"Should we wait to see if she's better in the morning?" Ruth asks.

"I don't think we should wait."

"Is it safe to move her? Should I get her pillow?"

"It's too soft. She'll need more support."

"It's her back, isn't it?"

Alex looks around the kitchen and picks up the cutting board, while Ruth disappears into the bedroom and returns with Dorothy's tartan blanket, and a couple of overcoats. Ruth swaddles her in the warm wool, while Alex helps her onto the board. Suddenly, whiffs of cheese, cow blood, chicken blood, bacon grease, parsley, peanut butter, and garlic permeate Dorothy's nostrils, but the smells bring her no pleasure.

Slipping their fingers under the board, Alex and Ruth lift her into the air and ferry her out the front door down the hallway. At the precipice of the staircase, Dorothy begins to shake. Even under the best of circumstances, riding safely in Ruth's big purse or securely buttoned in Alex's overcoat, she fears the yawning, spiraling stairwell.

"How are we ever going to do this? I hate these stairs," Ruth says.

"You hold her, I'll hold the board under her," Alex says.

Ruth squeezes her with choking compassion, and the three of them start down the steps, Alex first, backwards. Dorothy feels her blood swaying within her as Alex struggles to keep the board level. On the first landing, Ruth tightens her grip ever so slightly around Dorothy’s middle, and the smoldering ember under Dorothy's ice end rages to life again. Dorothy first becomes aware of it as a color: orange. And a shape: sphere. Then the orange sphere explodes and the fire is no longer under her: Dorothy is inside the fire. She now resides in a conflagration of pain so whole and absolute that it is a world unto itself. Nothing from her former existence matters. Her fear of stairs? Flashes away. Her insatiable appetite? Asphyxiates. Even her being caged in a burning body no longer concerns her. All that concerns Dorothy is the little sac of consciousness at the core of the blaze, and what she keeps inside that sac: a carbon-hard nugget of trust that Alex and Ruth will know how to help her.

From Jill Ciment’s Heroic Measures, published by Pantheon Books, June 2009 

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