It started in her right foot, both a tingle and a deadness of feeling that she only felt when the hem of her pantleg brushed skin. She ran the bottom of her left foot over her right. It was still there. Her foot. The feeling. She flexed her toes. They moved. She told herself it was all in her mind.
Soon, the sensation spread to both feet. Not quite the sparkly discomfort of a limb that has fallen asleep, nor the burn of diabetic neuropathy (or so she assumed after searching Google in the dim light of morning.) So she began to wear shoes all the time, tightening the laces so the tops of her feet rippled with lines of pink restriction, her skin bubbled with tender blisters. The intentional pain drowned out the hypersensitivity that lay just below her skin like an itch that can’t be relieved even when you are certain you are scratching in the right spot.
When the bottoms of her feet went numb, she told herself to lose weight. certainly it was possible this all had to do with some kind of physics. Gravity-induced compression. After all, her entire body was falling. Her underarms shook, her breasts lay over her rib age, nipples toward the floor like descending rockets, her thighs obscuring her once bony knees. Her shins went next. She tapped them with her fingertips. She dug her fingernails into the skin. She could no longer tell what she felt. She wondered if it was possible to have phantom-limb syndrome without losing a limb. (She looked this up online, but the results made her feel like a voyeur.)
And so the feeling, or rather lack of feeling, spread, until she walked as though on stilts. With each step, she swung her legs forward from her hips, praying her feet would land where they ought to so she would not fall, because she could not sense the muscle and bone below. Getting to work was out of the question. Grocery shopping too. Pizza delivery had grown monotonous. And the Chinese had made her ill. But she wasn’t starving. There was still a half loaf of bread and two cans of tuna in the cupboard. She was sure to be better soon.
Sometimes she drew a bath, water hot as ice. She sat in the tub, watching her legs through the shimmer of water and oil and bubbles, her thighs wide in optical illusion, her knees red as beets. The last time she bothered to bathe, she slid deep into the water, resting the base of her skull on the cold, hard rim of the tub, and reached her hand between her legs, her palm over the bristly mound, but found her fingers to be uncooperative and senseless like the handles of two wooden spoons. It was a dangerous struggle to safely exit the tub because her wrists had already become numb.
There was nothing for it; things could no longer go on as they had. The was no sense in searching the computer with a list of symptoms. She couldn’t type, and Siri only suggested melatonin or warm milk. She called a cab to pick her up at her door, thinking to get her body, each limb now a senseless member, to the urgent care clinic. Perhaps the paralysis could be staunched. She pictured tourniquets around each limb, her arms and legs but lambs’ tails bound to fall off.
Once she could no longer feel her arms below the elbows, dressing had became impossible. She shrugged into a wide-sleeved robe by knocking it onto the floor and lowering herself on top of it, rolling her torso side to side, aiming digits into the folds like an octopus might. She then took to her bed with a fantasy of piling everything she owned on top of her body, moving each object with her mind, a Jenga-type game, until the weight of her belongings pushed her into the mattress and she was engulfed by fabric, and foam, and fluff. She thought of Han Solo. She thought of garbage dump ships that were floated out to sea. She thought of the one man who had slept with her on this bed, and wondered if flakes of his skin lay beneath her now as she had lain beneath him.
As she waited for the cab, she wondered if this was what it was like to die. Maybe death crept up on a person, like cat’s paw fog, like the dark after daylight savings time. Maybe by the time you realized death was upon you, there was nothing to be done, there was no preventitive to be found in the pages of health magazines or on WebMd. But she was neither dead, nor paralyzed. She was muted.
A yellow van pulled up along the curb in front of her house. Standing was even more precarious since she’d stopped being able to feel her shoulders. She peered through the mullioned window of her front door and read the words: Metro Transport. Too late, she realized she could not wrap her fingers around the doorknob to let herself out onto the front stoop. The driver honked. She swung her hips and rib cage back to front, smacking her hand against the wondow in the vain hope the driver wasnt wearing earphones or talking into his Bluetooth. He drove away.
The choice was simple now. Call 911. She aimed an elbow to the talk button on her phone. She picked out the numbers with her nose, like a hen taught to play chopsticks on a toddler’s piano. But when the dispatcher answered, she found she could not move her tongue to speak the words to save herself.