This story was originally published in issue 12 of Spiked Magazine, November 2002
I can't help staring at you. At the long scar that works its way down the side of your left leg. You're wearing a red dress and I sit in the dark, huddled with my chin on my knees. Sometimes I think you must be a magic woman because the fire is almost too hot even from my position, and you're no more than an arm's length away. Your clothes should have caught fire by now, but you don't seem bothered by the heat at all. And as you continue to dance around the furnace, closer than anyone else can manage, twirling your red dress so that the flames try to lick the hem, I can only think about your scar.
I have to keep reminding myself that you're not magic and you never will be. You made me feel loved like no one else has ever managed, but you don't even know me. It's been a long time, but you haven't changed since you gave me that hug. Not like I have anyway. And you were the one who stopped me changing too much. Thank you.
I don't know how you got that scar, but I first saw it when I was nine, the day it happened. I remember sobbing, screaming with the pain, unable to control myself. It must have hurt your ears I screamed so loud. You just held me and didn't try to make me stop. You were naked and kneeling on the kitchen floor, your arms tight around me. It's weird to be frightened by the sound of your own screaming, but even now I am. Ten years on and sometimes when I shut my eyes I can still hear my own blistering cry, accompanied by the image of the scar on your leg that was all I could focus on. Sometimes I have to open my eyes and take a few deep breaths to make it go.
Seeing the scar again somehow brings back the memory of the pain and I almost feel angry, as though you're taunting me with it. I keep having to stop myself from being annoyed that you would wear something that shows it. I don't know whether that's because it makes me remember or because it means that you're sharing it with other people. My body itches as I look at you. It feels like ants are crawling over the mangled lumps and bumps of skin on my chest and sides and legs. The heat from the fire makes me want to shut my eyes, but somehow I daren't. I don't want the sound of the scream to come back as well.
I wouldn't have come to this party if I'd known you would be here and that's terrible because you're my saviour and I think your the only woman I'll ever love. But my memories of you are too wrapped up in the pain. It's late now, well past midnight and people have left me well enough alone. I guess they assume I'm drunk like everyone else is. No one seems that bothered to talk to me anyway, everyone seems enthralled by the dance that you're taking part in. I don't know what you're doing here because I'm sure you don't know any of the same people as I do. And you're ten years older, what are you doing at a party full of kids like me?
This is ridiculous, I've got to stop this. You were just my baby-sitter. I think you looked after me a few times when I was younger, but after the incident you never came again. You used to stay the night and Mum or Dad would drive you back in the morning. I hope the reason you never came back wasn't because you felt guilty. You musn't even feel that. You didn't do anything wrong. I hope my parents told you that as well.
But you're not just my baby-sitter because you've grown in my mind since then. You were the first naked woman I ever saw; of course you're going to become my fantasy, my only ideal. You've become a myth to me because I haven't seen you since. Maybe if you hadn't just disappeared after that day then I'd be over you by now.
There have been times when I haven't been able to get the scar out of my head and so instead of trying to get rid of it I linger on it, imagine how you got it. Perhaps in a mad dash through the forest as you escaped from wolves, carrying the baby that they had abducted against your chest. Perhaps as you battled your way through the thorns that had grown around the enchanted castle, you determined to save a child whose tortuous screams echoed through the walls. Mostly though I try not to think about it at all.
But now I can't help it, because you're right here in front of me. The fire glows orange on your skin and it makes me upset at how disgusting I am in comparison. Most of the guys here are still wearing shorts because it was so hot today, but I can't because I'm too ashamed of the way I look. My life's been hell since you gave me that hug.
My memories of that day are strange because I know some of it can't have happened like it did. It's turned into a slow motion movie in my head. I always see the pan turn three times in the air before the water and vegetables spill out. But first I see my parents going out and leaving you in charge. You silhouetted against the bright sunshine as you wave goodbye to them from the door. You turning and coming into view as you step out of the light. I don't know how much time really past before you said to me "Right, I'll put on your dinner and then I'll have a quick shower...", but in my mind it happened immediately.
And then you in the shower, which I know I never saw, hearing my screams and dashing out, wrapping the white towel around you, and finding me bawling, in more pain than I let myself remember. You running towards me, and pulling off my hot wet clothes. Tipping freezing cold water over me with anything you could find and then ripping off your towel and soaking it before wrapping me in it. Holding it tight around me, only letting go to tip more cold water over me.
I'm sure you spoke to me, but I don't remember much after the hug. The movie stops at the unsatisfying finale, the sound-track stuck on the sound of my own scream; the image frozen on your scar. And I know the movie will never end acceptably because my own scars will never go away. There can't be a happy, healing ending. At the most there will be this: an improper epilogue where I see you again and again and again.
You continue to dance around the flames as you always will when there's nothing else to distract me. You, who's become the magic woman in my mind. You, who held me so tight and then disappeared from my life. I don't know where you are now, but sometimes I can almost not hate my scars because they brand me with the knowledge that you were once real, not just an adolescent's fantasy girl. Soon someone will talk to me and I'll be distracted again. The flames that are licking so close will again consume you. And I can get on with my life.