by Sam Taub
There’s a cold inside my finger tips.
I can feel it tingling.
It lives there.
I notice it for the first time while I’m in the shower. I’m absently dragging a washcloth over my body when I catch a glimpse of my right index finger. It’s really my fingernail that I see first. The nail bed on that finger appears off somehow. I drape the wash cloth on the tub faucet and pull my hand out of the hot spray.
Upon closer inspection, it appears that the tip of my index finger is tinged faint blue. I don’t have my glasses on in the shower and for a minute I think it’s a trick of the light until I hold up my left hand for comparison.
My skin is usually tanish brown. I have never been great at describing its exact tone without comparing myself to coffee and even then it isn’t really accurate. But, even though I can’t put the shade into words properly, it is unmistakably brown, under normal circumstances. Right now the circumstances aren’t normal— my index finger, and all of the fingers on my right hand, now that I’m really looking, are so blue they’re almost grey.
I turn my hands over so my palms face up. I can see the web of my veins tangling down towards my wrist. The veins seem to gather at the very tips of my fingers, like I dipped them in ink and let the drops spread down my palm with only gravity to guide them. The veins show bright through the paper grey layers of my skin. I can see each branching path they take, how they break off, smaller and smaller. There is a larger one that goes right down the center of my palm, connecting all the small branches and attaching my hand to my wrist. It’s blue. All of the veins are blue, but this one is blue in a way that steals the breath from my lips.
I flex my fingers, curling them inward. My joints are just the tiniest bit stiff as I do it but they do move into the shape of a fist with a little effort. I breathe out through my nose. The spray of the water is near scalding and even so the sensation of the drops beating against my fingers is dull.
I try for the next several days to figure out why this could be happening to me. I’m just a regular person, nothing special, and certainly nothing bad. I think about this while I hold my hands underneath the spray of the sink in the bathroom. The cold is in both of them now. I hold my hand under the stream of hot water and file through my entire history. I want to figure out if maybe I’ve done something to deserve this. My eyes are closed. If I’m being honest there isn’t much of my history that I can recall concretely.
What I can remember for sure is that I was a child until I wasn’t, and then I started high school. I did fine. I went to college and I could have had a better time but statistically speaking my experiences weren’t, still aren’t, uncommon, and besides, that isn’t even a real memory it’s just a tacked on sentiment that comes up whenever I think of college but that’s normal and I’m fine.
The joints in my fingers suddenly seize up and my hands throb with pain. I pull my hands from under the water. I watch it flow down the drain for a moment before turning off the faucet. My joints continue to ache as I do it. Despite this episode, though, the cold hasn’t presented any real problems in my life.
It becomes a problem on the subway. The train is crowded, everyone packed in and pulsing and sweating as a unit. Everyone except me, because my hand is frozen to the metal pole that I’ve been using for support.
My stop is coming. They say it over the loud speakers a moment before the train lurches to a stop. In all the commotion from everyone’s bodies knocking into each other a woman stumbles into me. She instinctually reaches out for something to grab, which happens to be the pole I’m holding. Her hand envelopes mine. In that moment she isn’t just a woman. She’s a friend, a comrade, someone who needs me.
She looks into my eyes, and she is not my friend anymore. She gasps, and her eyes are concerned. I don’t know what exactly she’s thinking but I know how I feel about it. I know my hands are cold. They’re like ice. They’re blue enough to match the full benches lining the subway car. I know this about my hands, and now she knows it, too. I’m never going to see her again, and the only thing she’s ever going to know about me is that I have cold hands.
I snatch my hand away and push through the crowd by the door and onto the platform. My blood swims around my head. I can hear the thick liquid slosh around from side to side as I try to figure out where I am. There’s something in my mouth. It isn’t a physical thing, but it’s still in my mouth, sucking the moisture from my cheeks and tongue and threatening to choke me. It tastes like chalk and bone. I miss my friend, the one from the train.
The cold is spreading.
My forearms are as grey and empty as my palms. The bright blue of my veins stands out against the skin reaching up to my elbows in an indication of the spreading cold. It’s moving inward. Each time my back aches or my shoulder twitches I worry that the cold has gotten there. I suspect that it’s already begun in my feet and legs but I can’t confirm that until I see them in the light. I don’t really know how I’d begin to combat it should it reach an important part of my body. I might resign to continuing this way for as long as I can manage.
The joints in my fingers are stiff. I try to make my way through my life like always, and mostly it’s been going fine except for when it hasn’t. I have a mug of coffee in my hands and I can’t quite bend my fingers enough to wrap around the handle all the way. Usually I’m more careful but I guess I’m distracted or something because one moment I have the tightest grip I can manage around this coffee mug and the next moment the mug is shattered on the hard tile kitchen floor. The scalding liquid jumps up into the air and laps at the backs of my useless hands. I don’t feel the heat, though, not even a little bit.
In the night, the cold keeps me awake. Usually I can will myself to sleep in spite of its grip. On the occasions I can’t, I bundle under my blankets and breathe in and out as slowly as my body will allow. Each breath slides down from my nose into my lungs, neither of which are cold for the time being. The air spreads from the center of my body only to reach the parts where the cold has taken hold and recoil. Only a little, barely enough, manages to sneak past and into my hands.
That’s my first thought when I jolt awake. Everything is dark and my hands are burning. I don’t remember what I was dreaming about, if I was dreaming at all, but the taste of chalk and bone lingers in my mouth still. I can smell my fear in the air around me, hot and sour and seeping into the paint and all the upholstered surfaces. It isn’t enough to distract from the sensation rolling through me.
All of the parts of my body that have been touched by the cold are burning. The burning pins me to my sheets no matter how hard I thrash against them. For a brief moment I’m reminded of college until the burning takes over my ability to remember anything at all
The burning isn’t hot like fire. It has heat but it’s coming from inside me. Needle pricks of pain erupt onto every square inch of my skin a thousand times a second. I open my mouth but no sound escapes.
It’s like someone poured boiling water over me while I was sleeping. Everything is thawing and refreezing all at once. Bile rises in my throat. The only thing I can hear is the desperate drumming of my heart. The burning surges up my arms and legs, reaching parts of me that had been fine up until now. The burning isn’t like the cold. It does not creep through me inch by inch. It runs up and down my body. I takes everything in me until all there is anymore is burning.
I lay in bed like that for I don’t know how long. I’m coated in sweat and tears and I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know anything. My heart, unburnt for now, beats on.
Slowly, the burning recedes.
I turn my head and open my eyes to the dark around me. My vision is unfocused, but I can still make out my own hand on the bed next to me, ghostly white, unmoving. For a brief moment I wonder if this is the end. The end of what, I don’t know, but at the very least the end of something. In all the places that the burning touched, which is most of the places that I have, I can feel something else.
It’s a tingling almost.
It’s creeping, slowly.
It’s starting in the tips of my fingers.
About the Author
Sam Taub is a senior at Sarah Lawrence College where they study creative writing. They are originally from the Detroit area.