by SARAH CLACK
Kate snapped from the spell of dancing soda bubbles in her glass to an exclamation from the group on the central sofa. Tom knelt contorted on the cushions, grasping at the shirt on his back, the subject below his waistband scrutinised by his surrounding friends. They roared with laughter, applauding as they fell back into their seats.
Grinning with pride his eyes glowed in challenge. Beat that!
Sian went next, offering her arm like a sacrifice to show the faintest line of white skin, searching their faces for approval.
Kate dipped her chin, like always in public. It was instinctive, an angle to help her hide away. What was it with new friends and scars? She knew the question was coming. This was exactly why she didn’t go to parties but it had been such a tough few weeks! Couldn’t she enjoy just one night? Clearly they had all seen her scars, she noticed the second their eyes flicked to them when introduced, like every person she had ever met since she earned them.
Kate wore a heavy arc of crescent moons that moved with her smile, though that was rare. Some people were so rude, blurting it out before even exchanging names, ‘what happened to your face?’ Thankfully these guys had more manners, except that tonight the drinks were flowing and this bonding ceremony had only one ending. Do everyone a favour and leave.
She glanced at the door behind and rose smoothly from her seat, a practised feline movement to slip away without notice.
“How did you get yours Kate?” Too late! A wall of eyes stared expectantly.
She stood hunched and frozen like a deer in headlights, waiting for the smash of a grill. That could have been a relief.
“I’m just going to get a drink…” she said. She followed their eyes to the nearly full glass in her hand and frowned. Her brain was foggy from the rum, why couldn’t she think of anything better to say? “Look I, er, I really don’t like to talk about it.’ She said and turned to leave. That sentence had been enough up until now.
“Ah come on Kate, we’re all friends here!”
“Yeah, it can’t be as bad as Tom’s story!” Sian said. They roared again at the reminder.
Kate glared back in astonishment. For all the shit that goes down in the world how do they get off assuming they know a thing about it!
She took a few more steps to the door, her words an icy warning. “I said, I don’t like to talk about it!”
“Hey guys, come on.” Darren interjected. “I’m sorry Kate, we don’t want to put you on the spot if you don’t feel comfortable. It’s OK.” Suddenly everyone was staring solemnly back at her, a row of gracious nodding heads, eyebrows twisted painfully in pity.
She stopped on the threshold, her face burning with embarrassment. For all she’d tried, she couldn’t erase them so had to get used to telling their story despite the negative responses, and this pity was terrible. What exactly am I ashamed of? Theirs are stories of stupidity – mine shows my strength, I’m a real survivor!
This didn’t feel like the right time she’d imagined but since when did she hold back when pressed? The five times she’d moved her family already was proof of that, she wondered which city to try next. It was a shame the others in her past hadn’t seen it that way…
She took a breath to steady herself and turned back to the group, swimming so deep in turmoil she didn’t notice the groups strained attempt at a new conversation.
“I was eleven years old.” Kate finally said aloud, her voice small and hollow. Everyone looked up in surprise, not that she saw any of them. The clock punctuated the silence until she spoke again.
“My parents would host parties at our house. Dinner parties, poker parties, pool parties… any excuse to show off to their rich friends. I was sent to my room before anyone arrived, I think they wanted to pretend they didn’t have a child cramping their style. I was used to being alone even then, though sometimes I’d peer over the bannister in the main stairwell to listen in. My parents never noticed me but he did, one of my dads friends. Always staring.” Her eyes scanned an invisible horizon.
“One of those evenings, I was laying on my bed doing homework when he came into my room. He apologised and said that he’d somehow walked through the wrong door on the way to the bathroom but he’d been to our house so many times I knew he was lying. My room was the furthest door away!” Her eyes reflected the cynicism of an eleven year old.
“Instead of just leaving, like he would have if he’d really made a mistake, he sat down on the bed next to me and started asking me questions. I didn’t want to talk to him, his eyes creeped me out but I tried to be polite. He said I was pretty and started to touch my hair but it didn’t feel nice like when other people said it.” She paused again, her nose wrinkling at the memory.
The group shifted uncomfortably in their seats, feeling more and more sober by the second. Nobody liked where her story was going but after pushing her to open up like they had, none of them could leave.
“I tried to get up, to get away, but he grabbed my arm and held me where I was. I didn’t understand what he wanted at first so I just stared at him as his fingers dug into my arm, it really hurt! I shouted for my parents which made him cover my mouth with his other hand. He held me down by my face so tightly I could hardly breathe! Nobody came.” Her voice wavered.
“He leaned in close, I could smell his aftershave, and he whispered in my ear that if I kept still it would be over much quicker. He said that it was my fault for teasing him for so long. I still hate that fragrance now!” Her eyes grew wide as she recounted.
“He kept his hand over my mouth and unbuckled his trousers with the other. He actually thought that I’d just lie there and let him do it!” She laughed a strange note. “I mean, how stupid can a grown man be?”
Her stare turned to that of a hunter, her eyes dark and dangerous. “I stayed still while he moved closer, until the moment he had, you know, his hands full…”
No one blinked.
No one moved.
“- and then I shoved a pencil through his throat!” She spoke the last words with an air of pride, it was freeing to tell.
The group stared back agape.
Her words were forming themselves at this point, “It just stuck there, I didn’t really expect it to go in but I remember feeling a spray of wet across my eyes as I did it. He looked really confused and reached up to touch the end of the pencil with his buckle hand, I was afraid that it wasn’t enough to make him go away because he still had his other hand over my mouth, and then it started clenching. His nails cut deep into my cheek flesh, it hurt so much I thought he was going to tear my face off!
He was scared too though, his eyes went really wide and I remember thinking that at that moment he just looked silly – like a frog trying to speak! I managed to wriggle away from under him when finally he slipped from the bed and I ran away downstairs.” Her hand clutched her cheek, bearing the wounds once more in memory.
Her hand fell to her side, boy she felt tired now! She shrugged and lifted her chin, the light above cast the crescents into hooked shadows. “That’s how I got these! I understand if it bothers you.”
She waited for the familiar moment they caved to judgement and fear before they made their excuses and avoided her, or worse. Kate the killer. Hearing it often didn’t make it easier.
Like seasons, their expressions turned from surprise and fear, back to that dreadful pity, but then, a new one, admiration. Were they actually smiling? Nodding their heads and raising their glasses – for her!
They looked between each other, “To one less paedo!” they toasted.
“and sharp pencils!” added Tom with a devilish grin.
Kate remained rooted in perplexity until the group shuffled apart, patting a spot on the sofa for her to sit between.
On that gesture a wave of relief crashed over the shore of her conscience, her scars lighter in its wake. Sometimes light and dark are just facets of the one.