Ex Situ

ex situ

My face had started to itch. I left the stream and ran into a nearby house. In the bathroom a body, an old woman, naked except for her underwear, lay slumped over the bath with snake-like lesions criss-crossing her back and thighs. Everything else was just red and black welts, except for deep, black abscess on her heel that showed through to the bone. My face was burning.

I turned away from the body, my back to the mirror, knelt down under the sink, and put my hands over my face. Maybe I wasn’t sick. Maybe I was just paranoid. Maybe I was just sunburned. Could be anything. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. The bathroom smelled good. Like soap and cherry blossoms. It was a wonderful smell. I inhaled again and again, savoring it. I looked up. The pipes under the sink were wet with condensation, tiny beads of water formed on the shiny metal. I reached out and touched them, let the drops puddle on my fingertips and slide down into my palm. There was a little raised, red welt just below my thumb. Probably nothing.

Underneath the sink there was a big yellow jug of soap with a white cap. It was only half-screwed on. Globs of congealed soap clung to the rim just below the lid. I pinched off a bit and massaged it with my fingers, then smelled it. It, too, smelled like cherry-blossoms. The jug had a nice label. The brand name was written in bold, black typeface across the front of the label, and some smaller Japanese words were printed just below. Cartoon soap bubbles were drawn on the label and bits of foam were stuck to some of the characters. I felt my heart pounding as I stared at it.

I itched my face and screamed.