The blood pooled and thickened into the center of her palm like miniature clots, streaking from line to line. Adelaide lapped up the liquid, tasting hints of strawberry jam.
She lolled about under the cloudy sky in the grassy square of The Fly. She used to come here every weekend with him. He would lay out his dusty blue blanket and fill her up with wine they had stolen from expensive restaurant cellars. To the sweet life, he would toast. Then he'd raise his glass and she'd flinch, just as she did now, remembering. He wouldn't notice--he never noticed--and she'd close her eyes and drink up and listen to the slow rolling waves of the Mississippi.
She sat up and looked around. The trees did not shiver, the sun did not burn, and the birds did not peep. The park was deserted. Her ribs ached when she inhaled and her hand was still red.
Adelaide watched a line of ants march along her blood trail like sniffer dogs. She blinked and saw a swarm of verdant nurse uniforms surrounding her white-sheeted legs,
fussing over her, speaking in soft voices.
One particularly eager ant marched ahead of the others, drunk off her honeysweet plasma, craving more. They always wanted more. She blinked again. Blind now, she heard only the shuffling of white sneakers against a linoleum floor and restrained giggling. The faceless women held a white dress from a hanger. It swayed in front of her eyes, fruit patterns splattered generously across the cotton-like material.
She stopped hearing the waves collapse and stopped blinking and the sheets floated away and the dress fit her snugly. She twisted her head around, aborted from the cocoon of nurses and saw no one. She was alone in an open and empty field.
She watched the blood leak from her hand. More dripped from her swollen lip and she felt her left eye pulse hot and close shut at the smallest whisper of wind. The blood rolled in drops off her palm as she looked and heard the whirring of a hundred Cuckoo Bees. A tingling sensation drew up from the tip of her tongue and smeared itself across her jaw and throat. A scream escaped and she turned and ran.
Adelaide ran from the river towards the street. Here the sun was bright and the throngs of people moved in unison, jovial and oblivious to what chased her. She looked behind her to find that wasps and flying beetles had joined the frenzy.
From the streetcars, the men yelled out to her. Hey beautiful, they said. Where are you going, sweetheart, they asked. Rosalie! they shouted. Sophia! Mallory! Beth! Aimee!
They called her different names, but never her own. Nobody noticed. Nobody noticed her frightened face. Nobody noticed her screams. Nobody noticed the welts that had begun to form on her arms and back where the cotton straps couldn't cover. The men looked her up and down, their minds scurrying. And to her face: come back to me, baby, come back! "Adelaide!" a womanly voice called from a little yellow car.
The men looked respectable again, handsome even, as the streetcars slipped away on the tracks. The woman in the little car nearly hit the curb and swung open the passenger door. Adelaide got in, but never inspected the woman for familiarity.
"We've all been so worried," the woman said, "are you okay?"
The woman's voice was hushed. Soft minty conditioned air pushed through the half-opened ducts, cooling Adelaide's fevered skin. They didn't speak during the slow ride. People were never in a rush here.
The woman pulled over in front of a house Adelaide vaguely recognized as her own. Peering through the car window, she held her breath, feeling the walls wrap her tightly in silk spit. The space between the car and front door seemed endless. Dogs on leashes pulled ahead of their owners and bared their teeth at her. Roaming men spilled their alcoholic to-go cups into lush front lawns, smiling, attempting to appear boyish and charming, failing.
Adelaide heard a low purr and ran from the car to her front door without a thank you or a goodbye. The woman opened her mouth to say something, and perhaps she had, but Adelaide was gone.
Inside she breathed heavily against her throbbing ribs and slumped her body against the door, drowning out the hums and vibrations. Faint light streaked across the empty living room. An orange rolled out from the kitchen. Adelaide handled its cold, bumpy surface and dragged it against her cheek, smelling its saccharine aroma. She lifted it to the light, where it crinkled itself and revealed yellow and mossy green spotting. It ate away at itself, first through the patchy rind and finally its pulped body.
It slipped from her hand and landed with a thud.
She passed into the kitchen to find a mountainous pile of bruised plums, flustricken red apples, and cancerous mangoes. She climbed atop the pile and lay there, limbs outstretched and supported, watching a cloud of fruit flies try and push their bodies through a microscopic opening in the doorway. One by one their wings detached and their abdomens burst.
She cried and her tears fell and molded into uniform one-tablespoon packets of sugar. The crystals cut the whites of her eyes and the gelatin red obscured her vision. The oranges, strawberries, and bananas that lined the print of her dress fell outward, escaping the cotton and rolling down the knoll.
He came in without a sound and caught an orange with his black-bristled leg. "Where have you been, my sweet girl?" he asked. He had no mouth. He tasted the fruit, head cocked back to the ceiling. His netted eyes blinked. He fluttered his mottled brown wings, raising himself over Adelaide. He hovered there for a moment, savoring her rotten delicacies before he kissed her bruised body and devoured her decaying flesh.
JJ Womack currently resides in Prince George's County, Maryland, but wrote this story while living in New Orleans.