Maddie woke up sweating, wrapped in her sheet, but the migraine was gone. She lifted her head and felt air on her neck. She didn't want to vomit. Relief. She sat up slowly and put her feet on the floor. She was weak, racked. Her mouth was dry and tasted sulphurous.
The day was gone. She didn't press the button that would illuminate the alarm clock. She sat in darkness. Her feeling was that it was deep into the night. She rose to her feet and closed her eyes, testing. She stepped into the bathroom where it was cool and clean. She pushed her hair off her face, then lifted it and clipped it back.
Next she went to the shadowed scene of the living room. The abandoned couch, blanket, cup of tea. The papers on the table. A book sprawled on the arm of a chair like a cat on a fence. She remembered previous episodes when the pain was so bad that she acted like a drunk, forgot everything except finding comfort. She panicked and checked the stove.
No disaster there.
The microwave sat with its glowing green teeth in the corner, but again she didn't check the time. She wanted this feeling of prehistoric, of animal.
She pushed back the patio door and stepped out onto the small square of concrete, then grass. No moon. But stars. She let her eyes stay with one. It was the first light she stared into willingly since her skull seized the previous afternoon. Sirius. It was bright, white. Almost searing. But she could take it.
Simultaneous to intuition, she looked down at her feet. Next to her heel, a small round frog. She could have crushed it. It was so close, she could have her foot on one of its front hands. It didn't move. She wondered if it were dead.
She lowered herself, and as her heels rose in that physics, the frog hopped a tiny distance from its original position. Maddie extended a finger to touch, then stroke its back. It slow winked its eyelids.
If Maddie were to personify it, she would say it was cautious. It was waiting for her next move. Maddie would not personify. She wouldn't allow herself. Nature didn't need to be human to be understood.
She picked it up. She didn't know why. She was surprised at herself. Once she had it, the sense of accomplishment turned into power. She knew she was being ridiculous. She had a frog in her hand. Quickness and luck. Not even luck. She couldn't let it go. She'd grabbed it, and her brain, finished with pounding mercilessly for hours on end, set to work searching for meaning, purpose. Justification.
She was standing now. She was facing the creek at the back of the property, a few yards away and down a hill. She could walk to the edge and put the frog at the beach of it.
She didn't move. She became aware of a small weight in the left pocket of her house dress. A knife. Folded and safe. Useful.
She laid the frog on its back in her palm, held it flat. She looked at its white belly, like a newborn son. She tucked her thumb into the tender skin over the pharynx to hold it in place.
Of course she thought of high school, her science class, grouped with three other girls for dissection. The smell of formaldehyde and their cackling, dumb squealing for attention. They weren't afraid, they were bored. They were pretty and they made her do the work. Scalpel. Slit. Ovaries. Female.
It was easy. This would not be easy. She took the tip of her knife and pressed it at a spot beneath her thumb. The pressure needed would be like pushing a crochet needle through a tight loop. She was in her back yard and the night air was on her skin and her head wasn't throbbing, even at the light of clear, bright stars hitting her retina. She made a decision.
The next time she woke to daylight, there was pain again. Not her head. A stinging in her hand, like hot coffee. She looked, found one deep, long slit on her palm. Like a gill.