from A GREAT PLACE FOR A SEIZURE
Mischa concentrated on taking notes, unwilling to look up at Professor Brinkley for fear. As she was writing, the lines of the paper seemed to melt together. The perfume worn by the girl seated next to her stung her nose. Mischa couldn't take her mind off the smell. Is it a citrus fruit Grapefruit, apricot, maybe lemon? Yes, lemon with a soft wisp mint. The smell turned into a state that was tangy, with a murmur of sweetness, and she could touch it and feel pinpricks that tingled. The tastes turned to music. She heard chimes, each one distinct, swaying in random directions that combined into a cacophony of delicate sounds, and then water; she felt waves of water surrounding her.
The state of fascination with the smells, taste, and sounds faded and transformed into a creeping fear. Her conscious mind returned for a split second and she was filled with dread knowing what was about to happen – loss of control. She felt herself being pulled into a whirlpool and she screamed.
Though it seemed only a few seconds later, she was in third stage of a headache, so she knew it had been a few hours. The girl with the perfume was next to her when Mischa awoke in the emergency room at Addenbrooke's Hospital.
"How are you?"
Mischa was embarrassed that she didn't remember her classmate's name, but she could blame it on the seizure. Now was not the time to place a new fact inside her head. She would ask her tomorrow.
"I'm guessing that I had a seizure."
"It's not your fault. Don't say sorry. Why do British apologize for everything?" They do it all the time. Sorry for bumping into you; sorry you've run out of mild; sorry, but I was ahead of you in the cue; sorry that you had a seizure. Sorry means nothing in this country. She is nice enough to accompany me to the emergency room and I'm fuming about British speech habits. I should shut the hell up and stop being such a bitch.
"Actually, I should say sorry. I didn't mean to be so curt. Really, thanks so much for coming along with me." Mischa closed her eyes and counted the weeks in her head. It had been almost ten weeks since her last seizure. After two months without one, Mischa was able to forget her epilepsy. She took her medicine every day, but it was a vacant habit, not a reminder. When she had seizures within less than two weeks of each other, she felt the constant dread of an animal sensing a predator ready to pounce. During these times, the slightest sign of nausea was a signal to begin sleeping on the floor surround by several pillows. Often she woke up alone in her room, with the type of headache that signaled a seizure had passed. Mischa was pleased that she had been able to avoid a public ruckus and the drama of an ambulance.
During that time every table corner was a knife, the floor was a sledge-hammer, and each step was a cliff. She would stop herself before she poured a drink into a glass and put it back to take out a plastic cup. She took elevators. She didn't stand much, but looked for chairs or sat on the floor. If she was walking on concrete, she looked for a path over grass. She would not wear metal clips in her hair, but plastic bands. When she cooked she used the back burner. She still had a scar on her arm from the one seizure, when she dropped a pot of boiling water and fell. If it had been on the back burner, she thought it would have been harder to knock off the stove. She knew the measure were likely to be ineffective, but they gave her a feeling of control and to that end served their purposed. Her greatest fear was a fractured skull from a fall, or a hard blow that would result in something worse than seizures. She would eventually force these thoughts out of her mind by forgetting or by coming to peace with the fact that if something did happen, it would be fate.
She mourned the seizures' return. They had started coming at night, so she could still function during the day and they didn't create such a stir. But she had one or two in the afternoon, when she was alone in the kitchen. She gave herself a few days to grieve and then move on. She had no idea whey they had returned; her medication in Cambridge had been the same as in Guatemala. Her neurologist in Cambridge was barely more than a resident, a "junior doctor" as they called them in Britain. he felt her derision and saw her as a patient without the sense to have her records at hand. The two o them had an unspoken agreement that she would keep their appointments to a few minutes. he would prescribe the pills, and she would say "thank you" and take the paper.
As she lay in the emergency room, she realized it was the girl with the perfume who was talking to her. She could still smell the tang of citrus, only she didn't see it or hear it, so she knew there was no aura.
"They say Addenbrooke's is the larges medical campus in Europe. That explains so many junior doctors in the emergency room. But don't get nervous, Mischa, this is Cambridge. They're probably the best, top of the class, A-levels, and all. Look at that doctor over there, the one with the red hair. He must be six foot or more. He's looking over right now. Pretend we're talking about something else.
Mischa didn't have to pretend to have heard the last fifteen minute of the conversation. It was a perfect segue to another topic.
"So…how did Professor Brinkley…um…react?"
"He was absolutely speechless. There was quite a bit of mayhem. The ambulance came and the medics could not get you down the steps. Fair enough. They didn't have accessibility building regulations in the sixteenth century. So, the department secretary, Mrs. Haririr, went through the classrooms and found two big rugby players. One of them took you down on his shoulder. He was fit, to say the least. he and his mate came over here after their class to see how you were. He's on the university ruby teams. His name is…I forget. It'll come to me."
"I thought Professor Brinkley was made of sterner stuff."
"He's at St. John's. That's it. He's a prop forward."
"Did you see the seizure – anything?"
"You screamed something, and then you fell. I tried to keep you from falling, but your head hit the chair, which explains your eye. I'm so sorry. You went a little blue, and then you went absolutely limp. The rugby player came in and carried you in his arms. He had absolutely vivid green eyes and blond curls. It could have been a seen from a movie."
"Thanks, but I'm not interested. I'm running after someone in my own college, actually, a housemate. I need to sleep. See if you can convince them to let me go. I don't want to stay overnight."
A few hours later, her classmate took Mischa home in a cab. When they came down to the kitchen, they found Hector trying to open a bottle of spaghetti sauce. The girl leaned over to Mischa and whispered, "Is that the one?"
Mischa nodded and took a seat on the sofa in the kitchen.
"Are you sure? give me a day, I promise you I can find out the name of the gorgeous rugby player."
"No that's the one," Mischa replied definitively. The girl left her side and introduced herself to Hector. Mischa was confused; there was no need for her to talk with him. What is she doing? Mischa wondered.
The girl with the perfume told him that Mischa had to be accompanied that night, in the event she had another seizure. Those were the doctor's instructions. She asked Hector if he would take over, since she had a previous engagement.
Mischa sat slumped and silent on the kitchen sofa. She felt the tenderness of her eye and her arms when she touched them. Her fingertips went over her mouth and she felt the edge of an inflamed lip-cut. She could smell the girl's perfume on her fingertips. It was a faded scent, not citrus, but still fruity and subtle, like the pale jade middle of a honeydew melon. She liked the smell now and breathed it in from her fingertips again. Mischa saw the drops of dried blood on her khakis. The headache weighed her down and she could feel her head leaning against the sofa, but she watched in admiration at her classmates artful maneuvering. I must be in a Jane Austen nightmare. It was the modern-day equivalent of an eighteenth-century matron persuading a gentleman to ask a young lady to dance a quadrille. Only this was a kitchen, not an elegant ballroom, the gentleman had spaghetti sauce stains on his shirt, and the genteel lady was somewhat catatonic, in post-seizure recovery mode. Despite the differences, Mischa thought, even Miss Austen would have to admit that there were similar plot lines. Not wanting her presence to force an answer from the British-Cuban Mr. Darcy, Mischa stagger out of the kitchen door to her room.
Once there, she looked through her CDs and stared at the stereo, trying to remember how it worked. When the music began, she walked towards her bed and heard a knock. She opened the door and Hector hugged her tightly, without a word. When Mischa pulled away, she game him a kiss on the cheek.
"No worries, I'll just pop up to get my laptop and stay here for the night and work."
When he left she went to see herself in the mirror. She looked as if she had been in a street fight and lost. She turned to her bed to curl up in the blankets. Hector knocked lightly and let himself in. He sat on the floor and began his graceful tapping at the keyboard. Mischa was comforted by the soft light from his screen which reflected off the walls in the dark room. She fell asleep while Billie Holiday wept a song.