The Met’s Sackler Wing smelled of spent pennies.
A century ago, she’d touched the Temple of Dendur. A century ago, she’d been mummified, the blood exhumed from her wilted arms. Visitors could see it there, her name scratched in scarlet on the right-hand pillar. They had to look close, but it said Sara without the H.
If she was being honest, which she only was on Mondays, she hadn’t been to the temple before, not one hundred years ago and maybe even not today. Because it was Monday, and because Mondays were for honesty, at the time her blood was being removed from her body, she’d really been staring at a pocked apartment ceiling in Astoria, pulling pill skin back to crush her high under the corner of a lighter. Nights like that were hard to pin down, less like staking butterflies to canvas and more like catching smoke in glass. It was easy when you lit the wood yourself. Not so easy if you poured the whiskey first.
The woman beside her gave the signal, a lifted hand, and she emptied her pockets, throwing script bottles into the reflecting pool. The overdosed, the gone. A thousand childproof Oxy tops bobbed like white-capped waves. They didn’t still.
Last time she’d been here and learned their names, she’d drowned.
She crouched, and her face slipped between reflected orange and down below the surface. It was the color she thought about often, the one she saw before she braked on that icy Westchester road four years ago, hard enough that the wheels caught too fast like quickened breath. A broken hip, two pills a day, prescribed and signed for and issued and she’d been a good girl, followed the regimen they’d given her and somehow, somehow, she’d found herself here, wanting to gouge the letters above the Wing’s door and drown them in the pool beside her.
Black banners unfurled, spelling shame for the funders, for the museum with its money soaked in pill dust and blood and she lay down for the die-in, skin touching cold gallery stone. She’d gone this cold once in someone’s garage, the floor’s spent grit scratching her skin. She shuddered as people in the museum watched them take their places.
Butterflies pinned to corkboard. Butterflies with paralyzed wings watched curiously.
She closed her eyes and counted the beats of her heart, the rising rate like the rising sea. I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive, she said to herself. Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, she said.
But even there, back pressed to the floor, her hair spread like Medusa and body still as stone, she couldn’t be sure she was there at all and that the floor would let her leave this time.
Salena Casha‘s work has appeared in over 50 publications in the last decade. Her most recent work can be found on Pithead Chapel, Scrawl Place, CLOVES, and trampset. She survives New England winters on good beer and black coffee. Follow her on twitter @salaylay_c
A Song for Salena