His diagnosis was that I lived life like I was preparing to leave it, and his prescription was sesame oil baths. Once a day for fifteen minutes, not while menstruating. Paying special attention to the scalp, ears, and soles of the feet. It didn’t have to be toasted; in fact, it shouldn’t be toasted.
After the appointment, I drive past houses I will never be able to afford: tudors and bluestones with nursery plants training on stakes, retrievers rolling in the shade. Inside live families whose names and faces are on hotels and galleries around town, their teeth flashing like crowns in the sunlight. My stomach roils and I wonder what the dry cleaning bill would be if I voided myself on their clothes, Pollocking high-collared shirts and waffle-weave scarves.
The market I choose is my favorite based solely on the fact that their bathrooms have four stalls. In case my legs fail me, I brace myself against a shelf and spend thirty-seven minutes researching three different types of sesame oil on my phone before giving up. I buy in bulk—four half-gallons require two trips to carry out. They slosh against the sides of the jugs, sallow and ethereal like a bodily fluid.
I key into my apartment, a message from Micah lighting my phone. We had loved each other at some point, but not necessarily the same point. It was a sloppy relationship that ended because I wasn’t averse to having cancer.
It would just be nice to have an answer, you know, I said.
In the bathroom, I draw my hair into a severe ponytail, the kind that clamps your skull and requires kneading out. I insert a finger and when it returns without blood for the second time in months, I uncap the first bottle. I start at my torso, my stomach flexed out tight; inside, my spleen wears thin, weak as a raspberry. The oil laminates my skin.
I startle at a pop of laughter downstairs, oil ribboning to the floor. A shard of light breaks through the window and takes aim at my arm. I hurry to shutter the blinds, leaving five glossy moons on the wand.
Up my forearms, my veins run like tributaries too close to the skin. I rub both arms simultaneously like I’m trying to generate warmth. My knuckles wear the oil like jewels; my palms collect it like coins. I trace the segue from my thighs to my calves, extinguishing when I slot the oil between my toes, casting them slick like pine nuts. I’ll come back for the soles later.
I work the underside of my ears, flexing my collarbones up like wings. In the mirror, I watch my scalp seam with oil, the conditions met for my black hair to show its blue.
Fifteen minutes later, I step into the tub, its worn enamel ringed red. I hold myself tight and stand there until the water runs cold. When I emerge, my hair hangs flat like blades.
Nicole Tsuno is an emerging writer and post-undergraduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She recently returned from living abroad in Taipei and now lives in Washington. She is working on the second draft of her first novel. Some of her favorite things are as follows: dogs that look like their humans, anything peach, and toilets that play music. If accepted, this would be her first publication.