He finishes, grunts and rolls over. The covers go with him, and I shudder as cool air hits my damp skin. There is the smallest, queerest thrill between my throbbing thighs. Perhaps the air mocks his failings, teasing me with how easily it can get to me. Frustrated as his first phlegmy snore punctuates the quiet, I get up and rummage for my clothes.
I know better than to flick on the light, so I scurry in the dark, forgetting that his shoes had been abandoned in haste and catch my toe against a hard heel. Few parts of me don’t ache after a job. He bullied my lips, crushing his stubbly chin against mine, scratching paths over me: going for mileage rather than performance. Nails dug in into hips, back, arms, when he was after some purchase and red lines where hands gripped too tight…a faded yellow blotch from another time.
In the bathroom’s harsh glare, I see the traces of his travels, like routes and pins in a map, all red and fresh, and his final destination still aches: just another place trashed by a thoughtless tourist.
I wash up, but the graffiti will have to just fade away, but I’m good at that… eroding traces. The mouthwash stings my lips, but at least that’s mine, something for me. He’s a regular—pays our bills—and particular…doesn’t like me touching or using his things: doesn’t like reminders of me around or in the bin. Some dark humour tugs at my burning lips as I clean up, using my own tissues, mouthwash and soap, then wipe the sink, the mirror. I remove traces of him and me from his place, but will carry his smell, his marks, his cash, his… deposit until I get home. Like I’m cleaning his conscience, consuming all the filth.
My mood sours, and I can’t look for support in the mirror. The tissues and my stuff go in a bag to be disposed of later, and I dress. He’s paid, so I slip out as though I was never there. The thought empties me. Which is oddly better than the bitter humour floating on uneasy thoughts.
It’s still fairly early; I could earn a bit more, but instead, I risk a thought of you. I try not to. I’m not sure if it’s a balm or punishment.
The café is quiet. The old owner knows me, and despite her harsh gaze and taut lips, she ushers me into one of the gloomy corners and takes my order. It’s a compromise I’m content to make, in a world of few choices. I can’t take you home, after all.
I imagine it’s your glances that have left my skin tingling and my lips are swollen from my own teeth worrying at the flesh. You always made me do that, do you remember? You teased me about it…ran the pad of your thumb over my bottom lip when I bit too hard, laughed when I jumped and your eyes darkening to indigo when I blushed. I did notice, although I think you hoped I hadn’t.
A waitress jolts me from my thoughts, sneering as she slides the mug towards me and leaves, as though proximity risks some contamination. It’s okay, though; I’ve had too much proximity in recent days.
The smell of strong coffee fills my nose, ousting the last memory of his most recent visit, and I pretend you’ve just left. I can still recall your scent from when I used to stop over and Marie sprayed it in exuberance until it was so heavy in the air that it poured down my throat. It’s heady and reminds me of spices. You laughed until you coughed, your face red and eyes streaming. It felt like it took days to wash off; I wish it never had.
Yes, you’ve just left and your cologne lingers, maybe it knows I’m never ready for you to go, and I begin to whisper to it all the things I’ve wanted to say. All the things I can’t say to her or to anyone else. You’re the only one who could understand.
When Marie’s arm got nettled — you remember? — I watched you put Calamine on each white stinging blister with such gentle care, it snatched my breath. Before the summer ended, I got stung. Each gentle dab was cold and thrilling despite how sick the nettles’ stings left me. I think you must have realised then, when you hesitated above the knees and asked how I could have been so silly, walking through nettles in a dress. I’d had to dab the lotion on myself after that, but you’d watched so intently, hunkered down on your knees in front of mine, then you drove me home in silence, your lips tight.
I learnt compromise from you. Learnt to take what I could get. You taught me in the way you stole glances, in accidental touches, and if a friendly kiss got too close to an open mouth, then these things happened when a kid couldn’t sit still. But I pushed too hard at the last. Compromise is a hard balance.
Sometimes, I see your expression in the face of others: that startled, almost terrified look that morphs into something needy and desperate. It’s almost worth the sweaty weight of them. My hand must have been so small, but it held you and drew out sounds I’ve not heard since. Perhaps you soothed yourself in my innocent curiosity, maybe that’s why your fingers never moved from gripping or scratching at the chair arms. It was all me, and you never touched. Or maybe it was because you were interrupted…
Marie hit you. I can’t remember much after that. She made the suggestion of cutting you up—easier to carry in chunks—and then we slipped away. It didn’t take long for the police to find you. We were never tidy girls, and we couldn’t carry you far. But it seems the police gave up after that…we just disappeared.
She wouldn’t understand this: my tricks to get through the working day or to do my half of our work. I can’t tell her that I look for you in their faces or hands, or try to get them to cry out in that stifled, primal way. Or how, when you used that Calamine all those years ago, I was jealous of Marie for the sweetest and most grotesque moment. Just as I can’t quite understand how she comes back so calm with the occasional blood splatter on her clothes or shoes and tells me I’ll need to find another. But maybe we understand each other in ways we can’t or fear to define, and that’s why she forgives me my weakness and I find others for her and quietly wipe away the blood.
I know what she is, and I’m past being scared, because she needs me. So for now, I’ll just plod along while I still look young enough—the bait for her vengeance and the plaything of your ghost—and maybe I’ll find you in one of these men, and you’ll finally give me what I need…an end.
Sian Brighal is a Brit currently living in Germany with her family. She enjoys writing, drawing, baking and crochet. She’s recently discovered flash fiction and is loving writing bite-sized pieces that may bite back. You can find her on Twitter @sian_ink