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.’
Both of us wear splinters shaped by other people in the layers of our skin. We take turns removing some, examining others, and guarding the rest. This one, I say, goes pretty deep, it’s shaped like a betrayal of trust. ‘Fascinating,’ she says, pulling it gingerly from my heart. ‘I got this one when realising they didn’t see the world like me.’ I pluck it tenderly from her eye and toss it on the pile. When we are done we talk about the absence of pain, wondering how we could have lived for so long with such prickling discomfort.
Remember when you kicked me in the head and told me it was my fault, I’d leaned into it, or when you took me by the throat and told me to apologise for upsetting you? I want to say it’s funny now, but it’s not. I wake with the fruits of your labours festering on my skin, caught in iced droplets of sweat that chill me in ways I can never say. I wish I had scars that could heal, something to show for the violence and pain, something I could use and not merely the memory of abuse.
I step on little pieces of you all the time, the pain is immediate and travels from sole to brain with sharp familiarity. They’re strewn everywhere in stealth, tiny daggers wherever I want to be, lingering with benign viciousness in the path of my life. Once upon a time we dreamt of building something grand and enduring together, though we always found the most fun in the revels of destruction. Eventually we stopped planning anything together. Now you’re just a wistful ache, a stubbed-toe ghost, and all these leftover pieces that no longer fit together like they should.