by Kristen Esselment
She checked her clipboard and whispered his name aloud: Mark Anthony Niemann. She gaped with wonder at the tiny, bawling infant. He was perfect; pure; flawless. They always were, yet it never ceased to amaze her. She smiled through the glass at his scrunched-up, howling face. Hello, Mark. I’m Trixi. You don’t know it yet, but we’re going to be … acquaintances. Her smile faltered. As much as she loved this part – the bright, fresh and unsullied beginnings of things – it was also difficult, knowing (as she did) what was to come, later. Tucking such dark thoughts away, Trixi pulled her cropped leather jacket more tightly around her. “Take care, little man,” she murmured with a parting wink at Mark. Stepping back from the glass partition, she headed for the stairwell. She hoped fervently that it would be some time, before their paths crossed again.
Trixi bit her lip. Mark stood, squared opposite her, crouched low, hands balled into fists: fingers flexing, relaxing, then flexing again, his face glowering, full of menace.
“Come on, then! Let’s go! You want a piece of this?”
Trixi rolled her eyes at Mark’s cliché tough-talk. Why were teenage boys so utterly ridiculous? Mark growled then lunged. Trixi sidestepped him, and, sighing at the inevitable, turned back, snapping her own tightly-balled fist into Mark’s high, firm, apple-skin cheekbone as it sailed past. She could see his eyes pop wide as the blow connected, but did not hesitate, pivoting around to pummel him with a left-handed uppercut to the jaw. She could swear that she heard a tooth crack. Mark sagged beneath the onslaught of pain. Echoing his opponent’s lead, Trixi danced a clunky jig in her Doc Martens, circling to land another sturdy blow to her young protégé’s orbital socket – and felt the bridge of his nose shatter – this time, there was no question. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. She stepped back, to watch Mark crumple to the linoleum, with regret. Lights, out. Her work was done. For now.
Trixi sat nervously in the wooden chair, glancing across the table at her colleague. Raf looked somewhat bored as he studied his nails; Trixi suspected he was avoiding her gaze. Both sat upright in their chairs at the sound of muffled conversation on the other side of the door. The doorknob rattled, turned, and their superior strode into the room, carefully closing the door behind her. She carried the ubiquitous clipboard in her hand, but did not consult it.
“Good morning” she said, in a curt but characteristically dulcet tone, nodding at both Raf and Trixi, and taking a moment to peer carefully into each face, in turn. “How are we, today?”
“Good. Well, thanks, Ma’am” Raf corrected himself. He stood and pulled out a chair, but she waved off the gesture with a smile. She turned, calm eyes expectant, awaiting Trixi’s response.
“I’m … fine. Thank you.”
“Perfect. Well, this won’t take long. I’ve called you both here, to talk about our boy, Mark.” Raf nodded pleasantly, while Trixi stared pointedly at the tabletop. “How do we think he’s coming along?”
“Great!” Raf said, with a chuckle. “He’s doing fine. On the mend, already. He’s a tough cookie, that one. Keep’s me busy, for sure! …” He trailed off, realizing however belatedly, that his comments might sound like they were meant to upstage Trixi. They weren’t, but glancing at the storm cloud on her face, he wasn’t sure she would buy that.
“And … would you agree with Raphael’s assessment?” Their manager’s question hung in the air. It was to-the-point, but not unkindly asked.
“Um … Mark is … well, yes, as Raf said, he’s … uh … healing.”
The supervisor consulted her clipboard for the first time. Sara-The-Boss was known for her directness and no-nonsense approach, but she was also regarded as fair and impartial.
“I want to make sure that we’re all on the same page, here,” Sara-The-Boss said, after gently clearing her throat. “We all have a job to do, and it’s essential that everyone understands the important part they have to play in Mark’s development.” She waited, patiently.
Trixi nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“I need to know that we can count on you,” Sara-the-Boss prompted, “… to step up to your responsibilities; keep your commitments.”
“Yes. I will. You can,” Trixi said softly.
“You’re an important part of this team. Your input is critical to Mark’s overall development. You do understand that, right? We can’t have you pulling your punches. Raphael has his duties, and you have yours. Mark needs both of you, if he is to reach his fullest potential.”
“Yes,” Trixi said, more distinctly, this time. She punctuated her words, hazarding a direct look at Sara-The-Boss. “I understand.”
“And I understand: it’s not always easy. All right, then. Thank you both, and keep up the good work. Dismissed.”
Trixi pulled headphones from her locker and swung it closed, testing to ensure the lock was secure. Raf entered the locker room and touched her shyly on the shoulder.
“Hey, I hope you don’t think – “
Raf looked at Trixi for a moment, his expression sad. “Nobody holds it against you, ya know,” he said.
Raf stared at Trixi for a moment longer, then sighed. “Sara-The-Boss said she meant to suggest you stop in, and see Sigmund before you head home,” he said, “but you left so quickly … She asked me to tell you.”
Trixi was hardly surprised. That didn’t mean she was thrilled by the development.
“OK. Thanks. I will.”
“Yeah. OK. Take care, Trix.”
Trixi rapped quietly on the doorframe of Sigmund’s office. She half hoped he had left for the day. No such luck.
“Cicatrix – hello – just the very person I was looking for!” Sigmund turned, waving Trixi into his office, reaching around behind her neatly, to shut the door.
“Hi. Sara-The-Boss wanted me to come speak to you …”
“Yes, I just got her note …” Sigmund held up the clipboard, tapping his finger against it, reverently. “I’m glad you came. I wasn’t sure if I would see you or not.”
Trixi wasn’t sure how to reply to that. One did not exactly ignore a directive from STB, no matter how gently expressed or well-meant.
“Please, sit down,” Sigmund invited, gesturing at his comfy couch. Trixi sucked in a breath and took a seat.
“So … “ Sigmund waved towards the clipboard, and set it on his desk, taking a seat opposite the couch. “This says that, in spite of your usual exemplary work, you’re having performance anxiety issues, Cicatrix. Is that so?”
“I don’t know. It’s … complicated.”
“Not really,” Sigmund tutted. “You’ve worked here for …” he leaned over to reference the clipboard.
“Yes, of course. And remind me of your title, please?”
Trixi sighed. “A title’s a title.”
“Indulge me, if you would, please.”
Trixi bit at her fingernail.
“You have always dispatched your duties as the Guardian Angel of Cutaneous Keratosis, with distinction, Cicatrix, if I’m not mistaken. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Trixi rolled her eyes. “Yes, I wield my flaming Sword of Righteousness, and –“
“Cut the crap, Cicatrix.”
“Well … in a manner of speaking, yes.” Sigmund did not look amused. “Listen: I’m the ‘Scar Fairy.’ It’s a joke.”
“Hardly. Khalil Gibran said: ‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.’ He was no dummy … and he wasn’t joking. The work you do matters, Cicatrix. Lessons are part of life, and scars serve as a reminder of the important lessons learned. If you do not do your job, you do our clients – including Mark – a grave disservice.”
Trixi looked unconvinced. Sigmund tried another approach. He was truly earning his money, today.
“What if I reminded you of the definition of a scar? ‘It results from the biological process of wound repair. Thus, scarring is a natural part of the healing process.’ ”
Trixi sat up. “But, wait – healing is Raf’s job – not mine.”
“You’re partners, Cicatrix. Raphael is Mark’s Guardian Angel of Healing, that’s true. But you are an essential part of that healing, by the scars that you bless Mark with.”
“You think?” Trixi looked hesitant, but hopeful.
“Absolution. I mean, absolutely. Sorry – little slip there.” Sigmund winked at Trixi, who groaned, but grinned back.
“It … it’s not so bad, somehow, if I can think about it like that,” Trixi said.
“So … are we good, then? Can you give that some thought, at least?”
“Yeah, thanks, Sigmund; we’re good.”
She touched the clipboard at the end of the gurney, fingered the toe tag, and whispered his name aloud: Mark Anthony Niemann. He lay silent. Perfect; pure; flawless …and massively, meaningfully, scarred. Thank you, Mark. You don’t know it, but you’ve helped me to heal, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. She traced his scars with a profound tenderness. Her smile flared.