The fever addled her thinking and she knew it, but knowing didn’t stop or even slow what was happening in her brain. The chills and sweats brought with them a growing mental wilderness, a jungle curling and expanding in her mind. She saw the vines and leaves as they budded and formed. Beautiful, green, sinewy confusion. She thrashed, sheets tangling around her, wondered if she should be taking more cold medicine or less, and started to cry.
“What's wrong?” her wife asked.
“The pillow is breathing,” she said.
“Here. I'll get you a new one. Is this one breathing?”
“Good.” But ten minutes later, that one started breathing, too, and she started to cry again, frightened, sweaty, and exhausted.
Three hours later, she'd locked herself in the bathroom, and her wife was pounding on the door, telling her to let her in.
“I'm fine,” she said. “Don't come in. I'm fine. Don't come in.” She was trying to dress herself in the towels, but every time she got a new one wrapped around a limb, another fell off. She got into the empty bathtub and laid down, pressing herself against the sides, letting her own weight leaning against the porcelain walls help hold the towels against her body. There was supposed to be water in a tub, she realized, that was what was wrong, but maybe she was the water. She closed her eyes and sloshed.
An elevation of body temperature above the normal circadian range resulted from an imbalance between the elimination and the production of heat. Her bones, when she’d had them, had been riddled with tiny pores, lamellae, canaliculi, and haversion canals. She had floated in water, once. Now she was denser and would eliminate even less heat.
Her wife’s voice through the bathroom door bent, slid, and became a curling green leaf. The soft pile of the towels pressed into her. She looked up at the empty towel bars, at the splash of red on the sink from the bottle of cold medicine she’d been drinking earlier. Infection, she thought. From the Latin, inficere, to stain.
The green leaf unfurled, reaching towards the bathtub, along with the sound of metal on metal. Her wife was doing something to the door hinges. Then the door was gone and her wife was kneeling beside the tub.
“The towels are breathing,” she said and was surprised to hear that she still had a voice. “The towels are breathing now, too.” She knew that she wasn’t making sense, not as she had always understood sense. A distant part of her knew, too, why. Stain. Fever. Knowing didn’t make a bit of difference. She handed her wife a vine and wondered that the other woman’s face was wet, when she was the one who had become water.