WARNING: this piece contains themes of rape, kidnap, and abortion. Please use your best judgement when deciding whether to read on.
Standing and wondering, and remembering tears falling from open eyes, like the drops that splash from the ceiling, and dust that showers and sticks to greasy hair, I contemplate the crusted blood. Black at its core, it still might be red at the edges, lining toenails and crusting over, stubbed and broken. Not that I can see, in the half-light, and if I see below my knees at all, it must be imagined, uncertain if even the angle would afford it.
There is a sway somewhere, and an ache somewhere else, and between the two a numbness as my hands hang limp above. There is also the impression of rope at my throat, but it doesn’t bother me, and I am only distantly concerned about being cut down. All limbs are unfelt, and if I weren’t upright I would be less sure of my legs. But there is definitely a sway; or a swinging. Back and forth, back and forth, marking rhythms, and songs – always songs. Whether tunes change day-to-day or hour-to-hour is not worth considering. They lined like sheep, but hadn’t any wool, but were more like the dogs. And lamb to the slaughter, which I have thought clearly for a moment: if days, I must have died, and what is the difference between living purgatory and the place before hell? But then perhaps they had been demons, and they had men’s faces, I’m almost sure.
He visits sometimes, but it could be the devil with his claws between my thighs, which are numb and I only recognise the familiarity in his stooping to know where they are. I’m sure they are there, at the vee. But this doesn’t stink of hell; there seems to be some peace in the sway and in the quiet. Sometimes his face is haggard, and sometimes lithe. If he punishes, I barely feel it, and he must know. Father must have told him before I was handed over.
The little boy who lives down the lane, at the top of the house, strikes contrast, and I think he’s there, although I have never seen him, nor his mother, whose feet tread the kitchen above and shift the dust that falls. I’ve half-thought, too, that my face must be blackened, and what colour had I dyed my hair? If natural, faded brown, grey dust would hardly show, but on my white face it might streak between the scar of tears. More questions begged, of when I last cried; it became futile, then forgotten, then inevitable, and perhaps the circle has closed now with my rough, dry tongue and cracked lips.
I caught some – near the beginning. Salty, but I forced more, thought of shame at school when I raised a hand – voluntarily then – so sure and answered brightly – but incorrectly – and it still stings now, the giggle of girls behind me, that cuts to the core and has no place, but now brought forth another shower for me to lick, gritty, from the corners of my mouth. It also seems ridiculous, strung up and neither here nor there, that little shame still brings tears, which then makes me laugh in the aftermath. Inside, and perhaps inanely in my features too.
But I have been raped – maybe – and what a silly thing to worry about, after the fact, when the screaming is done, and they were the majority, so surely must know better. My one lone voice in the dark is easily stifled by blood and fists and piss. And didn’t I drink? I asked. For water. Which they gave, in one form or another. There might be kindness in that; they didn’t let me die for thirst; and the devil doesn’t now. He lifts a glass to my mouth, and although he could put water or urine or pure alcohol into it and I wouldn’t know the difference, I would still be grateful. Likewise, if the rag of my torn underwear, which daily – or hourly – he uses to wipe my brow and nose and cheeks and chin – not enough to remove dust, but to shift it – were saturated with chloroform, I wouldn’t know that either. But it might be waste, for him, as I am not really here anyway and wouldn’t be.
Of one thing I am sure: the smashing of bottles. Against my heels? I don’t remember that, but have memorised it. There was the haze of my half-consciousness, but their heads swam too, through the green beer bottles. Wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to sweep it up. But perhaps they did. Perhaps the doctor – did he follow to the house? – would have been more wakeful, more watchful. Voyeur, saviour, cleaner. For certain, before my vision floated, the bottles stole blood from my cunt. Not broken, not sharp – but forceful. Fucked. Deep. Until I screamed and Father smiled. I’ve always seen pride in that.
At some point in my swaying a word appears – or appeared – a little clearer than the rest, but still blurred at its edges, and it is caught in an irregular web, the fly I am not ready to devour or spit out. It remains, unsaid, and perhaps the devil wants it, but I’m only practicing it on the tip of my tongue. Even a whisper in his absence would be too telling. But I do consider it, and won’t admit that I do, even to the web itself and the sway and the master and the dame.
He looks at me through man’s eyes, though I can’t make out their hue beneath his brows, but they waver in humanity. I am certain. I don’t know his name, never have and never will, and it struggled between my molars at the start, and now I don’t care quite so much. His name is not a picture of him any more than mine is of me, and it never sat right anyway. I should have been called Rosie, or Emily, as I gazed into the mirror and looked at the blush of my rounded cheeks.
There is pain, and perhaps it seems a small point, but not to me, in the moment, as he bucks against my hips, and I remember that the little boy is no more than a thought and a wish. My sadness is nothing to hers, and it is then that the word is brought more closely to my parched lips. Another thing I don’t feel is the moment he bursts inside me; but I recognise it by the grunt at my ear, and the stifled breaths, and if he is really there, then what I am doing is far more evil. The be-all and end-all of her desires, lost. As she paces the kitchen, every hope she ever had is gone as it spills into me. That, more than anything, marks time. I have lost count of the grunts – which is no indication of there having been many – but without numeracy, in the pain and torture of my heart, the amount has grown significantly, and again and again I have felt the little boy die. The devil’s seed is not for me, and as I keep the word, I steal it. It is made to meet with her maternity, and instead meets the ferryman of my cervix. But then of course he would not be the devil; just man and husband, and wanton father.
Once I thought I might, one day, fight the hand of death and seek to dislodge it from my cunt, but the doctors told me, with sterility, I would never win. Perhaps this is why I keep the word. Perhaps there is so great a pain and jealousy in me that I care not for her happiness if I can’t have mine. Except mine is not manifest. It is the possibility of future; even if I could, I am not interested in shaking the ferryman from between my thighs now. And I have only made him the ferryman, not the reaper, so perhaps if I send the children there without coins he won’t take them across.
Still, when I thought that, I found myself on the cold clinical table, pried open at twilight. I was not very sad, but discontent. It would never have lived; my body is a killing machine, and without coins they cannot even find peace. With shards of glass they cut him out – or her. And not really: it was scalpels, but today glass is for cutting. Then again it comes back, the blood – crusted or fresh – dry death and living liquid, on my toes and from her womb, and soaking the doctor’s towels. It’s not the same. Each cloud of dust that falls is different. And that’s her fault, for leaving the bowels of her home unkept, and for treading above me – if she knows yet. And the glass – that jumps – and even if they had swept it, or attempted to, they’d have missed a shard through the half-light. It will cut my feet when I say the word.
I stay; too late to change. Still call him the devil, though I am no despoiled innocent, or defiled child; I am sadist and torturer more than any hands that have ravaged, beaten, cut, or hanged me. Worse still, to me it is no more than a game of endurance and desire. To her it is every beating heart and pulsing want, every smiling child in the playground, as I slit each throat – if she knows yet.
I ignore it a while longer. Attempt to arrange the pieces of cruelty: glass, blood, sway. Boy, doctor, sway. Fertile, sterile, sway. I put them in boxes – two dimensional – upon the examination table – or was it the blood spattered, clinic steel? – like specimens for inspection. It takes some time. I look for their chronology, but that is too hazed. Name them, alphabetise them, but then, was mine male or female, child or infant? Is she wife, or mother, bottle or glass, sadists or minions, men or demons? And I want to destroy my pattern when I see myself as puppeteer. Like the tears, like the sway, like the song, arrange them into three bags. Tear it down. Begin again. I loathe the result, am addicted to the process.
He interrupts me. As I am placing the final example on the board, he breaks my concentration, refuses me my destruction.
And so, the game is mapped, the chess pieces set out, the edge aligned with the end of the table. I hear her wracking sobs as she bleeds, pause before I take the King again, and again, and I finally speak the word. My word. Safety, in two hollow syllables. Too late; it only serves to tell her – if she didn’t know yet – how deeply ‘thief’ is carved into my abdomen, and my wounds and strained arms will heal, but her sadness will sit at the table between him and her, and never leave, even if the little boy settles opposite and smiles sweetly, and they watch the flush of his cheeks and only see the blood of his lost siblings drip beneath his jaw.
But I do, I speak. Taken so far, it is no relief to be cut down and feel my muscles burn, impaled on needles. I scream and it is another moon’s blood on the inside of her thighs. I stub my toes, and red blossoms beneath black, and a shard is stuck into my heel – was already, long before, days or hours. I don’t even meet her eyes to apologise as I whisper sorries that mean cruel triumph, like Salomé calling confession to the Gods. And her kitchen never was above me. I have mapped a house that is now alien.
Father – mine – responds to the phone, and time drags before he gathers me in his arms – not out of care or sympathy, but to remove the broken, parasitic fetus of my glistening limbs from the gut of the place she calls home. In the plastic covered passenger seat of his pristine car, I hold my foot in my palms and suck the glass out, and if I had any hope I would ask, at the traffic lights, if Father loved me. But instead I pass out, selfish.