Brave Nonetheless

There are some things only talked about in the mirror; when I run my hands through newly-shorn hair at the nape of my neck. When that still water of glass reflects my fingers deftly sewing up a shirt. When the brush scrapes enamel worn to ghostliness by addiction’s sucker punch. As the scales tick back and forth like a clock, when the smell of honey rises from a pot of cool cream.

There are some things I say to myself when the black silk trim of my curtain is whipped about like a violent phantom by a night full of foxes opening their razor throats, shrieking love poetry. When I wait for my bones to reclaim sleep like white roots sipping opiates from the earth, when the rain sings its acapella lullaby.

There are secret words I use to comfort myself when I see a hearse roll down the road, a train pull away, my mother’s hand wave goodbye through the window, a crushed car dumped on the verge with coke cans and badger corpses and feathers fluttering from smashed bird bodies. Loss upon loss, piled up on the highway. Monuments to unhappy transience.

Prayers and mantras for washing hair with pure olive soap, for shaking out bedlinen that smells of lavender and the pine trees that pour their scent from the hilltop. For gauging the colour of storm clouds, dabbing bloodied knees with cotton, watering the tender green jasmine plant, shaking delicate mustard yellow chamomile flowers into a glass jar.

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Psalms to command stillness, acceptance, love. A long litany of nurture in spite of med times and eyes strained from mangling saltwater and kids on the bus who spit.

Words to remind me who I am. To soothe simplicity into my hands as my mind turns over and over, devouring itself. As my minds argue and cajole and placate one another, Russian dolls with peeling paint and hidden jewels for eyes, willful and strange and ecstatic and sorrowful. Oh, and brave; brave like the last cigarette against a pockmarked wall. Brave like the execution blindfold stained with blood spatter and powder burns.

Brave nonetheless.

Scarlet

‘What happened to you?’

I remember the old Spanish woman in the corner of the ward. I woke to see her bending over my bed, rosary beads slipping rhythmically between her brown spindle fingers. When she saw my eyes crack open, she stopped her prayers to ask, ‘Was it an acid attack? Were you in a fire?’

The fire is in my body. I have had an allergic reaction to some new medication that is burning my skin off from within. Wisps of thinnest tissue are weeping clear fluid, I am shedding myself; a serpent thrown into boiling mercury. I am 23. They tell me I might be about to die.

My face is so deformed by the swelling that I am unrecognisable. I wake in the night, the heat from my dying skin has dried my tears in my sleep. I was always terrified of fire as a child, of burning alive, trapped in a building. Now it is finally happening, inside my own windowless, bony house.

In the chapel, there is a prayer board.

For Sandy, For Colin. For Mum. For my little boy. Please, God. Thank you, God. Please.

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I scrape through the days. They pump pints of water into my drying husk at night along with pink steroids. A vase of white roses appears by my bed, ghosts going brown around the edges.

Later, they take pictures of me for their textbooks; my feet planted a hips-width apart, my arms outstretched; so that young doctors can examine in detail my raw Vitruvian form; the skinned snake with a fearful heart exposed.

When it is certain I am going to live, I go home. I cannot lie on the bedsheets. I speak in shocked monosyllables. I eat slowly through the scarlet mess of my lips. The fire dies to a mere smouldering ash in my lucky bones. I remember the clicking of those white beads in the dark, again and again.

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Please, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.