ii tab po c h20 qhs prn pain
rating: +130+x
Auction

"I must say, I've never had such a young client before, Mr. Fendrel."

"Still haven't. We've met before, Mardbury."

"No, it's quite clear in the records. I've never met you before, Mr. Fendrel. Perhaps I worked with a friend, or a relative with a different surname?"

"A few years ago, an imbecilic man who'd dumped all his money into one stock came to you for assistance. His name was Greene."

"Gregory Greene I remember. I take it you work, or have worked with him?"

"When he came to your office, he had his entire portfolio inside a single folder. Back then, you only had a walking stick. Greene stood here- right here- and timidly pushed the folder to you. Your exact words were: 'Jesus, look at you.' "

"What are you doing?"

"Mardbury, 'Arthur Fendrel' is just a nice little change that I use nowadays. Between you and me… I am Greene."

"I see what this is. You could not have picked a worse person to impersonate. None of us may be dying, but none of us are getting younger either. Greene was ten years my senior and- "

"-Had failing lungs, more tar than teeth and a reenactment of the Bolshevik Revolution occurring in his liver. I'm a picture of perfect health, and look here: I've even gotten my teeth whitened."

"Mr. Fendrel. I don't know how your sense of humor works but- "

"Let's talk somewhere else, you're perspiring. How about we discuss all sorts of lovely things at that coffee shop down the street? The one that sells those club sandwiches you liked so much. The one where you convinced me to invest in the pharmaceutical business. If I'm leading you along, then all you lose is time, a null concept now. But if I'm not… I'll make your New Year's resolution really something to remember."


Krešimira Kovačević cycled home one late Autumn evening, with the cloud-smothered sun beckoning her to sleep while the rocks and fissures spread over road kept her awake and steady. The bottle of pills in her backpack rattled the whole journey back home, but the bag of maggots bounced about silently.

The Croatian winter was deceptive and wretched. Krešimira felt warm in her sweater, but the wind nipped through the concierge uniform underneath. Home was a concrete, brick shaped structure with carved niches serving as windows and a single staircase to the top, so steep that it felt more like climbing a slide. Krešimira found her apartment. It was the one with the scent of perfume, rotting flesh and scrambled eggs spilling out from beneath the door.

The apartment had mosquito coils burning on every table and by every wall, and the lights were off. A saucepan sat on a low flame in the kitchen. Krešimira's father came out of the bedroom, eyes like those of a corpse, and smelling like a dug up grave.

"Where have you been, child?" he asked, "Have you been drinking?"

"No, father. It was a bad day at the hotel; I'm tired."

Krešimira moved to set her bag down and her father scrambled to the table, putting his hands to the wood and leaning himself over to leer.

"You're tired. Your mother sympathizes: she's spent the last few hours having flies scooped out of her. Where's the replacement?"

Krešimira fished out the antibiotics and medicinal maggots, then handed them over. Her father snatched them away and scampered into the bedroom again. He left stains of black bile over Krešimira's hand.

The refrigerator was mostly full of eggs. They were cheap and full of protein. Krešimira washed out the saucepan her father had left going on the stove and broke four eggs into it, followed by butter, milk and salt. She stirred the mixture till it was creamy yellow all around, and more still till it was chunky and gooey. Dinner.

"Krešimira!" her father roared, jumping out of the room, "What is this?"

"It looks like the receipt, father," Krešimira said, "they've been giving them out at stores for quite a while now."

"Did you look at the price? Did you even think? Why was this so expensive?"

"New pharmacy clerk. Father, I’ll try to negotiate a better price, but can I please eat?"

"Fine. Eat. Sleep. Drink. Whore. I'll be staying up, keeping this roof-"

"-Keeping what, father?" Krešimira turned in her chair, "Keeping mother comfortable? Her kidneys have failed and her heart doesn't pump blood. How comfortable do those extra pillows make her? How confident are you really when you flush our savings into the doctor who only has one thing to say when he looks upon that corpse?"

"Watch your tone, girl."

"He tells me to watch my tone. Mother's body is dead and you treat her as though she only has the flu. And if you could have waited just a little, I could have finished my education and gotten an actual, paying jo-"

Krešimira's father took ahold of her plate and hurled it at the wall behind her. He looked at her, his eyes spoke: yes, try even reaching for the refrigerator and see what gets broken next. He couldn't stop her from eating the egg already on her fork, and she chewed it slowly. She let her father turn off the stove and went to her room.

She changed out of her uniform and into sleeping clothes, setting her "Mira" nametag aside. With the blanket pinned between the wall and the back of her head, Krešimira went through her phone for any emails. She saw a lot of rejections, as usual, but there was something else. It was tucked between the rejection notices from the photography studio and the artist's school. It was some sort of paid modelling internship. I shouldn’t be getting these, she thought, I dropped out. But when she opened it, she saw that it wasn’t an invitation to apply. It was just an invitation.


"And when we first came here, the waitress sat us down in that booth over there- the one by the corner where those two bovine hags now sit."

"We did."

"If you still aren’t convinced, I do happen to remember what we ate as well."

"No, no no that's… how can this be? What have you done to yourself, Greene? Is this plastic surgery?"

"Now that's a market I would not recommend investing in. If anything, you at least have that bit of foresight to give your clients now."

"Then how…"

"Hold that thought: waiter incoming."

***

"Tenderloin? The maggots must be hungry today. Mardbury, I’ll get right to the point. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing before. I always thought you stock broker types were slimy weasels with champagne bottles up your bums and cocaine where most people have nostril hairs. But I’d be worse off than you are now if I hadn’t taken your advice. I owe you for this, all of this. I'm not just talking about the Italian sports we drove here in, I'm talking about all of this: from the fingers I'm holding this fork with to the working taste buds that I'm enjoying this food with. I owe you, and I’m gratefully here to cut you in on what I’ve been getting."

"You haven't told me what it is."

"It's real-estate, free, in your case. A new home for you, for the rest of however long you want to last. I'm talking about moving your brain into a body that isn’t so globular, and I say that kindly."

"Excuse me?"

"A little less excitement, please. We'll continue after the waiter wipes up all that water. Jesus, look at you."


Krešimira didn't tell her father she was leaving. As far as she was concerned, she was already on her way to the chopping block with the hotel for defending herself against Suite 12's occupant. It was good that she didn't tell her father, she thought, he'd have yelled at her for turning down the money.

She threw together a pack containing water, some boiled eggs and her passport. She also brought her concierge uniform with her, if only so her father would think she was at work until she didn’t return. Leaving the house was sickening: the mosquito coils had burned out and the stench coming from the bedroom made her gag until tears rolled down her cheeks. She couldn’t imagine how her father could sleep in there.

When she arrived at Dubrovnik International Airport, the egg in her pocket had been crushed into goo, the sun was setting and starching the sky into a musky orange, and Krešimira was peddling her bicycle just a little faster than most people were walking. She sold the bike to a tourist, threw the concierge uniform into a trash can, and bought some water. She was breathing like a choked fish, the muscles in her legs felt like broken branches scraping against her nerves, and she was rather sweaty. They’ll take a look at me and send me away, Krešimira thought, and then I’ll return home to father without a job and as a runaway. She pulled herself into one of the bathrooms. It was unoccupied. Krešimira pulled shampoo, conditioner and soap out of her backpack, let the water flow out of the tap, clogged the drain with one palm and waited till the water filled before dunking her head inside.

Deeper inside the terminal, Krešimira saw a tall man holding up a laminated sign bearing the logo of the internship program. Huddled all around him were the other interns. They all looked handsome and pretty, almost dressed up for the runway. Krešimira had changed out of the clothes she cycled over in, but she looked absolutely atrocious comparatively. She walked up to the tall man, and he tilted his head straight down to look at her; his eyes were hidden behind aviators.

"Your name is… Krešimira Kovačević, yes?" he asked, in poor Croatian.

"Yes."

The tall man set down the sign and pulled a notebook out of his suit. Krešimira couldn’t see what he was looking at, but she felt his lethargic gaze jump between her and whatever was written down. He made no markings in the book but let her stay on the condition that she 'tidy up' more before leaving.
She was not the only one given the same instructions. The restrooms closest to the group were all crowded with other interns. Some of them were a bit older than her, maybe graduate students, and others looked like they weren’t even out of high school yet. She stood next to one in front of the mirror, a truly impish girl that looked as though she was wrenched out of a fairy-tale. The girl saw Krešimira standing there with nothing but a comb.

“Forget your things?” she asked softly.

“Don’t have things.” Krešimira said.

The girl offered her own kit and stood by while Krešimira worked. The child’s name was Veselka. Her parents were the ones who received the invitation, and were all too happy to graduate her from kiddy pageants.

“What are we doing? We’re just flying over there, aren’t we?” Krešimira asked.

“We’re meeting the designers once we touch down. Some of the older models are saying that there’s a full wardrobe on board too, and that we’re doing our first photoshoot on the tarmac!” Veselka said, nervously.

“Older models. How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

Krešimira returned to her eyeliner. She couldn’t even remember where in life she was during her first, shambling year at the academy.


"This is my fourth one now. The first was exciting, but a mistake. The body was clean shaven in the photograph but, genetically, it sprouted hair like a plant seed on steroids. The second was fine, but also had a bad genetic history I didn't want to gamble with. The third was great, my favorite. It was the full package of excellent health, looks and genes. Even changed my name just to truly get that 'new life' experience. Bad car accident changed that, quite irreparably too, tragically. But it also opened my eyes to what I've been missing all this time. Now this is new. This is exhilarating."

"Where do you get the bodies? Clone vats? Petri dishes?"

"Oh don't play the humanitarian, Mardbury. They've got hospital wings full of people like you: decaying corpses that still feel on the inside. They pour maggots inside you to nibble away all the dead flesh. I hear you can actually feel the spoon dig into you as all the adult flies and pupae chunks are scraped up."

"Stop that. I'll lose my appetite."

"Your stomach ruptured years ago, Moby Dick- no offense. I'm offering you a restart. I'm offering you decades, almost an entire lifetime, to start over with. You can pick up a new hobby, you can start a new job, you can even surprise the wife - I'm willing to offer her the same deal if you both want to renew your wedding vows."

"We don't talk much anymore."

"Because your body is dead, Mardbury; this is exactly what I’m talking about! This is why what I’m offering you should have you bouncing out of your seat. I'm…I'm…"

"Is that blood? Are you all right?"

"Waiter. Waiter! Water please!"

***

"Did whatever that was also come with the body?"

"Everyone has the same deal. There is a pill regimen. A very strict one. I've never been in your shitty shoes so that you'll hardly consider it pain. Just remember to take them before bed, or in cases of discomfort."

"Exciting."

"Isn't it? Are you interested, or are you not?"

"Where do you get the bodies?"

"Fine. This is a corporate secret, but we use cloning vats. Get DNA samples from donors, tweak the genes, and grow a fresh body that’s programmed to create an empty brain instead of one that thinks, if you catch my meaning. Swap it out with yours and poof."

"That’s a relief. There's no problem then. How much?"

"A few million, although it varies. But not for you. First one's on the house, my treat. Here's the URL. Password, well mine, is 'Lazarus,' capital L, followed by the 'at' symbol and two sevens. Use my tablet but keep it angled away from the rest of the coffee shop. If the portrait is grayed out, then the body's unavailable; someone got to it first or a health issue was discovered. Golden frame is premium but that doesn't apply to you, on the house and all that. Click one and you'll get the full genetic and aesthetic read-out, not to mention a really nice gallery of photographs to feed the imagination."

"Handsome fellows. 7 feet tall? Auburn hair? No genetic history for disease? There's another catalog here. What's the password?"

"That's not really-"

"I want to look. What's the password?"

"I don't use that catalog but I can get signed up. You'll have it tonight, weirdo."

"Thank you. However, if I may: if you have the technology to genetically alter these bodies, then it would be more profitable to allow for customer customization, as opposed to just selling a variety of presets."

"We're working on that."


There really was a full wardrobe on the plane. Krešimira stepped onto American soil accessorized and runway-ready. They took her photo and sorted her, and the other interns, into groups. Krešimira watched Veselka get sorted into the group opposite and they got into buses headed for different boutiques.

Krešimira and her group arrived at the fashion studio, Fendrel and Dain’s, in West Virginia.

It was certainly fancy. Fendrel and Dain's had a runway, an operational staff of designers, seamstresses, photography studios, prop departments, lighting personnel, and, obviously, translators who skittered about like mice. The tall man put them all into different duties. Krešimira was assigned to a team of designers and photographers. They posed all day and cycled through every facial expression there was. Runway walks were treated almost like fitness exams and there was even a small platoon of nurses and medics on hand to treat and (randomly) inspect them. At night, they were all checked into a nearby hotel and given a very cheerful allowance.

For the next few weeks, Krešimira felt as though she was doing an abnormal amount of work for a model, and no work at all as an intern. Day in and day out, she was doing photo shoots, fittings and walks. And with a peculiar frequency, she was also routinely inspected by physicians who checked out everything from her eyesight to her blood. The days often ended with her exhausted and eager to sleep.

On the other hand, she was also learning near nothing. There were no senior models to offer tips or education on the subject, and the whole thing began to stink the more Fendrel and Dain's sweetened the pot. All the interns were given hotel rooms and cell-phones, with staff already listed in as contacts. The little allowance that they all got was too generous to be an actual wage. They felt like bribes.

"There's something wrong here, Bojan," Krešimira said.

"Oh no. Mira don't tell me you also think this is a scam. All the time at school it was 'I, Krešimira, will be on the cover of this magazine and that magazine' but now it's fishy?"

Bojan Novak was spread out lengthwise over the lobby’s sofa. He was a handsome person now, but he wasn't always. Back when she still attended classes, he slouched, had glasses, brown eyes and a smile that would make the yellow sun envious. Now he looked ready to put the digital touch-up industry out of business: even his teeth seemed bleached whiter than snow.

"Think about it. We have one figure of authority, the tall American. The designers make variations of the same dress and suit over and over again. And if they don't do that, then they're using material from others. Look here, this is from that show, Project Runway, from years ago."

"Mhm."

"Mhm? It's the same gown I wore today, Bojan. You were in a photo-shoot with it today."

"Mira," Bojan threw his hands up, "this is a shit brand that can't pull a decent design out of its ass to save its life. But it's real. Look here-give me your phone."

"Use your own."

"It's not even yours, silly. Fine. See here; 'Fendrel & Dain's unveils an ugly tapestry of rigid and unoriginal designs at Fashion Week here in New York' blah blah blah 'Fendrel & Dain's accused of plagiarizing Hugo Boss' line of suits. Cease and desist enforced.' Blah blah blah. Fendrel & Dain's is a dumpster. But it's desperate for talent and we're desperate for a way into the industry. This is how us desperate but beautiful people help each other, you see? We don't get ahead by seeing a helping hand and questioning if it's real."

Krešimira wanted that to be true. The lobby they were sitting in had red carpets and golden trims. It was a palace and they looked like they belonged, wrapped up in designer (albeit ripoff) threads and all made up. By the grand staircase, the hotel staff was even beginning to put up a Christmas tree that nearly reached the crystal chandeliers. If it was all a scam, then she was going back to Croatia, to her father. If not…

Krešimira dug her phone, her old one, out of her purse. She checked her bank account. Her wages were there, they were real. They didn't retreat into the electronic ether when she made purchases or sent lump sums back home. It was real money. She closed out of her banking app and saw her recent calls log. The number of calls from home had reached the hundreds. She didn't even open the texts to read what was inside; her father would likely have thrown in some pictures of mother to punish her, show her how bad things had gotten. He should be using the money he was sending her. He should be. Bojan offered to take her drinking with some of the other interns, to get the true American experience. He may not have looked like the bespectacled runway hopeful from college anymore, but his actual self, or at least the amount of respect he had for his liver, had persevered.


"It's me."

"Mardbury? Do you know what time it is?"

"Tell me about the procedure."

"Tomorrow morning. Over coffee."

"No. Is it surgical? Is it safe? What happens to my old body? Are you absolutely sure that the clones don’t have brains?”

"Yes to the first two. What happens to your old body is up to you. You could turn it into a tree if you fucking want. Or you could bury it- meh no one falls for that anymore. As for the clone brains… what, you think we have a big garbage can labelled 'put brains here' or something? You think we wrap up all our spare brains in spare Walmart bags and watch the garbage truck load them up for the landfill? Good night."

"I've made a decision."

"Wonderful. Over coffee."

"I texted you the photo. What do you think?"

"Oh for fucks sake, Mardbury."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing it's just… well. I mean… you have a good eye for aesthetics. Can I ask why?"

"Sure! It's like you said, this might very well be my only one. I've seen the prices. So why have more of the same? Why simply do a reset when you can switch to an entirely new system? Think of the entire new slate of experiences, opportunities… pleasures that would come with this."

"Don't get too giddy on me, schoolgirl."

"I'm sorry it's just… the more I think about this, the more excited I am. You're absolutely sure this is safe, right?"

"Mardbury! I don't think your neighbors heard you clearly enough, please speak louder. Scratch coffee. Tomorrow, come to my place. We'll finalize everything there, and I'll even bring the operating doctor."

"I'm sorry. It's just overwhelming. Thank you, again and truly, for this."

"Good night."


Krešimira left the bar for some fresh air. She was standing with her winter coat wrapped around her, watching the wisps of vapor that danced out of her lips get torn apart by the shoulders of street-goers passing her by. To her left, a beardless Santa rung his bell in front of a cast-iron pot. For all their talk, Krešimira understood none of it. She kept her head down and her hair messy by habit, something she picked up from her childhood in Zagreb.

Then she heard it. There was a screech, human or tire she didn't know, that pulled every face towards the road. A dozen brake pedals were slammed in unison and the smell of burnt rubber burrowed into Krešimira's nose. There was the sound of metal bending, shattering and cracking, and the laborious groan of heavy material falling to the ground. Over the line of paused pedestrians, Krešimira saw glass and a car bumper fly through the air. Then it was all quiet, and the crowd began switching their phones away from the cameras and to the 911 dial.

Bojan and the others came out of the bar, tipsy from drink and curious to see. They pushed themselves through the crowd, Krešimira following in their wake. It was a car accident.

A truck, one of those mammoth 18-wheelers, had skidded into an intersection. A few SUVs and sedans had plowed into its side, but the damage wasn't too bad. She could see some of the drivers wandering out of their cars, massaging their necks and already dialing their insurance companies. But there was one car, a sports car- Italian by the looks of it. It was low enough to the ground that when it sped up into the truck, its bottom half had slid right underneath the truck while the hood was sheared off. Krešimira saw most of the car sitting idle on the other side of the truck, and she saw the driver. Some of the onlookers began to notice too and Krešimira felt dizzy as the screams began. The body was wearing a suit, but its tie had fallen down to the waist. There was nothing from the neck up and the suit was glistening red.

Behind the truck, by the scrunched-up roof of the sports car, there was a head on the pavement with bits of metal embedded in its forehead. Its mouth opened and closed, a fish ripped from the water, and its eyes darted around frantically. She saw the pupils lock on her group, on Bojan, and she quickly pulled him away.

Bojan escorted the still shaking Krešimira back to the hotel. Bojan back to his room was swaying from too much "authentic American alcohol" the whole trip back. He only had four Bud Lites.

Krešimira lay on her bed alone. She could hear the sirens outside, and she brought her hand to her neck. She lay awake thinking of breaths without lungs, and a maggot-filled corpse calling out her name. She grabbed her phone and quickly transferred the week's salary back home before thrusting her face into the pillow. Sleep dragged its feet.


"Creepy lady."

"Don't let her fool you; Dr. Dain is the best we have. Now, before you lock anything in, do you have any more questions?"

"What about paperwork? I obviously won't use the same passport."

"We can set you up with a brand new name and identity, just as I did. As far as the world is concerned, Greene and Bo-many of our other customers just disappeared off the face of the world while names like Fendrel just appeared out of the mystic mist."

"You've thought of everything. I don't know… what about the pills?"

"Tablets. Dissolve two of them in water, chug it all down before bed, or if you start feeling sharp neck pain."

"What happens if I forget one day?"

"Sharp. Neck. Pain. I mean it, this isn't a prescription you want to mess up. Those tablets keep your brain and the body's spinal cord talking with one another until they get married, anatomically. You really don't want that conversation to stop."

"Okay, okay. I don't know… what should I do after it's all done?"

"Live of course! Experiment, have fun, look in a mirror, don't look in a mirror, try on new clothes, go to bed, do drugs, enroll in college or whatever else you want. Heck, we'd look well together; I could guide you around the whole thing and get you used to it all. I’d be like the car salesman who buckles up next to you during the test drive."

"But this is permanent."

"Bad example. You get the idea. It'd be downright monstrous of me to just leave you adrift in this brave new world after getting you that far, wouldn't it?"


Krešimira pushed the refrigerator in front of her hotel door and scattered cereal flakes over the floor. It was the middle of the night. It was her new routine. Bojan was gone.

It began with the first actual show. Krešimira had actually felt proud of herself after that one; they’d brought in a bunch of viewers to watch and she figured it to be her first, genuine interning experience. It was all scheduled for Christmas Day and the entire outfit rack felt original, for once.

Then the guests came backstage. They looked the models up and down, directing their questions to the tall man who leaped from model to model like a cars salesman. She didn’t know what the viewers had to say about her, or what the tall man said about her, but she did notice the tall man deflecting inquiries away from Bojan, as though he was unappealing… or off limits.

The next day, Bojan was accepted into another fashion house in New York City. But that couldn’t be, Krešimira thought, Bojan hadn't even walked the runway because of a wardrobe malfunction; what talent could he possibly have shown off?

Bojan wasn’t the only one. There were near a dozen transfers out, and near fifty transfers in. The new group came from the Phillipines. Nobody spoke English, as expected. The tall man said that, since they did so well the first time, they were going to have another showing next week.

Krešimira stared at the hotel door, still wearing the dress she had on for the show; she was first on the runway but the tall man had kept the viewers away from her like she was a museum painting. The rancid apartment in Croatia seemed so welcoming now, and no amount of fury her father could muster could compare to every footstep outside the door.

Krešimira turned her head out the window and saw an airplane pass through the clouds.

She could run again.

This wasn’t Croatia: she could easily get a cab to the nearest airport. She pulled out her phone, her old phone, and switched off the hotel’s internet to use cell data. She pulled up the airport website and tried to buy a ticket. She was met with an error message. It was becoming clearer. Fendrel and Dain’s had no qualms about letting its victims buy beer or send money to the family, but it certainly wouldn’t permit buying an escape. Fenderal and Dain’s couldn’t do anything about cash though, and there was an ATM in the lobby, just a few meters away from a taxi drop-off point.

It was one in the morning. Fendrel and Dain's had provided her entire wardrobe, and she bitterly regretted not buying something, even a simple sweater, to not draw attention to herself. She'd be making her getaway in runway clothes. She'd buy something less outlandish at the airport. She slid the refrigerator aside and left her room.

She walked past the rooms of the other interns. She heard some of them partying, cheering in Croatian and Filipino. She heard a few talking with relatives, gushing about their futures in the fashion industry. She made it to the elevator and found it empty. She pressed the button to the lobby and the doors closed. She was 18 stories away.

Krešimira Kovačević stood in the elevator, the backs of her feet itched against the shoe-straps and the elevator hummed as the cord sent it sliding down the building.

The elevator stopped at the 16th floor and the tall man walked in, still wearing his aviators. He said nothing and the elevator continued.

The elevator seemed to lose speed.

"Your name is… Krešimira Kovačević, yes?" the tall man asked,

"Y-yes.” Krešimira said.

"Are you unwell? You have rings under your eyes."

"Just stress."

"We’ll have a doctor look at you tomorrow."

They reached the 10th floor and a group drunk interns got in. The elevator continued, sped up even, all the way down to the lobby. The workers were pulling the grand Christmas tree down.

As the other interns got off, Krešimira pried herself off the wall farthest from the tall man and moved to the door, just as he did. And then she felt the grip on her shoulder. Her ankles burned as the cold hand rooted her to the floor. The door closed shut before sense, and voice, returned to her.

The tall man said nothing and pressed the button for one of the parking levels.

The elevator moved too fast.


"Are you excited?"

"This doesn’t look like a hospital."

"This isn’t a medical service, Mardbury. Technically, it’s not even a service yet. Right now, it’s beta testing."

"So there could be glitches?"

"No. We’re simply testing how appealing the whole process is. So I ask again, Mardbury, are you excited?"

"I am. God, this is surreal. What’ll happen to my old body?"

"It’ll decompose."

"I want it turned into a tree."

"Understandable. Never hurts to go green."

"Do you want to do something after this is all done?"

"Sure. You know what they say: new year, new you. Dr. Dain, could you please put our good friend to sleep while I get his new suit?"


Krešimira woke up in her hotel room, sweating. She looked down at herself: covered in sweat. She looked at the clock: 1:01 in the morning. The fireworks were still going off outside and the lamp was still on, illuminating the American passport on the table and the shed clothes on the floor. She looked to her side and saw that Bojan Arthur was still asleep.

Quietly, she swung herself out of bed and made her way into the bathroom. The sudden change in light made her eyelids clamp shut for a moment, but she adjusted to it. She leaned into the mirror and brought a hand to her face, gently tracing tracing a finger upwards, moving from her lips to her cheekbones before coming to rest at the bags beneath her eyes. They’d go away with good sleep, the doctor told her, and here she was not getting it. She gripped the side of the mirror and pulled the cabinet open, pushing her reflection aside to reveal two orange bottles. She took the fuller one on the left and deposited two tablets into her hand. They were pink, chalky disks, each about the size of a quarter. She flicked them into a cup of tap water and watched them fizz away into bubbles, before pouring the whole thing down her throat. It tasted like juiced peaches.

She put the bottle away and brought back the mirror. This time she leaned close, so that her nose was only a few inches away, and brushed some hair away from her forehead. The incision scar was healing nicely. Bojan's voice called from the bed, and the thing wearing Krešimira curved her lips into a smile and walked out of the mirror's sight.


Like it always did, and always will do, a lonely garbage truck lumbered down the roads as the morning sun rose. Workers with neon vests hung from the back, talking about the game from last night, occasionally shooting waves at the early risers. The truck drove past hundreds of homes and gobbled up hundreds of garbage bags and boxes. It made its way deep into West Virginia and scooped up a bulging plastic bag stinking of rotten flesh. Through the white plastic, one could see what looked like fleshy pink blobs all crammed inside together. But the worker didn't care, butcher shops were on the route too, and there was a stellar touchdown to talk about. The truck resumed its winded journey to the landfill, and Krešimira Kovačević could only dream.

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