She rolls over, summery skin soft and dark against the curved line of shirt sliding beneath sheets. Before morning pulls me under lushdelicious, I push my mouth against her shoulder, wrap an arm and drape a leg.
“Morning,” she mumbles. Her skin shimmers warm in the morning light.
“You glow,” I sigh, and go under.
When I open my eyes who knows how long later, the dog has weaseled his way onto the bed, curled between us. At the rumble of thunder, he quivers and tucks his nose under his back leg. I scratch his ears and he untucks and gives me a grateful look. Before he tucks back in, I notice a bright smudge glowing on the bridge of his nose. I rub my eyes and lean forward, spreading the thin fur on his snout with my fingers, like I’m looking for ticks. Where the fur separates, the glow follows.
I lie back on the pillow and notice a flicker of light on her shoulder. Very lightly, I trace my fingers along her side and discover a glowing splotch at her waist, and there, another on her thigh, on the soft place that rested beneath mine. Three luminescent ovals among fabric and skin.
“You’re glowing,” I say, and sit up. “So’s he.”
She lifts her head from the pillow, squints, and drops it. “Honey, go back to sleep.” Above her head, two small marks glow in bright relief against the headboard.
I throw back the blanket. In the impression where my body was, a constellation of anemones ripple across the sheets. I lean over and brush roughly at the cotton, pressing my hands flat against the bottom sheet. Whorling, iridescent labyrinths wind inside each small oval. “This is so weird.”
“Sh-hhhh,” she whispers. “Sleep.”
Kabob pushes his nose deeper and lets out a heaving, doggy sigh.
I sit on the edge of the bed. I’ve seen weirder. Weirder by a lot. Whatever this is, it will be better with coffee.
I pad from the room in boxer shorts and Kabob flings himself off the end of the bed and follows. The kitchen looks like six, maybe six thirty, so I put on the kettle and pour the dog a bowl of dry food. When I reach for the jar of coffee on the shelf, I see two oval-shaped orbs lined up on one side of my wrist.
I yelp like I’ve been stung. Shake my hand, hard. Fold my fingers and clench my eyes shut, willing the spots gone.
If anything, they’re brighter.
“Jess!” I call. “Come look at this!” I push at my skin, testing it. The bright stains move like they’re a part of me, matching my texture. “This is freaky,” I tell Kabob, and he wags, wanting to be let out. I expect to see more spots on his leash, but it’s hanging on the hook, unmarred. I pull the raincoat on and tie the sash tight, around my waist, just because it’s clean.
The morning is so full of summer I could kiss it, but then I notice the neighbor’s car from halfway down the block. A splatter of glowprints radiate from the door handle, another smattering spread across the car’s roof. I shade my eyes in the grey-green light against the rumbling storm. High up, on the second floor of a neighbor’s apartment, an irregular smear glows at the window like someone’s been trying to get in. I glance down, half expecting Kabob to whizz florescent, but he just squats like a girl and looks warily at the sky.
Jess is brushing her teeth in the kitchen, leaning against the sink in a tank top and underwear like nothing has happened, like the coffee on the shelf behind her isn’t glowing like a halo around her gorgeous head.
I march into the kitchen, hang up the dog’s leash and point. “Glowing.”
“Huh?” she shrugs, and looks around.
“The coffee,” I point. “It’s glowing.”
She picks up the jar. “But it’s organic,” she says, like that means something.
I point to my wrist. “Me too. And Kabob.”
Her mouth turns down, toothbrush hanging out one side. “Honey, are you OK?”
“Did you spill something?” I press, trying not to sound paranoid. “Were you using some new chemicals, or something?”
She furrows her eyebrows. Holds up one finger, hang on, and reaches for a cup. Rinses and spits, rinses again, then carefully sponges off the edge of the cup and places it in the rack. “OK, try again.” Her smile is patient.
I stretch out my wrist to show her, and there are three new prints lined up next to the first two and another on my inner wrist, opposite the other four. Five in all. “This is crazy,” I whisper. “Do you see this?”
She inspects my hand so gently I want to rattle her, when normally this kind of tenderness would make me want to drag her back to bed. I point out each mark and she turns my hand over, stroking at the wrist. “Naia, I’m sorry, I just don’t see anything.”
“Are you kidding?” I flip my hand over and shake it, like it might come off.
She reaches for my arm again, poking at it with the tip of her finger. “Does it feel like a rash?”
I feel a prickling in my throat, and I feel oddly hopeful. Yes, maybe it’s a rash.
I don’t need to flick on the bathroom light to see them in the mirror, the new marks around my neck and under my jaw. My cheeks and are mottled with broken patches of light. And now the shower curtain, the top of the toilet, the toothbrush – they’re blinking like fireflies.
I turn on the tap and splash water on my face, my arms, my throat, I let the water run until it sears, but instead of washing this away, I only glow brighter. I’m like a nuclear reactor.
When I head for the bedroom, she calls, “You OK?” but I’m already pulling on jeans over my boxers. I pull off my sleep shirt and and hook a bra before pulling the shirt back over my head, I’m stepping into my shoes as I reach for my keys and my phone on the bureau, the phone pulsing like an atom bomb, hot white.
“I’m going to the pharmacy,” I call. “I’ll be right back.”
“Wait!” she calls, but I’m already out the door.
It’s only seven, but the pharmacy parking lot is jammed. I zip the car out of the lot and park in the street, and even as I’m driving, the spots are crawling up my arms. I don’t even bother to put a quarter in the meter, I just slam the door and run for the pharmacy door. A line snakes from the pharmacy counter at the back all the way to the front of the store, and there’s nothing I can do but wait.
Standing in line, I flip through my phone and everything is lit up – links and GIFs and hashtags everywhere. Something’s happened. I look around and every person in the place is covered, just like me. I can tell from their faces that they can see it. Our fear is a low buzz, sticky and thick as it winds through the crowd. I look down at my phone, trying to understand what’s happening, and the line starts to push from behind. We’re about to go viral.
Up ahead, someone is laughing. It’s the most incredible sound, soft and rich like a cello above the din. I crane my neck above the line, and I can see it’s just a kid in a flannel and a knit cap, chuckling to himself. Oblivious to all of it.
“What’s so funny?” a big guy yells.
The kid doesn’t answer, but he laughs again. Louder.
“I said, what’s so funny?” The man is red-faced and insistent.
The kid looks around. “This guy.” He points at the paper. “Dude’s totally busted. His prints are all over it.”
The woman in front of me leans over the kid’s shoulder. “Are you sure? I mean, are they sure?”
The boy grins. “It’s over.”
People crowd around the kid, so I run to the news rack and look at the headline, and that’s when I understand. Finally – finally, it’s happened. I look down at my hands and tear out of the store, running toward the street. When I step off the curb the sky claps, and everything is rain. The wet covers my skin and pummels the pavement white, streaking down this guttered city like a comet.
Leigh Hopkins' featured column Secret Circus is a 6-month series on Corporeal Clamor. At a time when government secrets can be revealed in 140 characters and our nation loves a show, Secret Circus blends personal essay with political commentary. In 2010, Leigh left a 20-year career in public education reform to move to Brazil, where she founded Viva Institute by rigging a satellite dish to a boulder in a banana field. Her writing can be found in Elephant Journal, ENTROPY Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Viva Institute, and on her website. Twitter: LeighHereNow