When the doctor asked, “Where does it hurt?”, probably thinking it was funny, Alma swiped the air in front of her face, after a moment’s consideration indicating a spot the width of her hand from the tip of her nose.
After a too-long pause, the doctor launched into an explanation that Alma tuned out as soon as she caught the word “psychosomatic”. Unsurprised at having to add him to her collection of people who thought she was crazy, she feigned having to hurry to another appointment to speed things up to avoid breaking out in tears in front of the doctor. She had not slept through a whole night for a month, which left her exhausted and thin-skinned and frustrated.
On the way home familiar frustrations ran through her head. Whatever self-help gurus and the like thought, pain was real, not only in her head. The fact that it was outside her head was the problem. Questions of what was going on aside, something like teething pains in a jaw you didn’t have was hard to treat: there was no way to apply local anaesthetics. The general ones she had tried did not help, either. Instead, over time the pain grew worse.
The only thing that helped was heat, but bringing her face close enough to a radiator or fire that it relieved her from the phantom pain hurt the skin of her face and risked setting her hair on fire.
She did it, anyway, of course.
That evening she opened the door of the tile stove and nearly stuck her head inside, breathing the dry woodsmoke like a chamomile inhalation when she had a cold. When she exhaled in a sigh of relief, sparks flew from her nostrils and made the flames flare.
No. No, she must have been mistaken. Her breath had stirred the fuel, that was all.
Alma got up hoping to catch some sleep before the pain returned, noticing that her back hurt. She was too tired to worry about it. She could not bear thinking about the possibility that that new pain hovered behind her back, rather than digging into her muscles.
Based on the prompt "Phantom Pain" by Eliza Gebow.
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