the following story contains content relating to self-harm which could be triggering to some readers
“Tell me what you know.”
“I don’t know anything.”
“Tell me how you feel then.”
“Honestly, I don’t feel anything. Please. Please don’t. Fucking hell. Please don’t do that.”
But she does anyway, slicing lengthwise down her forearm, a bit deeper this time.
“Please,” she cries. Tears squeeze themselves from her eyes and blood from the cut. “Please stop.”
“I thought you said you don’t feel anything.”
“I don’t,” she says, “but please stop. That’s enough, surely?”
“No it’s not. It’s not enough, and I won’t stop. Not until you have told me. Told me everything. Told me what you’re feeling about him. There’s something, like, wrong about it – something wrong about how you feel, and you’re going to tell me what it is. You know what it is. Deep down, you know.”
“There’s nothing. Honestly. I don’t know anything. I don’t feel anything. I never feel anything.”
She is holding the arm over the sink. It doesn’t bleed as much as she’d thought, or perhaps hoped, but a few drops splash into the bowl. She counts them: seven. One for each year in care.
“One last time: tell me. Tell me. Tell me, for fuck’s sake, tell me.”
“No. I can’t. I won’t.”
She screws up her eyes tight, placing one of the scissor blades against the skin again.
“I won’t. I won’t tell you. I won’t.”
“You don’t owe him anything, you know. He’s the one who abandoned you. You don’t owe him any loyalty. You can tell me the truth. You owe me, not him. I’m the important one here. For fuck’s sake – he sods off when you need him most, you don’t seen him for years, then you see him once, and suddenly you won’t even, like, talk to me. Have you got no fucking memory? The cunt left you in this fucking hell-hole. He left you. And you see him once for, like half an hour, and you forget about everything – and somehow think you owe him your loyalty, silence, or some shit. Well, let me remind you: you don’t owe him anything. He’s shit, he’s nothing – let alone a father. He’s not a real father. He was just a stupid sperm in a car crash with an egg seventeen years ago. He’s just a walking sperm dispenser.”
There’s a pause after the rant, as she tries to control her breathing: in-out-in-out. Then she speaks more quietly, gently: “Please, you can tell me. I won’t be angry. I promise. Just tell me how you feel. Tell me. I know something’s going on. I know there’s something wrong. It’s obvious.”
“There’s nothing to tell you. Honestly. I don’t feel anything.”
“Then you’ve left me no choice, you stupid bitch.” She presses the blade through the skin, deeper this time – as if it were possible to cut down to the unconscious, to find what’s down there, buried under skin, flesh, bones, and to prise it out. She stifles her own cry, and draws the scissors down the forearm again, cutting a parallel line of blood with the other two. This time, the blood flows freely from the wound.
“Tell me,” she demands, one last time.
“I’ll never tell you. Never.” She is sobbing now, and tears and blood mix in the sink. “Fuck you,” she says, exhilarated, intoxicated by pain. “I’ll never tell you. Nevernevernevernever.”
But the blood and tears are betraying her to herself, coalescing in the sink like a confession, a denunciation: she loves him, they are whispering, the stupid bitch still loves him.
Jonathan Taylor is an author, editor, critic and lecturer. His books include the novels “Melissa” (Salt, 2015) and “Entertaining Strangers” (Salt, 2012), the memoir “Take Me Home” (Granta, 2007), and the short story collection “Kontakte and Other Stories” (Roman, 2013). He is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. He lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk