A girl curled into me like the claws of a cat’s comfort. I thought her harmless, but I was between teeth. Canine. She didn’t mean to be. She wasn’t cruel.
Some people live in bear-traps.
This girl was both soft and hard. She had strong hands, strong fingers. I admired her. She had so much energy. And pain. She couldn’t have loved me, but she wanted to. She wasn’t strong like that. I thought I might help, that maybe all she needed was to be cared for. I thought.
I saw the straight lines on her thighs, cut out of sight to avoid minds.
I might have married her. I could have. It would not have gone well for us. I loved her sisters, they might have been my own. I respected her mother and that’s a place love grows.
I don’t remember the faces of her family. They are brushed from blurs, touches of colour, brown eyes, fair skin, dark hair; somewhere there is the shape of them.
Her two sisters, one who bubbled with laughs and smiles and chatter. I gave her something precious to me, because it seemed she didn’t know what she was worth. The other possessed a silence of unspoken thoughts and hidden things. She was a certain kind of beautiful; lean curves with dark detail, a poise that whispered lonely. I saw boys give her their eyes and put their thoughts in her pockets.
The mother was a school principal, stern. She managed their home, gave it order. She held it together with primordial force: gravity, thunder, flood. Someone had to.
The little brother. Shrill tantrums ill-fit. He wore them stretched over too many years.
This girl. I remember the taste of cigarettes on her lips. I remember her balled fists. My shoulder grew damp when she was near, perhaps because I was gentler than she’d ever known. Or just because I was there. I was no gentleman.
See her father, with his hand, ram her head into the wall-switch of a light for failing to turn it off. I remember - she told me - but I saw.
I saw his hands lift violent, and come to rest on his daughter. I saw his eyes flick from disdain, to restraint, to shame like my own father switched the channels of his television. He was hesitant. He did not strike her, not then. But his eyes, in my memory, were feral.
He looked at me in the moments after. Nervous, hoping I had not seen.
I still see.
His hand rises to beat a drum. It halts. Then it falls strange, half-gentle; as though he’d not plucked strings, never found the soft chords of affection; more familiar with red knuckling drums. Then I felt the length of silence on my skin. Saw the pressed lips. A lovable girl’s shoulders braced against a blow. Her sister’s eyes. They flit to faces and places between. They look at me, they look at the floor.
I understand every single cut she wrote in her thighs.