This piece was initially published in the On Fiction Writing magazine in 2011.
See the original blog post here.
TRIGGER WARNING: abuse & self-harm.
When they’re fresh, the cuts don’t look how they’re supposed to. They’re moist, and the flesh around them is tender. I like them better the next day, when the scabs have covered the gashes and drawn jagged lines across my forearm. I like them much better when they itch. Then I feel justified to scratch them open.
I take another sip of coffee, then place the cup in the middle of the round mat, the deep-blue one with those tiny petals cut into the rim. I feel like deep-blue this morning. I stop a drop of coffee that oozes down the side of my cup, and lick my finger.
It’s been fourteen days since my first cut. Every other day a new cut joined the others on the journey from my left wrist to the inner side of my elbow. I was careful not to press too hard, just enough to make them perfect. And I wear them with pride. But he doesn’t notice. Oh God, he doesn’t notice…
Every time I pass him in the hallways I shy from his gaze, look down, look up, anywhere but into his eyes. I don’t want to see he’s forgotten me, to see he doesn’t care that I shudder, that I cringe with fearful, self-disgusted longing. I walk past him in silence and scratch at my arm. The memory of what he’s done to me is just like the scabs I keep ripping off again and again. It keeps growing back.
Seeing him every other day renews the memory, that old, forever scar of mine that I can’t stop to pick at.
It’s time. I’ve barely slept last night, too many thoughts and ideas run through my mind, too many possibilties. I haven’t decided yet, I’m afraid nothing I can do will be good enough. But I’ve got five hours left until lunch, and I’ll figure out how to make this day memorable.
I get off the bus and count the steps that take me to the entrance. The other nurses on my shift won’t be in for another half hour. Enough time to recheck my arm. Seven cuts, the latest from last night. Perfectly aligned, perfectly parallel. There’s no more room on my arm.
“Morning!” Beth smiles at me like she always does. Her curly black hair is loose and unkempt, like it always is. Beth is dependable that way.
“Morning,” I say, and fold my street clothes neatly into my locker.
“Damn, I hope today will be a normal day,” she sighs, kicking her shoes off. “I need a couple of naps, haven’t slept much last night.” She giggles. “Party on a Tuesday night — not a good idea. You know, crazy friends can be a real pain. But I still love them!”
I nod out of courtesy, even though she’s not looking at me, and close my locker. I fit the key into the hole and turn it slowly, trying not to make a sound. Beth giggles again, and I snap my head around and frown at her, but she’s still not looking at me.
“Who’s leading the ER today?” she asks, stripping her pants off and standing there in a red thong. I look away.
“I think it’s doctor… uhm…” My hand trembles over my slashed forearm. “Must be doctor Anderson. I think.”
“Ugh, can’t stand him! He’s such a sleazy groper. I heard of at least three nurses who quit because of him. I feel so sorry for them, poor things. Man, if he’d ever touch me I’d cut his dick off—just like that!” she snaps her fingers.
I dig a nail into my cut.
The pain gnaws at the edge of my awareness, but it’s too lazy, too far away. I grit my teeth, and walk out of the locker room. Beth won’t stop me. She never understands such things, couldn’t possibly wrap her pretty little mind around them. And she doesn’t try. Beth is dependable that way.
It’s lunchtime and I’m sitting in the private restroom of the last office on the fifth floor. I have successfully managed to avoid all areas where I could have met him, and have inspected each of my little ideas again. There isn’t much time, at 12:55 he’ll stand right before me. I can’t afford to be indecisive.
I untie my hair, take off my coat and my bra. I slip down my panties, then bend down to pull off my socks.
I shove my clothes into the toilet and close the lid. Take a deep breath. Seven cuts. Seven perfect, straight cuts. Fourteen days. Has it really been so long? It seems like a moment ago.
The door opens.
“What the–?” he gawks at me.
“Corinne?” A confused frown shadows his eyes, his deep-blue eyes, with those tiny little gray petals cut around his pupils.
I smile wider as he comes toward me.
“What do you want?” he asks. “I would’ve expected many things, maybe even charges. But this?…” He grins and looks around. “Is this some sort of pay-back? Have you installed cameras or something? Want to get it on tape for the court? Are you wired?”
“Come on, Corinne,” he sighs, and touches my shoulder. “Look, I’m sorry. Is this what you want to hear? I’m sorry, I’m just a man. Shit happens. But you’re a tough girl, you’ve handled it well. You might have even liked it. I mean, it’s not like you resisted,” he grins, and cups my shoulder in his soft, warm hand. “You liked it, didn’t you? You like it rough. You want more. Is that it?”
I reach behind myself and feel along the cold, sleek edge of the sink.
“It’s been fourteen days,” I say to him, my voice softened by my smile. “Fourteen days since I died.”
He nods absently, staring at my breasts, and makes these little movements with his hand on my shoulder, back and forth, up and down, back and forth.
I clench my hand as I bring the scalpel forward. It’s soothing as it slices into my arm. My blood splatters on his white coat, and he lets go. My hand arches and curves in the air, and dances in front of him—blade up, blade down—back and forth, back and forth. He drops on his knees, drops at my feet, drops on the red splattered floor where his blood flows into mine.
I won’t let him forget that he killed me that day, won’t let him forget me, like I’d never forget him. I would never succeed to remove that scab while he lives to regrow it, while I live to pick at it. I would never forget, no rape victim ever forgets.
I bow down and trace the pretty gray petals in his eyes with the tip of the blade, until I can’t hold the scalpel any longer.