Nothing But Disgust
“That’s nothing,” I say, and point to my elbow. “Fell out of a tree when I was seven. Five stitches. Grandma nearly had a heart attack.”
“Boring. We’ve all fallen out of trees. Check this one out.” She shoves her hand in my face, her palm nearly against my lips to show me two pale half-circles on the underside of her thumb, one inverted on top of other. “Bitten by a rat when I was twelve.”
“A rat?” I squint at the bite. The side of my head itches, as if my scalp can feel scrabbling claws.
“A pet rat, not a wild one from the sewers or anything.”
“Well, that would have been more interesting,” I say, attempting to play off my squeamishness. She gives me a look and crosses her arms.
“Alright, fine. Your turn, if you think you can do better.”
Of course I can.
I unbutton my shirt and let it fall from my shoulders. Oh, It's a good scar—a winning scar—and I grin when she gives it a low whistle. “Bucked off a horse when I was thirteen. Broke my clavicle in three places. The bone went right through the skin, like a knife through a rotten peach.”
She looks suitably impressed, but then she juts out her chin and smirks. She stands and pulls her shirt off over her head. “Car accident. The one my brother died in,” she says of the pink line high up on her side. “Had a birch branch in me the size of your arm.”
I will not be outdone. I stand and move close to her so that she can see the mark that had once split the side of my neck.
“Mugged over on Spring Street. He said he didn’t want to kill me because he liked my tits.”
She pulls aside her hair and shows me the old cigarette burns on the back of her neck. “Mom.”
I drop my skirt and show her the welts on the backs of my thighs, drawn by a eucalyptus switch from the back yard. “Dad.”
She undoes her jeans and slides them down her hips, showing me the scatterplot of puckered wounds that spill down her thigh. “Dog, from the next house over. Big German Shepard. Bit me nine times. The owner was drunk and she just watched. Just stood and laughed.”
“Scars from a rat and a dog? Maybe animals just don’t like you.”
“I can’t blame them.” She puts a hand on my shoulder to steady herself as she steps out of her jeans. “I don’t like me, either.”
"I like you."
She shakes her head with a sad sort of fondness, then prompts me with a haughty, “Your turn.”
The side of my head is itching again. I ignore it. “I don’t think I have any more," I say, a little embarrassed.
“Sure you do.”
I search my body for scars, hands sliding, searching, groping for the desired imperfections. My fingertips brush over my flat belly and remember the hidden wound, the one only she knew about, the one I never showed off.
I peel back the panel of smooth skin below my navel. Beneath it is a layer of flesh, streaked with rich, yellow fat. I peel that back, too. It is thin as a leaf and I marvel at the intricate web of veins as the light shines through it. More flesh is layered beneath, and yet more is layered under that. I lift each piece and fold it back like the pages of a book, revealing new depths with each flick of my wrist. I part my intestines and uncover the center of my femininity, the empty bud resting in the garden of my pelvis.
She cannot see the raw scrapes on the inside, where the failed sprout had been cleared away too harshly for the soil to ever bear fruit again. But still she nods, for she knows how deep this scar runs.
“I win, then.” I am confident in my victory, but I can not bring myself to smile. She shakes her head again.
“Not yet. We each have another hole to share.”
She digs her fingers into the center of her chest and tugs at her ribcage. It comes apart pulpy, like a ruptured section of orange. She plucks out her heart, holding it in one cupped hand so that the ripe juice runs from between her fingers. She points to a tear in one of the meaty chambers, sticks a finger in it to show how deep it goes.
The itch is maddening.
“How did you earn that one?” I ask. I don’t want to know. This has gone too far now and I want the game to be over. We are too bare already.
“You don’t remember?”
I don’t. I don’t remember it at all. I would never hurt her, never like this. The hole in her heart is not my doing and it frightens me in the same way that her nakedness frightens me. It’s not her shed clothing, but the openness of her cracked chest, the inflating-deflating sacks of her lungs, staring into the very meat of her that makes the bile rise.
The itch on the side of my head overwhelms me and I finally allow myself to scratch, desperate for any distraction. My fingers push through hair and, failing to meet the expected resistance of my scalp, dig into soft wetness.
“You did that, too,” she says, breathing in the smoke of my sin. “One wound causes another. One tree falls and knocks into its neighbor, until the whole forest has collapsed and decayed.”
She takes my hand and guides my slicked fingers into the opening, following the bullet’s path. And I remember the bathroom. I remember David Bowie on the radio and the shower running because I wanted to block out the noise of it; I didn't want her to hear. I remember wiping the hot fog from the mirror so that I could see my face as I placed the muzzle.
I remember the crack of gunfire as I pull our fingers from my collapsing mind.
She must hate me, for what I did to her, for what I did to me.
But when I can bear to look at her I see only kindness in her, a blood-splattered forgiveness that holds no trace of anger or--worse--disgust. Her bare arms are open and I fall into them, face nuzzling into her wet warmth until I can feel her lungs press against my cheeks when she inhales. My nose brushes against her spine and my hands reach down into her abdomen, gathering her precious organs to my chest as I weep for us.
She holds me and together we descend into our private darkness, with no thoughts spared for loss or sadness. There is only us. Every part of us. And we have all of eternity to heal our wounds.
and fury in his eyes
as he stared at the food on the plate in front of him.
He had given her every chance
but she would have to go.
Could no – one in this God forsaken country cook?
He called her in,
then strangled her.
He would bury her along with the rest in his favourite place
and begin again the tedious business of writing an advert for the paper.
'Cook/Housekeeper wanted, to live in.'
Maybe it would be sixth time lucky.
The Schosse Moskovskoye ran alongside the Volga for a while
We looked for somewhere to rest
Somewhere with beds
That slightly repulsed
The river was a metal ribbon
Lying lead like through the leafy ground
The vastness of Russia
Was all around
I found the perfect amount of comfort and fear in this
I sat in the hot tub
Imagined cutting them off there
But the river
Would be better with it’s
Chill solidity and unforgivingness
People I looked at
I thought they knew
Their eyes knew
And they smiled with respect
For my pilgrimage
I felt terribly at home
In that my home was nowhere
So it could just as well be here
I loved the river
I wanted to drink it
I stepped to the bank
Dipped an empty vodka bottle
Drank deeply of the water and bits of dirt
The history and tragedy of the land
My hand shook a little with the cold
I pulled my trousers down
I crouched and baptised myself in the Volga
And lit a cigarette and drank some more of it’s ory juice
Under the stars
No, it was cloudy
It doesn’t matter
I wept a little into the river
It felt like such a perfect thing
Such a perfect thing