by Emma J Lannie
You only get one go at this.
OK, I say. He moves his hand away from the wall and I watch as it comes closer to me. He puts it down on my head. I feel his fingers like a strange, heavy hat. A hat that would let the cold in. A hat that couldn't cover my ears by itself.
You need to think about it. Hard.
I nod under the weight of his hand, close my eyes to appear deep in thought. When I close my eyes, I can make the world disappear. It's my favourite thing to do. His breath comes near me, to remind me he is still there. It clogs in my nose all tobacco-y and I try to turn my head a bit to breathe new air. I feel his hand creak and hope he doesn't notice. I try to think about it. I try to think about it hard, just like he said. But every time I get to the point where I'd be doing it, my brain decides to switch to something else entirely. Pulling petals off a daisy. Or tying and re-tying shoelaces, visualizing the action in my head. And it's easy to do; holding the laces taut, knotting them, looping them, pulling them tight. I can tie shoelaces in my head easy. This is different.
His hand squeezes into my head. It gathers my hair up, messy. I will now have Hat Hair. And not. Schrödinger's Hat. He clicks his teeth to register his impatience. It sounds like insects, and things breaking. Things breaking without you knowing about it, until it's too late.
The opposite of dilute. I allow my thoughts to be diluted, and if he knew. I am, I say. I am concentrating. And maybe he believes me, because his grip loosens and my hair slips back down to where it was. His hand softens. Even though I can't see it, I know there is a layer of grime under his fingernails. It is mostly black but there is green, too. It's never not there. Just like he's never not there.
The tobacco smell leaks out from him some more. I think it is on my skin, staining it that dirty yellow of old rooms. I want to climb into the shower and scrub until I'm clean again. I try to think of the lemon smell of soap, but scent is the one thing you can't ever just conjure up from memory. You have to smell it to actually remember it. So I think about feeling clean instead. This is more achievable.
On his face are hundreds of short, rough hairs. When his face comes too close to mine, they scratch at me. I never manage to turn away quick enough. And after, when he's not there, I can still feel the scratch scratch of him on me.
He grabs my legs and lifts me so I smack face-first into the wall. The concrete stings my cheek. And he push pushes me up, and all my face hurts now, but I do like he told me and grab for the top, pull myself up until I'm perfectly balanced on the wall, neither one side or the other. I crouch there like a gargoyle, thinking hard about my one go, savouring this moment where I'm simultaneously escaping and captive, wondering how many more times I will be split in two.
Emma J. Lannie has fiction in Dzanc Best of the Web 2010, Even More Tonto Short Stories, Bugged, and online at Kill Author, 3:AM, Beat The Dust and For Every Year. She lives in Derby, England, in a creaky old house where she helps run a small press. She blogs here.