It begins with a match.

It begins with the right ingredients.

It begins with a soft sound in the night.

It begins with a twinge, deep beneath the skin.

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The match flickers to life with a quick strike against the side of the box.

The oil sizzles in the heat at the bottom of the pan.

The sound becomes a whimper, heard above the white noise static of the baby monitor.

The muscles contract against each other, already trying to pull away from the pain.

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The flame touches the end of the fuse, and you hold the firecrackers for just a few moments longer, watching the sparks move toward the red and white striped explosives in your hand.

Garlic and onion hit the oil and you lift the pan in your left hand, give it a little movement until they jump up into the air, fall back against the metal, jump up again, and again.

It's not quite a cry yet, and you think maybe she'll fall back asleep, but you get up, feel the coolness of the hardwood against your bare feet as you walk down the hallway to her room and pause just outside her door, listening.

The vial is at the other end of the couch, and you don't want to move. The leather feels warm and soft against your back, and you'd nearly fallen into a doze, but the pain never makes anything easy or soft.

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"Throw it!" Tim is just a year older than you, with a wisp of a mustache that makes it easier for him to pass for sixteen. He's the one who had the money, and he's the one who bought the fireworks from a stand just outside the base, but he's scared to handle them. He's heard too many warnings about how he'll lose a finger or an eye. You're not scared -- not of this anyway.

"Rosemary, chives, parsley, black pepper." You repeat the words out loud, the way you'd memorized the names of bones and muscles and ligaments and nerves back in med school. You don't need to memorize the recipe. It's there in the book, and you can look it up again anytime you want, but you've lost too many things before -- books, papers, people -- so you take the precaution, just in case.

"Shh, it's OK." Even from the doorway, you can hear her taking in deeper breaths. You're not sure if it's because she's falling back into heavy sleep or because she's getting ready to let out with a cry. You try not to let the thought into your mind that if you were her real mother, you'd know the difference.

"Not now." You know it doesn't do any good to argue against the muscles and nerves and pain. They don't listen, they don't care. You ease one arm out from behind your head and push down against the leg, trying to ease the cramp starting to form there. You already know it won't help, but you do it anyway, hoping to delay it just a little longer.

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You finally toss the firecrackers out across the parking lot when the sparks near your fingers. They land in an open spot on the concrete and you brace yourself for the first one to catch fire and burst itself apart, then the next and the next and the next, the whole string one after the other. Tim puts his hands against his ears, but you don't. You smile and hope it's loud enough to hurt.

You rub the herbs over the lamb, working them into the skin and pushing them deep into crevices cut into the flesh. You place the roast in the pan with the onion and garlic and oil, the smell already beginning to fill the kitchen. You wipe your hands on a towel and open the oven, the heat rushing out against your face as you bend to put the pan on the middle rack. You can imagine the taste already and your mouth starts to water before you even close the oven door.

You stand at the edge of the crib, looking at her in the dim light. Her hair is starting to grow in, light brown curls that frame her face and you wonder if it'll be as dark as yours. You imagine running a brush through it and braiding it as your mother did for you when you were a girl, her hands gentle and sure and quick. You think she's about to fall back asleep when she takes in a deep breath. Her eyes open and you reach for her before the cries begin.

You sit up and have to use both hands to move your leg out of the way to reach for the bottle of pills. You pop the lid off with one smooth motion and tilt the vial until one pill spills out into your hand. You look at it for a second, then tip the bottle again until a second one falls out. You pop both into your mouth and force yourself to swallow them dry, rather than get up and get water from the kitchen. They taste bitter and familiar at the same time, and you feel better already even though you know they haven't taken affect yet, that it's just a psychological reaction, your brain playing a trick on itself. You tell yourself that you don't care. You put the bottle in your pocket so it'll be handy the next time you need it, because there's always a next time, then you ease yourself back against the pillows again, lie down and wait.