issue twenty-three

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(1290 words)
Karen Jones
       This morning I hate you. I wake up, look at you and hate you. You look so innocent, worry lines smoothed out as you lie there. You. Lying.

I stay like that for a while, just staring, hardly breathing. I see your eyelids flutter, the precursor to your morning wide-eyed gaze. You open your eyes, see me watching, give me a smile -- a gentle, loving smile -- then you look into my eyes and your smile fades; you know it's a hate morning. You lower your gaze, turn away, cuddle up into the duvet, pretending we haven't made contact. You fake sleep-breathing.

I sit, and stare, and hate. When I get up I hear you sigh. Not a sorry sigh to feel me go, a relieved sigh to feel the weight of me leave you.

In the shower I use the exfoliant and the loofah. I scrub until my skin is bright red. It isn't enough. I scrape and scratch, removing invisible traces of you. I work until I bleed. I get out and rub too hard with the towel, wincing, but at least feeling. I pass the mirror -- my red, angry reflection. And something else. You. You with the soothing body lotion and forgive-me eyes. I let you apply the lotion, let it sting, let it sink in.

You dress me, slowly, carefully. You dress me "for the weather." I let myself go limp, loose, malleable. You steer me to the door, to the real world. At the last moment you put your scarf around my neck. It's too big, too heavy, but I let you wrap it around me.

I wear the scarf all day. It itches and makes me claw at my neck, but I know I can't take it off. It's part of you so I can't hang it on the hook with my old coat. It's there to remind me that you hurt too.


Winter suits you. You, all wrapped up in layers, topped by a huge coat. Me, wanting to unwrap you, to get to the heart of you. Your skin glows in the crisp cold air, your breath is visible, proof that you're alive. I seem to love you more in winter.

But I'm the one who wrapped you up. The one who buried you, so deep. You dig and scratch at yourself while I dig and scratch at the surface of you, hoping to find where you went, where we were, once, a long time ago. I can't have lost you.

It's a hate day -- I saw it in your eyes the minute I opened mine this morning. They're becoming more frequent. Your attacks on yourself are increasing. What if I'm not there one day? Will you scrub all the way through to the bone? Is that what you want? I'm never sure who you hate -- is it me, or you? Either way, you hurt us both while punishing me.


       This afternoon I want you. I can't call, can't let you know. I mustn't let you feel wanted on a hate day. I have to get through it, to last a whole day when the tension means swallowing hurts, and just breathing in and out takes all I have to give.

You'll ask me to talk. I don't want to talk. I want you to take me, to make me feel something physical, no emotions. But you can't do that -- of course, we both know what you are capable of -- but not with me. With me it's love and tenderness and looking after. Sometimes it feels more like smothering, like I'm disappearing under the weight of your love.

Is that how you mean it to be? I'm never sure. Are you hoping I'll perform a daring escape or sink so low even you can't reach me?

Your scarf catches on my chair and tightens around my neck. I let it.


I imagine you at work, my scarf on the hook, something of me with you. Do you look at it and hate it, too? I want to picture you stroking the wool, feeling for softness and tenderness. Those are the things I'm good at -- those are the things I can give to you. I could never be rough with you, never hurt you again.

Sometimes it feels like you want me to hurt you -- want me to tighten my grip when we make love. Want me to fuck you, not love you. Sometimes a little of me wants that too. But what if I'm wrong? What if I'm misreading signals? Or inventing signals?

Today I just want to hold you. To comfort you. To let you know I'm sorry for whatever scar you're remembering, whether I inflicted the pain or it was some other lover or friend from the past. I want to make up for us all. I just want to make up.


       The heat from your scarf has made me uncomfortable all day. Colleagues commented, wondering why I wouldn't take it off. Jokes about love bites. Jokes about double chins and wattle. I laughed at them all.

I can still laugh with other people when I hate you. Would that surprise you? I imagine you watching me from across the street, a solitary stake-out in the building opposite, a telescopic lens capturing each mood as it settles on my face for brief moments. A covert collage of my life away from you and my hatred.

Would you be happy knowing that I can fake happiness with others when I can't fake anything with you? I watch the clock, time bleeding away, its trail leading me back to you.

On the train home I decide I won't love you today. Won't forgive you. And tomorrow seems a long way away.


I stay at home today and clean the house and prepare dinner. There's no guarantee that you'll eat -- sometimes you won't eat for days, just drink glass after glass of water, trying to flush yourself away. Or maybe you're trying to flush away the odium that eats you up and spits me out.

I've washed and ironed any clothes you left in the hamper. The rooms are as clean as one day's work allows. The table is set for our showdown. I watch the door. Your entrance will let me know where I stand or if I should run.

I remember the night you found out about her. The night, so many years ago, when you came home to accuse me. You opened the door so gently, not your usual half-run-half-fall into my arms. I knew.

I hear your keys in the door.


       I slip into the apartment, start when I see you waiting by the door. The look in your eyes is so desperate, so desolate, it's like you've winded me. I feel my plans crumble to the shining floors.

I turn away from you, take off my coat, hang it on the highest peg, the one I have to stretch for. I slip my shoes off and place them on the mat directly below the hooks. I loosen the scarf, feel my breath release properly for the first time that day, then I walk to you, wind the other half of the scarf around your neck, sit on your knee and let you cry into the wool.

When the weight of the scarf is too much for us both, you lift me up, like I'm a child, and carry me to the bedroom, and I realise I don't want you to hurt me anymore. And I'll stop hurting you -- for today, at least.


M  C  R

This work is copyrighted by the author, Karen Jones. All rights reserved.