The Outline of You - Tania Collins

The silver ring you wear on your right hand covers a raised, jagged scar. It’s from some guy’s tooth puncturing your skin when you punched him. You were doing your brotherly duty. No one gets to pick on your little sister. Except you. A branch that stabbed you as you fell out of a tree left its mark just below your knee.

There’s a diagonal line in your left brow where the hair doesn’t grow. You got that scar when you were four or five and pulled a rake down on yourself. You tell me about it when you’re drunk, when you’re sober you tell everyone it’s from a piercing being ripped out during a fight.

Those are the marks left behind by life and childhood adventures; there are also the ones you sought out and put on yourself. There’s the wobbly, slightly faded line of script running along a rib. It dates back from the start of your brother’s career. You let him practice on you. You also let him choose what he etched into your skin. It’s in Polish, four words I can’t read but you tell me it’s something dirty and funny as hell.

Along your left arm is a line of numbers, representing your Grandfather’s time trapped in a place that was a literal hell. His everything was stripped away, and his identity reduced to nothing more than a string of numbers. Above your heart lies a Star of David designed to remind yourself that Catholicism was not the only faith in your family’s history.

An image, the size of my palm of Tatiana, Queen of the fairies resides on your back in all her Technicolor glory. She sits with an arm wrapped around her knees, a poem in her other hand and her wings spread out as if ready to leap off your skin.

A few years from now, I’ll pay for some guy with a needle to scratch something into my skin for you. It’ll be a line from Shakespeare and I won’t be sure you deserve it. I’ll do it anyway. It will be after enough time has passed that I can think of you and smile instead of cry. It won’t mean I forgive you for chasing that last high, it will just mean I miss you. It will be harder and harder to picture you as you really are and not as I want you to be. There will be days where your flaws and your worst moments will cloud my memories of the good. There will be days when my favourite things about you will be illuminated in the foreground.

Like the way your voice sounds when you’ve just woken up – gravelly and low – and the way you blink at me slowly, trying to bring the world back into focus.

Or the way you imitate Taylor Swift, your voice falsely high-pitched, cracking at moments from the strain and paired with a lopsided grin.

Cigarette smoke and the unique smell of an industrial kitchen cling to your skin and clothes. It should make for a sickening combination but on you it works.

The image my mind will keep coming back to long after you’re gone is you sitting outside on an old upside-down bread crate. It’s an old, fading snapshot in my mind, the edges blurring but you remain in clear focus. Tatty grey hoodie shielding you from the fickle English weather, hood flipped up, twirling a cigarette around as if contemplating whether or not to smoke it. You’ll smoke four and watch me through the glass panes of the door as I polish cutlery or making me giggle as you tap out our made-up Morse code. 

Coming Back - Tania Collins

“How was Poland?” I ask, pressing my hip into the doorframe, I watch you take out a paper, balance it on your knee, press a filter to your bottom lip, take out a hunk of tobacco pinched between two fingers and spread it along the paper. It’s something I’ve watched you do a hundred times but it’s still the most mesmerising thing. I want to etch it into my brain, workout the exact measurements so I can follow the directions like a recipe.

You shrug, “Polish.” You say it in a bored tone, around the cigarette and behind cupped hands shielding the flame. 

“Well that’s vague.” 

You narrow your eyes and point a finger in my direction, “I don’t know what that means. It’s not fair to say shit I don’t get.”

There’s an edge to your tone, which is weird considering we haven’t seen each other in three weeks. We’d been fighting before you left, I can’t remember what about. Maybe you can. You probably can’t but it’s clear we’re both grasping at the anger we felt. Even when we’re not fighting, we still are. I want to talk. You don’t. You won’t get up from the rickety chair propped against the dumpster and I won’t leave the confines of the doorway. 

“Fine. Whatever.” I start picking at the peeling white paint on the frame, revealing something underneath the same colour as when I would mix all my paints together just to see what would happen. 

“What do you want?”

“I want you to tell me something about your trip. Anything.” Something about your family or childhood would be nice. I realise how little we know about each other outside of the walls of this traditional English pub. It’s like what we’re doing is the interlude that will only last until the main act of our lives resumes. 

You exhale a lungful of smoke; “It snowed.” You say it as if you’re conceding something extraordinary. I’m not so easily impressed. Snow is snow.

“It snowed here.” 

“Not the same. Here snow is… it’s a suka. There it’s magic.”

“Magic?”

“Yeah. Magic.”

“Magic? Care to elaborate?”

Some kind of look

“Right. You don’t know what that means.”

And the conversation has come full circle. We’re playing some kind of game. It’s like you have the dice and all the counters and the rulebook and I’m fumbling around in the dark trying to figure it out. I’m reminded of a song my Dad used to listen to: You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. 

Now might be a good time to walk away, shelve the conversation for now. But instead of following my instincts, I stay put. 

There’s a wedding reception happening in the function room and strands of music drift out and fill the silence between us. It’s all Endless Love, My Heart will Go On and Can You Feel the Love Tonight. No, Mr Elton John, I’m not feeling the love tonight.

“Did you miss me?” You ask out of nowhere, your gaze fixed on the smoke you’re rolling before you’ve even finished the first.

“Yeah. Of course.” I want to ask if you missed me too. I’m not certain I want to know. 

“I got you something.”

You rifle through the ratty backpack you’ve dumped at your feet. Ready to stay. Ready to leave. Not looking up you hold something out to me; “Here.” I have to step forward and leave the doorway to take it. It feels as if I’m relinquishing ground to the enemy.

“Chocolate.” I look down at the crinkled foil, “Half eaten chocolate. Just what every girl wants.”

You toss me a small white box and it’s a miracle I catch it. As it is, I nearly drop the chocolate. 

“I got it at my church.”

“You know I’m not actually Catholic, right? Not like you.” My kind of Catholic was having blessed water poured over my head as an infant, going to Mass at Christmas and Easter and when someone got married. Or died. 

“You’re Catholic enough.” Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?

Lifting the lid on the box I pull out a silver chain and hold it up and watch the medallion spin back and forth. It’s not what I was expecting. I stare at it and you watch me.

“It’s a Saint Christopher Medal,” you explain, “He is the patron saint…”

“Of travellers. Yeah, I know.” 

“See,” you say, the corner of your mouth quirking up to something that could resemble a smile; “Catholic enough.” You throw me a wink but then you ruin it by saying; “You should never have been let out of your country without one of those.”

“You should never have been let out of your country at all.”

“Poland’s nice. Maybe I’ll take you one day.” You live in maybes and somedays.

“Really?” Experience has made me skeptical.

“Yeah, I promise, one day.”

“You promise? An actual promise or one of yours?”

“What the hell does that mean?” And here we go round again. 

Contributor's Note

Currently completing a Master of Arts, I enjoy all things Shakespeare, vinyl records and used bookshops.

 

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