She woke up surrounded by blinded darkness in a room she was not quite familiar with. The street light forced its way through a slit in the vertical blinds, pushing against the navy-blue curtains. It managed one small stripe of dull, dirty, white light on the red goose down comforter.
Her eyes blinked to adjust, opening and closing, straining to see into the darkness. Her heart raced, pounding against her chest drowning out the clicking consistency of the clock on the wall. It ticked away the early hour with painful movements, draining the old battery. She could not see its face, nor trust its time all the same. Her heart struggled to regain control, to beat in time.
The rhythm of her heart timed with the clock and took over her breathing as droplets of sweat sank into her pillow. She closed her eyes abandoning any hope of seeing beyond the slash of light positioned across her heaving chest. She closed her eyes not to return to her dream, but to a time, a place, where life was beautiful.
The room was filled with balloons: big balloons, small balloons; balloons of all colors. The bed was surrounded with balloons. They all danced together in the gentle breeze of the ceiling fan, squeaking together as rubber met rubber. They moved with a carefree ease. They mocked the dance she could not dance.
The dance continued, and then without warning the pace quickened. Frenzied, the balloons bounced violently from ceiling to wall to floor. Some deflated with oversensitive disappointment. Others enlarged with inflated anger.
The balloons began to hover at the ceiling, defying the downward force of the fan, spinning faster now. Spinning, spinning, spinning. One by one, largely inflated, the balloons exploded. Pain with each rupture and no control. Each one, heavier than the previous, hovering in the thickening air, landing with the blow of a solid fist. Suddenly every balloon burst with a simultaneous explosion. Every balloon popped as the sound of shots fired.
She shot straight up in bed, stiff as a statue, soaked in cold sweat, in a surreal calm, afraid. She could now make out the time. Fifteen minutes until the alarm sounded. Fifteen more minutes of sleep she was glad not to have.
Exhaling with enough force to push out any possible remaining balloons, she stood up and stretched to reach the clouds, stretched to awaken her senses, stretched to forget that she remembered. She stretched her arms until they grew long and limp. She stretched her legs until they felt real. She stretched and breathed in the dust, and coughed.
She made her way into the shower to wash off last night, to wash off yesterday, to wash off life. She leaned back into the warm water, pressing her soaked hair flat against her head letting the water run down her face, across closed eyes, around pressed lips. The warm, steaming, soothing water dripped, streamed down her gaunt body, over hills of ribs, through the valley of abs, over mountains of hips, slowed in a forest, and picked up speed down sapling legs, then disappeared into the mouth of a drain.
Feeling the warm comfort of the water, she opened her eyes and let a smile creep onto her face. Muscles softened, shoulders dropped, back hunched, but in her single moment of relaxation the pain returned shooting an excruciating reminder from her center. Unbalanced, her right hand instinctively reached to grab the pain as her left searched out the wall. The room spun. The water froze. The water boiled. The room melted. She fell to the floor. In another moment the pain retreated. She stood. She was out of hot water.