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.
She screams, ‘Why are we fighting?’ So I make my voice cold in the way I was taught as a child, deep and sharpened for stagecraft. It’s because everything’s too good, I tell her, we don’t trust joy to come so easy or stay solid for long. Hard eyes and a soft tongue, she says, ‘Testing for imperfections.’ Like a peach. ‘Rotten inside?’ Delicious all over. It takes thirty seconds of staring before we’re holding each other in hysterics, the promise of tears swallowed with pride. ‘Are we being silly?’ Only about arguments, I say, the rest is serious.
I don’t scream and it only feels like everybody is staring at me. The rational part of my brain tries desperately to talk my id off a ledge, says there’s no such thing as spiders living under my skin, but I’m unsure how much I’m willing to trust me and have to check regularly. I don’t peel myself apart and scrub at the itch from beneath, I sit there and don’t. Everybody walks past me wrapped in comfortable realities. If I looked at the ragged stitches of my own I would scream, I don’t and nobody continues to look.
Penny puts her free hand on my cheek. I can feel the tremble in it, though her eyes are still and somehow darkened, their militant olive occluded in rumbling grey and seductively poised to storm. I lie carefully, telling her it won’t hurt, turn my cheek and smile into her palm. ‘I don’t want to do this,’ she says, but I promise I won’t be mad and plant a kiss inside her hand before it slips behind to bury fingers in my hair. She pulls my head back gingerly, says, ‘I love you monkey,’ and slits open my throat.