This Is Going to Be Really Funny One Day

I wake up sour. I am supposed to go to the shops with Mum but I have a tantrum instead. I have just turned twenty-five. I don’t want to, but I get up. I need to buy lamb-costume paraphernalia: a leotard, cotton wool, some ears.

At the shops, the barcode on the leotard won’t scan. A voice in my head says, The Universe is telling you not to buy iuthis. I ignore it. I buy the leotard. My mood continues to curdle. Two hours before the party, I change my mind about my costume — I am too fat to wear a leotard — but then I remember that I am too easy on my whiny self so I suck it up. I make my costume with double-sided duct tape and cotton wool. My friend sprays me with glitter to help it stick. It’s like a corset and I can barely swallow my gin. I want to leave my hair down but decide last-minute to tie it up. It is the best decision I make that day.

Around 9:30 p.m., when the party is just warming up, I turn to my ladybug friend and say, “I’m going to have one more cigarette and then cut myself out of this costume.”

My bag is under the piano in the corner. I reach for it over a tea-light. In one moment, orange flames are dancing on me from hip to hip. Still facing the piano, I beat my abdomen like a drum. This is just a moment. But the moment keeps going. The fire is snaking its way up my body. By the time I turn around, the fire is hugging my ribs.

I start banshee-shrieking — get it off me, get it off me — twirling like a hellish ballerina, flames tickling me under the arms. Everyone is staring at me. This is not a good party trick. I twirl my way to the balcony because I’m worried I’ll set fire to the curtains, screaming please again and again. Everything is flickering in that shutter-speed way, like being at a club with strobe lights.

I see the Ladybug standing in front of me. She throws a glass of water at me, and for the moment it takes for the drops to curve through the air, I stop screaming. But the water is too weak to fight the fire that I am wearing like a dress. I look at her — stock-still — and I think, this is it. I close my eyes and slump to the floor.

Someone jumps on me with a jacket. Then more someones start clapping my body, beating out the fire. I’m flaccid. Hands help me up and take me to the bathroom. I sit on the edge of the tub. My friend the parrot rips open my top. I don’t know it yet but the duct tape had protected my torso. My eyes start to focus. I’m holding my arms up, zombie-style. They’re melted and charred. The skin on my hands is hanging in black and silver strips. I spit out laughter.

“What the fuck?” I keep saying, like I’m stuck. “What the fuck? What the fuck?”

There’s a student nurse dressed like Minnie Mouse in the room. She suggests applying toothpaste to the wounds. I close my eyes and keep repeating my potty-mouth mantra. I hear talk about an ambulance, about how the emergency operator said it would take an hour and that they should just drive me to the hospital themselves. The Parrot throws a blanket over me and puts me in the front seat of a Dalmatian’s car — no seatbelt. I’m shaking the way teeth chatter.

It’s a freezing February night but I’m hanging my twisted black arms out the window because it’s the only relief. I’m clenching my jaw, trying not to moan. Looking down at my bare stomach, I wonder if I look fat.

The Dalmatian is going through traffic like a puck in a pinball machine.

“Are we there yet? I’m sorry I keep asking.”

Finally, we stop. We are at a clinic but they tell us they cannot do much for us, they are not a hospital and the one that is on duty is a drive away. Then they turn me around, pull down my pants and stab my ass with a painkiller.

Back in the car, I sit in the rear seat, in between the Parrot’s leg as she tries to hold me, all the while whispering, Shh, I know, baby, I know it hurts, we’re almost there. But it’s worse this time. It’s worse when you have to hold on again.

We screech to a halt at the ambulance entrance and I think, Wow, this is so Law and Order. The Parrot helps me as I hobble through the hospital corridors, draped in a brown curtain her yiayia made. People stare at us. Then they look behind us to see the Dalmatian, the Minnie Mouse and the Ladybug running after us in quick succession.

Outside the waiting room, I try to hold my head up, try to cover myself with the curtain because I’m only wearing leggings and a bra. They admit me immediately and I’m surprised but then, I was always good at jumping queues.

The room is typically clinical — hard, and light grey from over-sterilization. My body is an earthquake. The doctor is asking me questions as he prepares his tools. How did this happen? Was it a good party? Where am I from? I answer in stuttering breaths, my voice rattling. I’m desperate to steel the hysteria and embarrassed to be failing.

A nurse is soothing my hands by squirting sterilized water onto them. She shuffles back and forth with fresh bottles. In the interim, the pain gushes in and I feel like I’m still on fire. Between one particular bottle and the next, she takes too long and I beg her to hurry. My voice peaks and my panic escapes me. When she returns she says, “Iremise, lady.

“I am fucking relaxed!”

My doctor rushes over and kicks her out. He takes me over to the sink and lets me hold my hands under the running tap. Then he says, “Honey, I cannot treat you until you’ve stopped shaking.”

Am I crying? I don’t know. I apologize through clenched teeth. I meditate until I’m only trembling, closing my eyes as he cuts off the charred strips of skin. Then he asks me what the white stuff is.

“Toothpaste.”

He wants to know why someone thought it was a good idea to rub toothpaste onto an open would and he apologizes because it needs to be scraped out. I grit my teeth and think, Fuck you, Minnie Mouse. He is almost finished with the second arm when I say, “I think I’m going to faint.”

I let myself drop against him and he catches me and calls for assistance. He holds me, head against his shoulder, until I get my very own wheelchair. They take me to a gurney. Everyone in the corridor is staring at me. I can’t see properly from this angle and I veer between raising my head and trying to hide it against the sheets.

A nurse comes up to me with a smile and asks me how I’m doing.

“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”

“Good,” she says. And she explains the plan of action to me gently. I thank her and ask her for her name and she tells me it’s Evangelia.

I’m wheeled into a futuristic room where I’m glided into a white machine for a head scan, and then another machine to check my heart. Every second is swollen and slow. Evangelia tells me that we are going to see the eye and throat specialist next. We laugh because I struggle to say it in Greek. Otorinolarigologos. In the next room, they stick a banana-flavored tube up my nose and down my throat to check for smoke — a tame amount — and then it is time to go to my room.

I am tired now. My friends are in the corridor. The Dalmatian looms over me — eyebrows creased — and he says, “Lex, what the fuck happened?”

I smile. “Don’t worry. This is going to be really funny one day.”

Behind him, I see my mother’s face and feel my chest pinch. She rushes over to me and I blurt, “I’m sorry.”

She strokes my forehead and tells me not to be silly.

She and the animals from the party walk me to my room. The nurse turns on the light and I tell her off for waking up the other two patients. The woman next to me says, “Don’t worry, sweetie. We know how this works.”

Dad walks in just before the lights go off. As soon as he sees me he bursts into tears. I kick him out and tell him not to come back until he has composed himself. He will spend the entire week in bed crying.

I have to sleep on special silver sheets so that my open wounds don’t stick to the bed. I have third degree burns on eleven percent of my body. Everyone is kicked out except for my mother. She tries to wipe off my black lamb nose but I want to keep it. I think it’s cute.

The first night is not difficult. I am in shock and doped up on painkillers, so sleep comes willingly.

This is going to be really funny one day.

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