glass windows like rifle fire, the beat beat beat echoing out throughout the apse and the nave to the halls and the offices and the convent like a drum, glistening little puddles shifting and waving in the cracks and divots of the stone floors, little oceans with their own shattering currents.
Luisa knelt before the golden altar, the candles upon it all extinguished from the humid summer breeze, the smell of smoke stinging her nostrils, and closed her eyes to pray, her fingers interlaced. She breathed in and out, the air trembling through her chest, and felt as if she could feel it leave her mouth, tumble before her face, swirl away into the air toward the polished wooden cross and Jesus’s polished wooden mouth to the apse and its soaring windows, pressing against the segmented faces of angels and men. She listened for Mafalda’s soft footsteps against the wet stone floors behind, the splash of skin in puddles, approaching slowly from the wide, open church doors, but they never came. The corridors of the convent were steadfastly sober. The nuns and novices and postulants floated the halls like ghosts, their veils heavy upon their heads like a waterfall. Luisa ate alone, she walked alone, she meditated alone, she prayed alone, she studied alone in the little library—the soft, damp smell of old wood and paper wafting toward her face—and when, outside the clouds finally parted and the sun began to peek through, already dying, bleeding red and pink and blue into the white sky, the diamond-paned window casting shadows across the floor, Luisa looked out upon the courtyard, the Virgin Mary shaded gray with wet, her covered head glistening like melted sugar, and felt dread burst through her veins.
That night, lying awake in bed, Luisa searched the ceiling for silence.
She had not seen Mafalda since the door had closed behind her in Sister Verde’s cell, and, whenever she asked someone, have you seen her? They only said they hadn’t noticed her since yesterday.
Bothered, Luisa thought about the shadows of Mafalda’s stomach—fresh and clear as if glistening with water and pictured bright maroon lipstick on Marie’s mouth as the golden tube smeared across her lips, becoming darker and darker and darker.
Suddenly, a shriek, sharp and loud as a bird’s call, echoed out throughout the corridors like laughter, ringing in Luisa’s ears, and she shot up out of bed, her mattress creaking beneath her. No one else in the room stirred. Mafalda’s empty bed remained empty, the sheets and her pillow, devoted to the shape of her skull and body, resting perfectly in place. Luisa sat very still and listened, her heart beating dully.
It was just as she was beginning to think the sound had only been a part of her dream—that she had fallen asleep without ever falling—that another wail resounded, moaning like a wounded animal left to die in metal a snare, and she knew she could not have been asleep. It stung her ears and skull like a blow to the back of the head. But no one else stirred.
She had to steady herself, but, carefully, Luisa wandered from her bed, the white hem of her nightgown hanging around her ankles. She crept through the darkness toward the doors which led to the corridor and gingerly opened one, closing the gap behind her. The hallway was shockingly dark, the only light the silver glow of the moon as it shone through the paned windows. Luisa moved slowly down the hallway, her bare feet cold against the rough stone floor, her breathing loud in her ears, and it was not long before she heard another pained howl—her head ringing as it echoed off the walls. She followed the sound as best she could through the twisting dark passages, pressing her ear against each rough wooden door she passed to see if that was where its source lay, shrieking.
By the fifth time it had cried out, Luisa could tell she was getting closer and closer and closer. The sound had become pointed—louder. She could feel it rattle within her chest, and when another wail rang out through the corridors, Luisa suddenly knew where it was coming from, and she shot down the hallway at a sprint, the moonlight shining white upon the floors as she ran toward the church.
Behind the golden altar, Mafalda was collapsed on the floor, the frosted moonlight shining down on her through the stained glass windows of the apse, casting glorious colors on her shivering body. The stone floor was puddled with thick red blood, slick and cold beneath Luisa’s feet, luminous in pearly moonbeams. Mafalda’s face was ashen and brushed with it, dried upon her cheeks, her thick curly black hair slick to her forehead with sweat and gore. Her white habit skirt was flooded with red, spreading still—slowly creeping over the fabric of her legs and stomach like spiders bursting from their eggs. Her hands were tucked between her thighs, the long sleeves of her tunic encrusted with dried brown blood. She gave another low cry, her face flattened against the rough stone floor, her mouth glistening with spit, teeth pressed against the masonry—the color of blood between her legs black as pitch.
Luisa knelt beside her, tears fell from her eyes without her noticing. She gently wrapped her hands around Mafalda’s face and brought her head down to hers. “What’s happened?” She asked, her voice soft, breaking. “What’s happened?” Luisa tried to pull Mafalda’s hands from her lap, but she cried out and screamed.
“No,” Mafalda said, choking, her whole body trembling. She opened one of her eyes, her forehead pressed against the floor, her cheek flattened against the stone. “No.”
“I’ll . . . I’ll get help,” Luisa said quickly, getting up from the floor, the blood on her nightgown cold against her legs.
Mafalda reached out a red-soaked hand and grasped at Luisa’s skirt, her fingers dripping with black blood. “No,” she rasped, sharp and despondent. “No. You can’t. You don’t understand. They don’t know. They don’t know. I had to get rid of it. I had to. You can’t tell them. They won’t let me stay; please, they don’t know, Luisa. I can’t leave. They can’t make me leave. This is the only home I’ve ever known. Luisa. Please. I’m fine. I’m fine. Look at me.” Mafalda’s dark eyes stared at her through the thin glow of the moonlight, Luisa tall like a mountain before her. “Please, don’t go. Please, don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me!”
She died before they reached her. Her body became stiff as soil and her face drained of all color, the red upon her habit and her skin the only pigment. Her eyes, which had once been so bright, so full became dull and gray, flat in their sockets as if they had been molded of charcoal. Her mouth lay agape, strings of spit left between her teeth, her lips stained dark and dull as if with the berries from the courtyard trees.
Luisa left the convent at dawn, her bare feet padding against the blue-cobblestoned streets. Her usually tan skin was paled and sickly. The twittering of house sparrows filled her ribcage with pain and rumbled deep within her body and her bones like a drumbeat, making her think of Marie brewing coffee, the popping of bubbles and the hiss of steam. Just three days before, Marie had watched Luisa leave her little white apartment, hanging out of the open window, one arm stretched straight against the light pink pane as she sipped on her black coffee and waved Luisa away with a flick of her wrist and fingers, smiling, her eyes shining in the morning sunlight like a marigold’s petals. Luisa could just see her, but it was dark out now, and her face felt like a distant memory.
The shadows were deep and thick in the shade of the buildings, almost blue against the walls and cobblestone streets. The sun was just sitting on the horizon above the sea, beginning slowly to dye the ocean and the sky pink: the waves becoming yellow and orange and red like a ripe pomegranate had been juiced into the water, the thin clouds above it pale and pink and empty. All around her, it had become suddenly quiet and still—the doors of the apartments all gated with their twisting black wrought iron; the stray cats stretched out on their plump bellies on the blue cobblestoned streets in the shadow of cars and trees as the sun gradually crept up over the tops of the buildings. The light glinted against windows and tiles and shined bright yellow into gated doorways. The air began to smell salty and almost sweet, and Luisa walked through the fading shadows, the new light shining pink on her skin, her legs covered in blood, the hem of her nightdress red with it, her round dark face tear streaked and bloodied. Her blood-encrusted hands trembled and her knees shook. She tried to imagine curling her toes against the white sheets in Marie’s bed, pulling the only pillow Marie owned under her head, the sun burning bright in the sky, streaming through the open window with the shear white drapes blowing in just like a few days ago—but she couldn’t.
She walked down the street, a cool summer wind rushing toward her, fallen leaves and crumbled newspaper and plastic cups shifting gently on the street, crinkling in the breeze. She rubbed a hand over her face, feeling the tracks of dried tears upon her cheeks, pushing back her black bangs and running her fingers through the tangled, matted knots of her short hair, flecks of blood left beneath her fingernails. She could feel her body beginning to come undone at the seams, each step she took echoing through her with pain. She stopped before Marie’s white door, the sun tinting it almost gold, the white stucco walls shaded pink like berries and took a deep breath in, her chest filling with the bitter scent of coffee.