Gail Siegel
Sparta to Elroy
Prologue: Pavlov


Barrett can't open her eyes. She wants to; she struggles, but it's like
dodging a monster in a nightmare. Her lids are unlucky, like a mermaid's legs
at a square dance, locked flesh, sealed shut against frolicking. She strains
to call out, but her voice is trapped in the well of her throat, lost in that
dark tunnel into her lungs.

It's a familiar twilight, a familiar terror. Long college afternoons,
she'd nap in the shafts of sun warming her covers, try to rouse herself from
anxiety dreams about missed periods or forgotten exams, and fail. Her head,
her limbs were dead weights she couldn't will to stir. After long effort, the
only voice she could muster was a croak. Except this time she's been
immobilized for days, not minutes.

Barrett hasn't budged since Saturday.

It was Saturday morning when she and Wiley fed Pavlov his kibble and
cleared away the breakfast bowls -- raspberry granola remnants clinging to
the sides, milk tinted a pale pink. She whispered See ya to the lumpy forms
of Jet and Mike, deep in teen slumber. Then Barrett wheeled her bike out of
the garage and watched Wiley get road ready. She loved watching him saddle
up. He topped off his water bottle with the perfect ratio of juice to ice,
polished his sunglasses on his shirt, and strapped on his helmet, tucking in
any wayward curls. He flexed his gloves and clicked his bike cleats into the
pedals.

With his sinewy limbs poured into his sleek black shirt and shorts, he
looked nearly aquatic, like a porpoise or scuba diver on wheels. His bike
attire gave the illusion of sculpting his muscles into cords. Some celestial
artist might have imagined Wiley's taut body in this aerodynamic pose when
the idea of man first occurred. To all appearances, he was an aesthetic
triumph, crowned with a shock of greying auburn hair -- proving only that
beauty is a lie when your pancreas is on the blink.