All morning, she writes notes to her other self: trigonometry test tomorrow, no Quiz Bowl practice today (Mrs. Lionelli out sick), Mari wants to hang out later, please steer clear of Jessica (she’s being a jerk today!!!!) and Ronaldo (he pulled my ponytail), no need to wear your hair up, apologies in advance for the indigestion (fridge was empty so had to buy rectangle pizza at lunch and already regret it). In the bathroom, she shuts herself in the stall farthest from the door for the transition between brains. After three years of practice, her body knows what to expect. Once the lock slides shut, blood begins to drain from her cerebral arteries into one of two carotids found in her unusually long neck, which she camouflages with a rotating wardrobe of scarves: chunky and knit in winter, fashionable and silk in summer, and everything else in between, passing it off as a style and not a necessity. Today’s purple infinity scarf with glittering multicolored balloons hides the seam in her neck where her arteries seal themselves shut so her heads can detach and reattach quickly, bloodlessly, like a knob unscrewing from a bedpost.
What her body knows in that headless moment she cannot say.
All she knows is that no one saw. She could not bear being perceived like that. Could you imagine: a headless girl draining the blood from her own veins to make a clean swap? It took her the whole summer after ninth grade to perfect the technique, and still she has accidents, mishaps. Once, after a particularly messy reattachment, she had to text her mother to come pick her up, and she waited in the bathroom for over half an hour, her blood roaring, her legs pulled up to her chest so no one would see them. When she snuck out, she passed Mr. Edmonds, a PE teacher, on a smoke break. He must have noticed her matted hair and bloody collar, because now he won’t look her in the eye. He refuses even to say her name. In PE, she is just you. Sometimes her. Maybe that girl.
She knows what this is code for; she knows not to tell him the truth.
In her notebook, she collects reasons not to reveal herself. For example:
Mrs. Lionelli — 1) is a teacher, 2) is a little too fond of The Battle of Stalingrad, 3) might consider a second head cheating at Quiz Bowl??
Ronaldo — 1) pulls my hair, 2) poured milk on me that one time, 3) claims to like me?!?
Jessica — 1) laughed when I said I might have a crush on Mari, then said, “Wait, you’re serious? Wow,” 2) always makes A Thing out of giving me a scarf for my birthday and asking me to try it on in front of her, 3) hasn’t sat next to me since I told her about Mari but maybe that’s so Mari and I can sit together at lunch?? idk
Her mind always goes blank at Mari. She can think of no reason and every reason.
What she does know: Mari wants to hang out after school, just the two of them. Last time she and Mari were alone, they walked around a park for hours until they collapsed beneath a giant oak tree and stared up at the clouds, breathless, voluminous, Mari’s hand brushing hers so lightly she thought at first it was a blade of grass. How had she explained the feeling to herself? Like my heart was in two places at once. I could feel it pulse in my thumb. And how will she explain this? Sitting side by side in the library, leaning over to show Mari a page from her comic, watching as Mari nestles books within books to mark her place. Her other self will find it strange, she knows. Her other self will never note the exact moment Mari’s eyes start to lose focus as she daydreams. Never wonder, Is she thinking of me?
No. This is where you and I diverge.