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It used to happen a lot. There’s one time I particularly remember, when we were living in Salford. The rain was coming down heavy, and I was waiting at the traffic lights. The cars going past were throwing waves up from the road. I tried to stay out of the way but I was getting drenched. My arm started hurting. Not an ache from the cold, but a sudden sharp pain. I pulled my sleeve to my shoulder and the skin there was splitting open, like a zip undoing. The cut was bleeding, washing out pink with the rain. It was a mess.
I knew what was happening. I shot across the road, clutching my arm. A car’s wing mirror struck across my back. I stumbled but kept going, dropping spots of blood into the puddles. I remember thinking at least it was raining, at least it wouldn’t stain the pavement. The wound was growing, my skin pushing apart down my arm. My damp clothes were restrictive, I could barely run and I could barely breathe. I burst through the tower block’s door, a white pain searing in my head as I stumbled on the concrete steps. A splattering sound followed me up.
I kicked our door open and she was there, my girl, digging the point of the knife into her skin. I felt the second wound on my own arm begin to open. I took the knife away, bandaged her arm then mine, and made us a cup of tea. Tea helped. It was the warmth as much as anything. I always put on music as well. Spanish guitar, the acoustic stuff. She said it made her feel safe.
It was like a drug. That’s what I used to think. It reminded me of someone taking a drag from a joint. The way she’d shiver when she pulled the knife along her skin, then breathe out like she was letting something go. It bothered her what it did to me, but I mean, it bothered her what it did to her. It was how she coped. I’d come back from work, and my head would be muddled and my chest would feel all wrong, and I’d have a drink. You know, take the edge off, settle everything down. She didn’t drink.
I felt so selfish sometimes back then. I got sick of hearing my own thoughts. All I’d worry about was what would happen to me if she took it a step too far. Say she really lost it, and hung herself from the light fixture. Would I choke on the street, falling and grabbing at my throat? Or would there be a deadness inside me? Its weight shifting back and forth under my skin wherever I walked for the rest of my life.
I’d get angry some nights. I’d be so damn tired—of having to go to the bathroom at work to bandage myself and call her, of not being able to go out with my friends in case they saw it happening. Of the fact she still did it even though she knew somewhere she was tearing open my flesh as well. I’d go to a pub, and I’d drink, and I’d smoke, till even that fuzzy taste in my mouth pissed me off.
One of those nights, the last of those nights, I came home and I was drunk as hell. There she was, sitting on the bed with the knife’s blade pressed against her palm. She hadn’t cut yet. I just fucking screamed at her. I got it all out, all the bad days she’d given me. She looked at me with spite in her eyes and sliced across her hand. On mine, nothing happened. No wound, not even a scratch. So I made the tea, and put the Spanish guitar on, down low because we had neighbours. She sat drinking from her mug, a bandage tied round her hand, staring at where there was nothing around mine.
She left me in the morning. That was the end of it. Sometimes there’ll be an itch on my skin, and I’ll wonder if it’s her, but you know everybody itches. I do sometimes see her around. She’s got a new boy now, and she’s still got scars, but I don’t think she does it anymore. It’s a good ending I suppose. Deep down though, there are times when I wish for it. When I want to see a cut opening down my wrist, feel the sting. Know she’s thinking of me.