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Like Lead In My Feet

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Sara had this dream a lot. She'd be running in the dark with something after her. She knew it was a monster, and that it would grab her and choke her to death like when she got an asthma attack and her breath would be caught up tight in her throat like trying to suck ice cream through a straw. This monster would be after her and she would dream of running and running and then kicking and fighting and beating it with her fists and legs and feet. When she woke up she cried for her mom.

Last time, Tegan woke up across the room in her own bed against the wall. "Shut up," Tegan said. "There's nothing there. Stop being a scaredy-cat."

But there was so much to be afraid of. Her breath sucked in and out of her throat. Tegan was so stupid, lying there just sleeping. Her arms and legs ached dully in a way her mom always said was growing pains but felt like cancer. It could be cancer. No one had ever checked. They just let her lie here in the dark listening to her sister's breathing across the room from her.

Tegan had broken her arm two times already, which Sara thought was even more stupid, because it was like she never thought, not the way Sara did. Last time they went to urgent care, they sat in the waiting room with Tegan all white and clutching at her arm, like normal. Their mom had just looked tired and said, “Tegan, why can’t you just think before you jump?” and Sara had stared at Tegan’s purpling, swelling fingers and felt sick.

Sara thought, though. She thought a lot. She thought about one day getting an asthma attack that was so bad the inhaler wouldn’t fix it and maybe they’d have to do an emergency tracheotomy like she’d seen on TV and it would destroy her voice and she’d never be able to talk again. She’d never be a rockstar like Bruce Springsteen. It would be awful.

Or maybe one day she’d trip and fall and break her arm like Tegan except this time it wouldn’t heal. She’d get infected and her arm would rot off. She worried about that every time, with Tegan. Maybe you didn’t even need to break something for your arm to rot off. Her fingers sometimes hurt, maybe it was happening right now.

Sara shuddered. In the other bed, Tegan rolled over and her even breathing turned into snores.

“Mom!” she shouted. Then, “Tegan! I think my arm’s rotting off.”

“Your arm’s not rotting off,” drifted blurrily from across the room. “Go’sleep.”

Nights like this, Sara thought, lasted forever.