"We'll need a biopsy to ascertain the nature of the growth," Ariathne heard the doctor's careful voice. "Spinal epiphyses are very unusual..."

She almost smiled -- biopsy, what for? The tumor was growing so fast she could hear her skin crack. During her second visit, the doctor gave up.

"You know the alternatives. We can operate, but I suspect it has already metastasized. Or we could try a combined radiation/chemotherapy treatment. In either case you'll probably lose use of your arms. I urge you to decide soon -- even hours count. In fact, I strongly recommend that you enter the hospital right away."

Ariathne turned away, walked down the corridor. I'm not going, her blood stormed, echoed, not going... Enough morphine to tame the pain and when time comes, I'll cross the Gates erect!

Next day, the good people sent a report to her advisor. At his look of concern, she turned fierce.

"Have you notified your parents? The doctor mentioned that you refused treatment. You are intelligent, rational -- please reconsider. If you need help, I can take care of your affairs for a time, deal with department headquarters..."

"No!" Ariathne interrupted him. "There will be no treatment. I really like my hair, broom-straight as it is; I don't intend to lose it."

She gathered her things, walked out. What shall I do? Grasp someone and say -- please come home with me, I have only weeks to live and I need warmth? She threw her head back, let out a short laugh. Remarkable doom, mine -- all in keeping, very extravagant, very colorful.

She filled her morphine prescription, bought enough bittersweet chocolate to fill the fridge and books to cover the bed, then barred the door and disconnected the phone.

She flowed gratefully into the bed, searching for the groove she had worn in it. Once fitted, she sank down, down, through coral and seaweed, all the way to the dim green pebbles at the bottom.

The cats' motors occasionally made her surface to mark time by their feeding cycle. Then she would return to drown in blankets, books and her own hair. Her drug dose was increasing rapidly and she was no longer able to lie on her back. Normally, she would be restless, but pain crowded out all other bad habits.

Much later, she chanced to glance at herself in the mirror and was bemused to see her bones emerge like islands in low tide. All my life I've wanted to be thin, she reflected wryly. Never again will I consider my magic weak! It's feeding off me like a child, sending tendrils down my arms... indeed, her arms had grown veined and corded.

Soon after, the torment of itching started. Her throat tight with irritation, she grasped her comb and raked it across her left back side, from shoulder to waist. The tearing sound startled her more than the blade of pain. Looking down, she saw that the green carpet had turned brown.

As she trekked to the bathroom, she grinned: Here am I, dying and alone, yet I grow vexed at how the cats will get excited by the blood and cry for hours. She sat at the edge of the tub to drip more neatly and contemplate whether she should climb to the terrace and step off.

At that moment, she caught sight of a dark mass barely within her vision range. With the instinctive fear of people who live alone, she whirled around to the mirror. She took the sight very calmly, didn't cry out, only reached for the comb and repeated the operation on her right side.

She watched for a while, then filed out in the living room, the two cats excitedly in tow. There, fully unfurled, she stretched -- once, twice. But she had underestimated her span and so knocked off a vase at the far end of the room.

Yes, Ariathne thought gleefully, I must definitely go up on to the terrace now. I intend to excel at flying, so I must practice. What matter if I am loved or no? I can embrace lightning!

Copyright © 1998 Athena Andreadis

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