You must not be a fundamentalist.
John looks at the clock on the kitchen counter: 5:57pm. In exactly three minutes Arabella will walk through the door. In the six years they’ve been together, Arabella has proven to be the living definition of by the book. Admittedly this fastidious characteristic had strained his patience at the beginning of the relationship (he had always pictured himself with someone a little more . . . flexible), but it was something he’d come to find oddly comforting: the reliability of her absolute synchronicity.
At 6pm a key turns in the lock. Arabella enters looking exactly the same as when she left in the morning, hair and makeup untouched. The quintessential example of a statuesque human .
“Oh you’re back!”
She hugs him, her head craned up and away from his shoulder as she gives him a slight air kiss.
“When did you get in?”
“About an hour ago.”
Arabella loosens her embrace and smooths the front of her jacket, then grips his arms as she leans back. Her eyes go to a box—cream colored and wrapped in navy ribbon—on the table.
John smiles. “Just a little something.”
“You didn’t . . .”
A sound remarkably close to a squeal escapes from Arabella’s mouth. She clutches her hands together and brings them under her chin. For a moment, she looks like a child. John brings a hand up to stroke her hair. Arabella catches it an inch away from her head and holds it in hers. She gives him a smile. John sighs, but is accustomed to this reaction.
“Are you going to open it?”
Arabella nods and tugs at an end of the ribbon. With one strong yank the bow is undone and falls away. She rolls it up neatly and sets it aside.
Inside the box is a small jar containing what looks like a dense, black paste. She unscrews the lid and dabs a finger into the material, rolling the trace particles between her fingertips.
“I know you wanted the mud mask from Blue Lagoon, but all the locals insisted I buy from this guy who had some kind of nature shop just outside of Reykjavik. They said it’s the most amazing thing you can put on your face, it’ll revolutionize your skin.” He chuckles at this last bit, imagining a million tiny pores up in arms and waving patriotic skin flags.
Arabella continues examining the streak of black on her fingers. It has a consistency she isn’t familiar with, and an odd sheen: glittery, yet not. She wipes it off into a paper towel.
“What’s it made of?”
John replies with a slight grimace. “Not quite sure. The guy who sold it to me started to explain, but his English wasn’t so great, and my Icelandic is non-existent.”
He pauses in an attempt to recall the conversation.
“One thing he was very adamant about—like tried to get it through to me in any way he could—was not to leave the mask on longer than a minute."
Arabella flashes her eyes at him.
“What? That’s absurd. A mask can’t do anything in a minute.”
John shrugs. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s the one thing he was pretty clear about.”
Arabella purses her lips and raises an eyebrow. She sets a hand on her hip and brings the jar up to eye level, as if addressing it. “Well I always leave my masks on for ten minutes, so that’s what’s going to happen.”
John puts his hands up in surrender, then brings them back down on her shoulders as he kisses her head.
“Happy to be back home.”
That night Arabella leaves the mask on for ten minutes, remarking to John that there isn’t anything weird about it except for a slight prickly sensation on her skin, but that she’d experienced that before with other products and it’d been fine—if anything it was an indication of something really working. John shouts “Ok” from the bedroom.
In the morning Arabella wakes up with a stiff back. She kneads her fingers into her sacrum, and wonders if she either slept weirdly or overdid it in yoga. Nevertheless, she gets ready as usual. She takes a fifteen minute shower complete with hair washing and feet buffing. Out of the shower she follows with vigorous all over dry brushing and then lathers on not one, but two different kinds of lotions. Looking into the mirror, she does facial exercises for five minutes before carefully manicuring her eyebrows. Her hair: blow-dried, then straightened, then curled, then hair-sprayed. Finally, she pulls out a case of brushes, and with the finesse of a painter, applies many, many assortments of makeup to her face. Outside of the bathroom she dresses into an impeccably tailored suit, already steamed the night before, and steps into her shined heels. As she walks through the kitchen to the door, she grabs a small breakfast protein shake and places it in her handbag. Nothing about her, or on her, isn’t as it should be.
“Bye, honey.” Somewhere in the apartment John responds.
She stops at the door and checks her watch. Doubling back to the kitchen, she pops two Advil and then makes her way out.
Her stiffness worsens throughout the day. No matter how she sits, how she stands, nothing alleviates the locked heaviness that seems to be crystallizing in her joints. She wonders if this is the beginning of arthritis (“Does it set in that quickly?”), but continues her day without falter. At one point it dawns on her that, perhaps, she should alter her schedule this once and go home, but she dismisses the thought quickly as silliness. She was going to do things as she always did.
But by the end of the day the idea of powering through has become somewhat daunting. It is almost as if her body is rebelling against her. The sudden pallor of her skin has become concerning as well, and she notices that under a certain light her veins look nearly black. She’d dare to say she looks marbled. In the back of her yoga class she spends most of the time transitioning, slowly, between downward dog and child’s pose. It’s the greatest amount of movement her body will allow her.
Somehow she makes it home, though her journey is not without labor. Every steps feels like the lifting of half a ton. The inflexibility in her limbs is staggering. Even her hair has developed a brittleness she has never known before. She tries to understand what is happening. Was it something she ate, something she drank? She’d done nothing differently in her routine; everything had been exactly the same as she always did, without fail.
Arabella puts her key in the door. Her hand stays where it is, unwilling to turn. She can no longer move her head, so she drops her eyes down to the handle. Her hand is completely white, the veins underneath black currents. Terror wells up inside her. With one last feat of strength, she forces the hand to move until suddenly there is a loud crack, and a piece of something drops to the floor, shattering.
Inside the apartment, John lifts his head from reading at the sound of something outside. He keeps very still, waiting to hear if more follows. Nothing.
He glances at the clock in the kitchen: 6:02pm.
Zara crop top and velvet culottes; H&M heels; Forever 21 marble necklace.