Below is the second submission from the author of The Mirror. Again, this story may be upsetting for some to read.
*contains explicit language*
Cheap, orange plastic. Nothing special. I remember it vividly though, the colour. The orange sparks that leapt when he struck it. The non-existent orange flames that should have followed- they didn’t. Cheap, he should have got a more expensive one, probably could have got his dollar back.
I must have been afraid that night but I don’t remember fear. I wonder when I stopped feeling and became numb. I don’t remember the churning of my stomach and welling of tears in my eyes that usually came with the arguments he provoked, an excuse to leave the house. Fear must have been present though as I recall wedging a platform shoe under the wooden shutters, it’s chunky heel forcing them closed. Not to keep out the heat, or the mosquitoes, or the noise- but to stop him. Stop him getting a gun and firing it at me from outside. I’m not stupid, I know a wooden shutter is no match for a bullet fired at short range. That wasn’t my aim, his aim was my aim. He wouldn’t be able to see me with the shutters hiding me, my quilt hiding me, the darkness hiding me. He wouldn’t be able to focus on my head or my chest. I remember thinking these things. Thinking them numbly. As if everyone had such thoughts, that’s how I know that somehow I must have been afraid, right? Or just practical, devoid of feeling.
Sleep surely came to me, I don’t remember. It must have, because the next thing I recall is the crinkling and crackling of a plastic bottle being throttled violently. The smell was next… I heard noise, his words, but the smell was first. Burning the hairs of my nostrils, burning my throat, causing the acids in my stomach to swirl and burn. Petrol. Why do I recall the bottle so clearly, crushed, his hands emptying its contents. Reality tells me it must have been dark, but my mind tells me the liquid was clear, clear, clear, crystal clear. The bottle was crumpled I can see the wrinkled plastic, it wasn’t a thick plastic, it was the kind cheap water bottles are made of. It was crushed and half full because it’s content were on me. It felt just like water. Cooling on the hot steamy night. It didn’t feel bad. Half awake. Then my brain starting comprehending his words, they started taking form. From distant mumblings to clear intentional sentences.
“Ignore me? You want to ignore me when I come in. I’m nothing to you am I? NOTHING. No one wants me. You think I’m crazy? You’re fucking crazy, I’ll show you crazy. You’re just like the rest of these bitches you fucking whore. Just lay there on your back, you whore. Waiting for a black man to fuck you. A big black man to fuck you hard, because that’s what you want”
Round and round his words swirled, getting louder and more violent as they circulated in the air, unable to escape through the closed shutters. He was dancing angrily round the bed, moving swiftly from foot to foot, toes to heels, arms circling, hands shaking the bottle like a tambourine, his face contorting as he spit out his words. Almost fully awake now. I remember a numb feeling of disbelief. Maybe this was the moment I stopped feeling.
My mind goes blank next. Whether he dragged me from the bed, or I dragged him from around me, or we had a calm quiet chat about what was happening and a nice cup of tea (unlikely), I don’t recall. The next picture in my mind is the window in the sitting room, the front hall. A large open plan room, I’d swept the concrete floor earlier that night. The wall was yellow. A buttercup, custard-like tone. The window shutters were open and I could see the black of the night entering through the slats. Thinking back, I am not convinced we even had shutters in that room, maybe steel burglar bars? But I see them, maybe my mind selecting bits of the night and mashing them together to compensate for the blank spaces.
He was wearing a black polo shirt with vivid green and white stripes. And thick denim shorts. I was clothed in a pair of khaki shorts and a white vest. Normally a daytime outfit, why was I wearing this to sleep? The little details evade me but I am certain of what I was wearing. Next I see myself clinging to him begging him not to pour the rest of the petrol over his own head.
“I wasn’t ignoring you, I love you. I was asleep, please please, I’ll fix you, I’m not like them, I love you, no, no we’ll make it better, you’re depressed we’ll get help, I’ll help you, you’re my everything, I love you stop it, no please”
The bottle was thrown on the floor.
He was reaching in his pocket, his thick denim pocket, stitched in white, two lines of stitching around the top of the pocket, a layer of blue fluff clinging to the bottom of the thin white lining.
“Don’t do this, I was asleep, I was just sleeping, please, I wasn’t ignoring you, I didn’t hear you”
Out came the lighter. Cheap, orange plastic. Nothing special. I remember it vividly though, the colour. The liquid, half full. The little tube through which it flowed. The round metal cog, the black plastic tab. His thumb, his thickened dark skin, his nail short and smooth, a thin crust of dirt that remained despite repeated washing. Time slowed details intensifying. His thumb that I had earlier played with as we held hands. Fingers intertwined. Now my body clinging to him desperately trying to fight the cheap plastic orange from his hand. Like a slow dance gone terribly wrong. His thumb flicked the cog and held the plastic tab down simultaneously. A couple of sparks emerged but were quickly extinguished by the darkness flowing through the window. Frustrated he tried again and again, but nothing. The nonexistent orange flames that should have followed- they didn’t. Cheap, he should have got a more expensive one, probably could have got his dollar back.
“I cant even fucking do this right”
His voice had softened, tears were pouring down his face as he threw the lighter on the hard concrete floor.
The water was cool, I was shaking, he was shaking, despite the humid heavy air that night. We stood in the shower and I stripped off our clothes. The water swirling into the drain.
The next day I set up the three legged twin tub washer and washed the last of the fumes from the dusky pink and silver embroidered quilt, the black striped t-shirt, the denim shorts with lines of white stitches around the pockets, I scrubbed the blue fluff from the lining. My clothes went in the trash. I took my time that day, an extra rinse, and extra spin, an extra dunk in the plastic tub I used to do the final rinse. My hands enjoying the cool fresh water, breathing in the sweet scent of flowers, I used extra fabric conditioner that day. I pinned the garments to the line hanging from one side of the balcony to the other and watched them sway in the breeze, every now and then drops of water falling, splashing onto the floor like tears, Washing away the memories as if nothing ever happened. Because nothing ever did.