When I met Kate, the first thing she said to me was “You have some, uh, some blood here,” and with her finger she pointed on her own nose, but really meant mine.
* * *
Kate was the easiest. That day in the café, standing in line, and then earlier on the train, in the shower that morning, something didn’t feel right. Something with me, somewhere inside, was off. I had wrapped myself in an old towel but didn’t think to wring out my hair or dry off my back, my feet, so when I walked down the hallway to the living room I left little, foot-sized puddles, slipping a little on the hardwood. I sat on the couch and watched my reflection in the gray of the silent TV screen, and then I looked at the phone.
There was no reason not to call in sick, but I didn’t. I got up, slipped twice on my way back to the bedroom, and put on my pants, my sweater on backwards, and then twisted around the right way.
Kate noticed the blood before I even felt it. When she said it, I thought she was kidding.
But when I touched my hand to my nose, my upper lip, and brought it back down, the blood was there just like she promised.
It didn’t seem real. Me with the blood in my hand and on my face, and Kate on the other side of the counter, her brown eyes concerned, focused only on me. I kept waiting for this scene to change, to morph into something equally surreal, my mom driving a minivan filled with zebras, with me holding on to a rope attached to her rear bumper, deftly avoiding the potholes on my roller skates.
And I was never fearful or made woozy by blood. Not until the accident with Amber, at least. But let’s say it was hot in the café that day, and leave it at that.
I opened my eyes and her hand was near my cheek. Going toward or away from it, it mattered to me most only later on when I had remembered it. There was an older man crouched down by me, too, but what he was doing or saying I’m not sure. My head felt like it had cracked in half right there on the floor, right there in front of a café filled with people, the lines stretched back toward the only door that led in or out. It was still loud in there, though, like not too many people noticed me falling down, and then back, and then flat out on to the floor. Like most of them had too much to say, but watched anyway while they jabbered on about the hockey team, about the imminent war in Iraq.
I wanted to ask her if she jumped over the counter or came around the long way. But instead I said, “Woah.”
“Don’t move too fast, okay?” This from the older man. He had a neatly trimmed gray moustache, and his lips quivered as he talked. “Don’t move too fast or you might go back down again.”
Kate said, “This is for your nose,” and she produced two pink tissues that looked like they had spent a week balled in the corner of her jeans pocket. They look used, but they’re not.”
“Let me get some napkins instead,” the man said, and I heard him excuse himself, and then again but now with anger. He said, “Please, we have a woman down, please!”
But I believed Kate. I took her tissues and pressed them to my face. They smelled clean, hygienic. A little bit like fabric softener.
She moved away from me, scooting back on her knees, and said, “You need more air now, right?”
I said, “I don’t know. Do I look like I need more air?”
“You probably need to get out of here. Fresh air would help, but I’m afraid to move you. I think this guy might take my head off if I do.”
And I looked at her then, my eyes unfocusing for only a moment. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like this: “These smell like roses.”