Scar Tissue

It was her hands that triggered it.

The way they were folded over one another as though she was clutching at herself in disbelief or shock.

It was strange to see how smooth the skin was. It looked plump and youthful, pumped up with a chemical waxiness that allowed the death to somehow drain from it, but at the same time remain there.

That dead grasp of her hands. I’d seen it once before, only then it had been a fleeting thing. A stiffening, uncontrolled scratching, a reflexive clutching at sheets. All rhythm, all movement frozen. Little pinpricks leaving us rigid and taut. Each gasp a brief prelude to all of this.

I looked at Katherine. Looked down at her hands and thought of this. Thought of Lucy and the way her hands would tighten, her fingernails digging into me, leaving red welts on my skin that I would later have to hide.

From the corner of my eye, I caught a movement. The funeral director shuffling his weight from one foot to the next, a discreet signal that it was time to go.

I watched as the lid came down, as Katherine disappeared, still imagining Lucy’s hands, still remembering her, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Felt my daughter embrace me, felt her comfort me, saw that she mistook the look in my eyes for grief.

There was a scar on Lucy’s wrist – the left hand. She had been carrying a bottle of milk when she slipped on the stairs, the stones wet from rain. Stumbling, hearing glass break, then the pain in her wrist, and the scarlet line trickling down her arm, the thick drops of blood on the stone. And then a neighbour, alerted by the sound, coming to the rescue, to bandage and subdue.

It had left a perfect scar, that fall. A neat line of slightly raised tissue, white and crisp on her left wrist. It was this that I first noticed about her. That scar. The way she didn’t cover it up, didn’t hide it with cuffs, or bracelets or watches. Didn’t flaunt it either, just let it be.

Everything you needed to know about Lucy was in that scar. That was what I thought when I saw it.

In bed I would focus on it, stare at that white line scratched on her vein, watch it rising up as the wrist tensed and clutched. In the movement and the chaos, it was the only thing that remained still, that never changed. It just stayed perfectly white and unflinching.

We were walking in the park together when Katherine passed us.

The path followed the river, secluded, overgrown. A place to walk if you didn’t want to be disturbed, if you didn’t want to be seen.

All she did was walk on by and nod, as if to say hello, Lucy nodding back unaware. But she held my stare. Held it for an instant, just very briefly, just to say that whatever I did next was final, was up to me.

That was Katherine. That was the way she did things.

That night, I turned the key in the lock and went home.

Choices.

It all comes down to choices in the end. To those brief moments when you decide on a thing. Decide to stay or go.

Katherine decided to stay. That was what really happened that day. I turned the key in the lock that night and found her still there. Waiting, saying nothing. Because what do you say?
But when I saw her, there was a question in my mind, something I wanted to ask her, something I would always want to ask her, but in the end never did.

“Why are you still here?”

That was what I wanted to ask, what I wanted to know. I wanted to know what it took to stay. It seemed easier to me, to go. For one of us to leave. To stand in the hallway bags packed and ready to flee.

But there was none of this, that was not the choice that was made.

All there was, was this deception, something you always pay a price for.

Katherine deceived herself this way. By failing to notice things. Or pretending to.

I would feel it when she did it, when she ignored it all.

Feel it at night, together. She would lie there and I would watch the white of her eye, watch it as it rolled back, exposing a pinkness, a rawness which made me look away. At those moments I would think of the white of Lucy’s scar. How different it was to this. How different the moments were. The difference between that pinkness, that whiteness.

And I would feel it. Feel her tension. Feel her as she stiffened with agitation, all pleasure drained and spent. She would catch that moment. Catch me moving away from her, holding back for an instant as the memory hit me. She could feel it. Feel the difference. Some small imperceptible thing occurring, as that memory resurfaced between us.

It is these things, these things that remain unspoken over the years. That is the price you pay.
The price of sticking with it, of sticking together. And sometimes that question would arise again. That doubt.

“Why are you still here?”

This is what you ask yourself.

Memories. Memories and years. They have a hold on us all. I would look at Katherine sometimes, look at her and watch as she failed to meet my eyes, as she struggled to look elsewhere, to look anywhere save at me. See the sadness there, and think of leaving. Think that leaving was perhaps the best thing, the kindest thing.

I’d catch a glance or a sigh, a viciousness in her eyes a curtness in her voice and would realise we were doing this to ourselves. It was only because of us, because of the choices we made, that this sadness endured.

But still I kept coming back. At night I would turn the key in the lock and come home. And if I wondered why I was doing it, why it was I allowed this to endure; if I decided perhaps to leave and get it over with, something would happen. Some small thing that for some reason was enough to keep me coming back. I would be standing on the street, and suddenly I’d remember something. Without warning a thing would come to mind.

One time it was a cat on the street. It crossed the road just ahead of me, scuttling over in the dark, caught in the sulphur glow of the street lights, some fleeting primitive thing. And in a moment of doubt the sight of such a thing can make the difference.

Can make you remember for some reason, that day one summer when it rained really hard. All day you could feel it coming, even in the heat, in the yellowness of the afternoon, all you could feel was the storm that was about to come. In sky the colour of cornflowers, it was still possible to smell it, to breath it in with every heavy breath.

We picnicked in the park, under a huge tree that neither of us knew the name of. Katherine wearing a cotton dress, simple and flimsy, so that later, when it rained, it became transparent and the shape of her breasts were exposed and laid bare, the dress a second skin that showed no mercy to her modesty as the rain came down.

And when she noticed it, saw how naked she was there in the rain, she blushed. A crimson blush that made me laugh, made me smile and take my off jacket, so she could hide away again as we scurried to the car.

That night we struggled to get warm in the orange glow of the fireplace. One of those plastic things, electric and fake, the light bulb embers glowing painfully as if they were embarrassed. But that light, that glow, is the same colour of the street as that cat crosses.

It’s small things like that that keep people together in the end. The cumulative effect of things like that. Not the momentous moments that everyone says are important – the day you marry, the day your child is born – no, it’s things like that, like dresses in the rain and blushes, that somehow keep people together.

That keep you turning the key in the lock.

Until one day there you are at the end of it all. And it takes you by surprise, just how distant those days have become.

How all those moments pass, only to lead to conversations in rooms like this. Glass domed conservatories that the dead never visit, where people sit and talk, over strange afternoon combinations of sandwiches and whiskey, of the person they have just left behind.

My daughter watching me, a concerned look in her eye, a worried twist to her brow. Later she would tell me she was worried about how I would cope. How I would manage. That was what she saw in my pensiveness. A worry that wasn’t actually there.

All there is, is a thoughtfulness. Perhaps some people would call it a longing, a wistfulness. Or better still, a yearning. A need to recall things that are suddenly gone. A need to simply allow time to mingle this way, to let the then and the now intertwine and catch you unawares. It’s something that will happen more and more often that mingling.

That’s the thing about compromising, about doing what’s best. It does things to your imagination. Makes the white of scar tissue an ideal thing. A “what if”, an “if only” thing. Makes it something to long for, something to dream about.

Where Katherine chose to ignore the situation, to deal with it that way, I chose to dream. To imagine an idealised world. Just Lucy and I in this perfect place.

The perfect place always by the river, down by the grand townhouses that lined one leafy stretch as it curved through the city and wound it’s way out to sea.

Our house stood on that bend in the river, raised slightly on a hill, affording views of the water and the skyline to the south.

I would imagine us there in the mornings on some early autumn day, the window open allowing the air to filter through, making the curtain billow and the view beyond open up in front of us for a few seconds, before retreating again behind the fabric. We’d watch it and slowly awaken, turning on one another to follow that same floating rhythm together. Later the smell of coffee percolating through the rooms, both of us a little flushed, we’d sit on the floor, legs entwined, saying nothing, looking out over that view, down over the city, and we’d be happy.

I have imagined that scene perhaps a thousand times, each time perfecting it, elaborating upon it, taking those imagined moments and merging them with real ones, with memories of that scar, memories of walks by the river until fact and fiction, dream and reality, the then and the now become inseparable. Until all of it, in the end becomes real.

Across the room my daughter sits and looks through the window and it’s only then that it hits me. Only then that I realise she has lost her mother.

It’s thoughts like that, that keep you turning the key in the lock each night, that keep you coming back, that lead, in the end, to moments like this.

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