The skin on her forehead starts to split – fast, cracks like gold hairs at first but then widening, opening. Steam hissing. And she is screaming. The screaming brings them out of their little houses – men in boxers and women with towels around their bodies. A boy with toast in his hand.
She is conscious. How can I be conscious if my brain is this sumpy, bubbling, oozy stuff? She is aware even of that thought as it criss-crosses synapses somewhere. But she can feel the hot trickle of herself down one side of her nose, running into the nape of her neck, pooling in her ears. And it is scalding.
She remembers scald pain. Ferocious, announcing its destruction of skin cells, raising the blood below to a boil. And that is another astonishing thought – that something inside her is able to re-call a specific pain memory from forty years before. There was must be some brain surviving. This slick of me can’t be all of me. But the thoughts are starting to run together now.
She doesn’t expect to wake in her own bed. It’s dark. She can hear them outside.
Substantial pyroclastic flows… Valve re-set… Frighteningly common, I’m afraid…. women of this age…
Her neck is stiff. That’s all. Can that be all? She presses finger tips on her face; exploring for bandages, for crispy, blistered skin, for something raw. The whole thing is numb, like she’s been to the dentist and had too much novocaine.
The numbness goes deep but as she holds her hands against her rib cage a loud, sulphurous burp escapes into the still bedroom. There is ash under her fingernails. There is nothing to say it won’t happen again.