Another longer one. I submitted this as a short story for my Creative & Professional Writing unit this study period. I thought it was just ok so I was pretty surprised when it came back marked 90%, my highest creative writing mark to date. Needless to say, I was pretty chuffed. Hope you like it – sorry, it’s a bit morbid but ends well, I think.
Him – Before
He found her in the bathtub. There was so much red. At first, he couldn’t process what he was seeing. He thought it must be a joke or a hallucination, maybe. An incredibly vivid acid flashback from his misguided student years. But the paleness, the blueness of her skin in all that red triggered something. He dragged her from the tub and swaddled her in towels; the new towels they’d bought the previous weekend. The first purchase they’d made for their new home together, now ruined.
He’d called 000 on speaker while he applied pressure to her wrists.
“Yes, I have an emergency. Yes, she’s… she’s…” It took long seconds for him to find the word but, in the end, he couldn’t say it.
“Please help us,” he sobbed down the phone.
The operator’s voice dissolved into the background. When the paramedics arrived, they had to pry his hands away from her. He was no help, no use, while they bashed on her chest and prodded her with needles. He sat in the corner and watched. He couldn’t think of anything else to do.
It had only really been ‘their’ home for a week before it became ‘his’ home. He slept curled up like a question mark on the couch; their bed – now his bed – felt too big without her. When they called to say she could come home, he put down the phone and stared out the window, wondering who would be coming back to him.
She slept like a beached wreck, tangled between the sheets and soaked in sweat. Her pale hair lay slick against her forehead and her arms were flung out wide across the bed. He could see how much weight she’d lost. He could see ribs, bones and bruises. She looked child-like and damaged in ways he hadn’t known possible.
When she finally woke, she did it in pieces. First her eyes opened, then her head turned, then, bit by bit, the rest of her body creaked to life, as if she couldn’t remember how to operate this strange machinery.
He brought her tea and toast, when the time seemed right. As they sat together, he drank her in; her jittery movements, the chipped bruise-purple polish on her bitten-down nails, the way her fingers shook when seeking the handle of the tea cup or the crust of the toast. She stared out the window, as if the meaning of life was written in the sky.
He felt he didn’t know this person but he wanted to show her the trees dancing in the wind and the dust motes floating through the sun beams. There were things to be happy about.
The room was bright and all too familiar. Its cheeriness stung her eyes. She wanted to burrow down into the sheets and forget the world existed. But she knew he wouldn’t let her.
There he was hovering at the door, looking concerned. Clutching his pathetic breakfast, as if that was going to make things OK. She tried to ignore him, wanted desperately for him to go away but, of course, he came in. Sat on the edge of the bed.
She wrapped the sheets around her like an invisibility cloak. If only he couldn’t see her like this. She was painfully aware of her nakedness beneath the sheets, of the bruises scored across her skin, the bandages on her wrists. She could feel him looking at her, wanting her to acknowledge him but she couldn’t. She couldn’t bring herself to see the worry in his eyes, how that once smiling, carefree face had changed… because of her. Her gaze slid across his face and out the window. After a few minutes, she heard him leave.
He didn’t let it bother him. He went back two more times that day and every day after that. He brought her meals with herbal tea and the almond croissants he knew she loved. When she was too listless to struggle, he bundled her into his arms and took her outside to sit in the sun, where he would point out birds and cloud animals and jet planes, streaking across the sky.
She never said anything but, as each day passed, her eyes seemed more focused. He thought he saw a smile tug at her lips when he pointed out a particularly fanciful cloud animal. On the fourth day, he touched her shoulder and she didn’t flinch. On the seventh, she let him hold her hand and he thought he felt the slightest squeeze in return.
Every now and again, he would catch her tracing her fingers along a fading bruise or picking at her bandages. In those moments, his throat would tighten and he’d wish he could hug her and tell her it would be OK.
After two weeks, he was able to sit in bed with her. They’d sit in silence; him reading a book, her staring out the window. It was as close to perfect as he allowed himself to hope for.
The days passed and slowly the fog lifted. She felt like she was feeling the sun for the first time. Like she’d been trapped in a world of dark and cold and finally been released. She now waited eagerly for him to take her outside where the sun could warm her skin. She had even come to enjoy those moments when he sat in bed with her. His company made her feel more present, less tied up inside her head.
One day, they sat on the bed, enjoying a puddle of sunshine that had splashed across the covers. He thumbed his way through a magazine while she wiggled her toes in the sun, feeling childlike in her pleasure at such a simple thing. Almost by accident, she looked up to find him staring at her. Her eyes met his, without the usual slither down his face into her lap.
She smiled back, although the smile felt broken and flaked with rust.
“You look better,” he said.
She took a moment to think about it.
“I think I am. I mean, I think I will be.” She smiled again and it felt more real this time.
“I’m glad,” he replied and went back to his magazine.
She loved him then, because that was all he needed to say for her to know things would be OK.
Image credit: Quotes Hunger