Cynicism and Hope were entwined. They’d just made love. Cynicism lay a hand upon Hope’s breastplate, feeling the delicate web of nerve and bone that cage a heart. Each placid thump sent a wave of terrifying euphoria up Cynicism’s arm, pumping not blood but life through strange osmotic channels. I don’t want to hurt you, Cynicism said. Hope lay a hand to Cynicism’s cheek, grounding a circuit that fed warmth and light to each of them. ‘You could never hurt me,’ Hope said, ‘even with pain.’ They saw each other as though seeing themselves and said, ‘I need you.’
Sometimes her hands are mine, inhabiting my tendons to move my flesh with tenderness. I marvel as they manipulate my skin, gliding with such unbeknownst elegance. I never yet possessed such delicacy, such intimate efficacy. Her voice in my mind, such divine intervention, rendered in exquisitely fine detail, beckons and cajoles, rolls and ravishes my whole body. This bloody sack of hopes has sat, doped and somnolent, so long that corpuscles had withered to deprive my spirit of its life. Now, sometimes, her hands are mine, they sense things I could never find, and touch with blind, unexpurgated fervour.
I fell down and broke my skin then sat there staring at the wound. ‘What is it,’ Arris asked. I told her it was circumstance, clumsiness, a lack of care on my behalf. ‘Can we fix it?’ I watched the blood seeping and said, I doubt it. ‘This is the dumbest thing I’ve seen you do,’ she said. Not getting hurt but passively accepting it. ‘You are strong and resilient. I am smart, we can fix this.’ I lay my hand over the wound so she couldn’t see it, and smile, winsome. Some things just need time to heal.
Four showers today and still so unclean, it’s not a smell but a state of being, a spectral odour on the spectrum between rotting meat and regret, secreted by my oblongata and sent to my senses, the stench of it lodged in the cavity of my humanity. I think about taking out the brain with pharmaceutical strikes, but that strategy already made me my own casualty. Better to scrub, rescrub and scour, become some skinless heroic villainess. Yet here’s a spot, again and again; and here’s the smell of blood still. Maybe I’ll bathe, soak and submerge my sins.
I wish my skin were hers. I pry beneath her wrist, slipping my nails into subdermal territory. She doesn’t flinch. I think I’m not there so I squirm. The pain she notices, an irritation. ‘What are you doing,’ she says. Love, I say, love, over and over until the words are in her veins. Love, love, love, love. ‘Stop,’ she says, ‘you’re full of shit.’ And I let her say it because of smiles, but she doesn’t realise how much I give away and what flows in to fill the void. Love, I say, and listen for a pulse.
I push the wad of tissue up my nose and say, ‘I said pineapple.’ Laura looks at me and shrugs, putting on a coat of indifference. I watch a blood drop drying on the sheet, its vibrancy dyeing a stiff brown stain. My tongue feels dry and swollen, the wrong kind of meat in my head. I point at the water bottle and Laura hands it to me. She tells me the music was too loud, what’s the point of using safe words in unsafe conditions. It’s a coded message. I can hear the house moving through the walls.
I bite my lip so hard while we’re fucking that a drop of blood falls on her cheek. Focused on other feelings, her eyes are closed and she doesn’t notice. I can’t concentrate but she’s moaning, don’t stop, and pushing me into her. I try to wipe it off but the blood just smears under my thumb and makes me think of cartoon Indians in some dark initiation, tribal rights of passage and the drumming of her heart, a fleshy sick percussion that lays under her moaning, her breathy chant and vehement hands forcing me to be a man.
Everything’s out of focus and I can’t stop blinking. There’s still blood in my eye. I want to wipe it on my shirt but I can’t reach with my arms tied down. My head aches. Penelope is pacing in front of me, a stinging blur. The knife keeps catching the light as she turns, piercing me with its silvered glints. She points it at me while monologuing and stamping her foot for punctuation. Really, she’s not making any sense, but I guess I can understand that. I tell her she can hurt me as much as she needs to.