As she walked along Maiden Lane from the subway to her office building, Nell had to jab the fingernails of her right hand into the palm of her left, just to have something to concentrate on besides the cups of coffee that were glued to everyone’s hand, and the dense, lush smell of those brewed beans that sat like a thick blanket atop everything in lower Manhattan. The coffee—its smell, its presence, its phantom taste on the tongue—was everywhere, and Nell thought she could almost feel the dried ends of her hair trembling with the desire for it.
It had been four days since she’d consumed caffeine, and in the panicked haze that had settled in during that time, Nell could barely recall what her original motivation had been. The words clarity and purity and health flitted around her mind in animated thought bubbles, like in a children’s TV show. As she passed yet another coffee cart, Nell closed her eyes halfway and visualized the herbal tea she’d been drinking since Sunday. It tasted vaguely like dishwater.
Nell clung to the hope that soon the fog would break, and she would emerge renewed from the depths of her being, each cell revived and remade, ensuring a long, long life and none of the wrinkles that usually go with it. Until then, she would stumble through her days, protected by the image of her future self, a clean, efficient machine that ran itself on water and air and sunlight, like a big green plant on a fire escape, its healthy vines creeping along and embracing the ironwork whose years of rust softened under the green lattice.