He had never hit her before. He tells himself that now, as he gazes into the mirror. He had never hit her before, and he had only hit her a few nights ago because she had been so bloody obtuse about everything. He doesn’t feel much remorse. He tells himself he has no reason to: it’s not like he’s some sort of wife-beater. He doesn’t buy into all this shit about not hitting women because they’re weak and defenceless. It hadn’t been testosterone that drove his fist, but anger, and anger can bring even the calmest waters to boil. Besides, she had always been bigger than him. Bigger, and stronger too. She could have hit him back, if she had wanted to. Probably broken his nose. But she had just cried instead. Sat there on the kitchen floor crying, and drinking orange juice between sobs from the carton like a damned kid.
The memory of her crying, there, orange juice in hand, tries to set off a spark of some sort of gentler feeling in his mind. But he shakes it off angrily. He knows that he was drunk then. He knows that he’s still pretty drunk even now. Not as drunk as he was two or three days ago, when he finished the rest of the champagne that they had bought, but still drunk enough to buy into the idea that this is somehow her fault. It was barely much of a hit, he tells himself. A little rap on the arm, maybe. Might leave a bruise or something. Nothing to get worked up about. It wasn’t like he hit her all the time. Heck, he had never hit her before. There was no reason for him to feel remorse. No reason at all.
The alcohol in his blood welcomes his persistent lies. It gives them credence, as if handing out false passports, so that they don’t get deported when they journey back to his brain for further scrutiny. It helps that he wants to believe them, too. To this end, he reasons that he’s thinking quite rationally. After all, he tells himself, I’m not even that drunk. A few bottles of something, another few cans of something else. What does it matter really?
Drunken parties are not exactly Clarity’s scene. However, it makes a rare appearance in his mind now. If he’s not drunk, it asks, genuinely interested, then why the current attire? He pauses. It’s a fair question. He looks at himself in the mirror again. It was her dress, the dress he had bought her as a present for what was supposed to have been their anniversary. She had laughed when he gave it to her. Giggled gently and told him it was beautiful, putting it on immediately, and wearing it all evening. But while he had slept, she must have taken it off, as it had lain cast across the bed beside him when he awoke. As if she had just curled up there and evaporated.
He eventually shrugs his shoulders to the query. Admits that he doesn’t really know why he’s wearing her dress, what possessed him to put it on. He woke up with it on, he tells Clarity sheepishly, so chances are it made sense at one point. He feels ridiculous now, as he looks at himself in the mirror. And with humility comes a thunderclap of anger. Suddenly he finds that he wants to see her reflection in the mirror, not his own. He wants to yell at her, he thinks to himself. To tell her it was all her fault. To… Some part of him, voice dulled but still barely audible, volunteers ‘apologise to her?’. He snarls and kicks the empty cans at his feet in frustration.
However, as he looks, now, back into the mirror, the image it projects begins to change, as if somehow yielding to his wish. At first he thinks it merely a trick of the light, and blinks a few times as if to dispel the illusion. But a moment later, dread grabs him by the scruff of the neck, as he realises that, not only can he see it, but he can feel it too. A creeping sensation all over his body that begins in his head, and spreads ever downwards, its effects echoed repulsively inside the mirror.
The changes are slow at first; his eyeline arches gradually into an altogether more aesthetic shape, and the plump fat in his face begins to reallocate itself, little slivers of it worming around just beneath the surface of his skin. He stares at his changing face in abject horror, and opens his mouth as if to scream. But the rate of change is accelerating now, and, even as he does so, he feels his jawline start to crack and redefine, and his voicebox click and clack upwards through tones like a car noisily changing gears. His terror envelops him, filling his lungs immediately like water. The scream which he reaches for now is something primeval, a scream where lesser, more human screams will not suffice. With a visible effort, he drags it upwards from deep inside him, from far, far within the reaches of his very essence, and up through his rapidly reshaping bosom into his jaws. He can almost taste it in his mouth now, so close is it to being given form. But the taste is somehow no longer that of his own voice, and the sound that eventually escapes his newly sculpted lips belongs to a different body, an entirely different self.
She, for that is what he has now become, gazes at her new form within the mirror. The reflection is neither that of her previous self, nor that of the lover that he so wished to confront. An unknown woman stares back at her. She reaches her hands to her face in disbelief, trying to disprove with her fingers the allegations of the mirror and her own treacherous eyes. But her eyes are… She catches her own gaze in the mirror, and understands in an instant. They are still his eyes, the only part of her that has remained unchanged. She realises now that she and he are as one; Mother Nature has simply undone Father Nature’s work upon their body, and left her to the gender to which every being first belongs.
Her eyes flash a thousand times over herself, panic gorging like fire upon the alcohol that still resides in her brain. And then the horribly foreign sound comes again, spilling out of her over and over, completely independent of her control. The voice that is hers not his, whimpering like a wounded puppy, from a mouth that no longer feels like she was so sure a mouth, every mouth, ought to. Even the horror that compels it out of her now feels outlandish within her, as if mind has been every bit as reshaped as body. With a final howl, she tears the dress away from her body, slashing at her own skin in an effort to get it away from her. The seams quickly yield and burst, and she hurls it away in absolute revulsion.
Yet still the fabric seems to cling to her body. Over her shoulders, down her chest, and around her legs it flows, as if gripping her, unwilling to let go. It is no longer the dress, which lies cast away at her side. It is now as her skin itself, the once beautiful yellow of the dress now like a sickly tan upon every piece of her. She shakes her arms frantically, but it no longer flaps around her like fabric. Stumbling into the bathroom, she starts to scrub away at it with water and soap. But the ochre skin-fabric neither falls nor fades away, simply continuing to glisten viscously upon her skin.
She comes, finally, to the kitchen. She is hysterical now, grabbing desperately for a knife with which to carve it away from her. She thinks not of harming herself, but only of cleansing the awful yellow from her skin, or staining it orange with that which pulses within her veins. For this, she reminds herself, began with the dress, and she feels somehow sure that it is with the dress that it shall end. She raises the knife towards her lower arm, but just as she runs it alongside her wrist, ready to slice away the hated material, it is gone. In all but an instant, it is reduced to nothingness: nothing lies aside the knife blade now but cold, white flesh. Caught in this moment, as both he and she, calm descends. And, in its wake, remorse finally begins to take root.
It is not because of some sudden revolution towards a view that he, only moments ago, so scorned. He, as she, does not suddenly conclude that women are inherently fragile creatures made of something entirely different to men. Nor does she, as he, suddenly conclude that men are inherently vicious creatures made of something entirely different to women. Women are not, he realises, from Venus, and men are not, as she sees now, from Mars. In this instant, upon Earth, it is not any overbearing difference between the genders that serves to pain them both so equally. Rather it is something that is very fundamentally the same. They cry together now because the flesh that lies before them belongs so equally to both of them. It is of both him and her. While both are cut differently, each is woven of the very same material. He, for the moment’s illusion has passed, and he is indeed he again, knows now his crime. Not assault of a woman, nor assault of a person, but aggression towards fabric so very close to his own that it might well have been so.
He goes, now, to her closet, and draws out a small tin box. He picks up the tatters of the dress from the floor, and opens the box, quickly drawing out needles and thread. There is not enough yellow thread for all that must be sewed, but he grabs green, blue, red, purple. Whatever dregs remain upon each spindle. He weaves slowly and precisely, one colour into another, a veritable rainbow that would make Joseph green with envy. He takes the constant pinpricks as an excuse to start to cry once again. He knows that it is a poor one, but the remaining alcohol in his bloodstream helps him to believe otherwise. Sometimes it can be a merciful mistress.
She might never come home. As he stitches both the dress and his very mind, fragmented as a broken bottle of cheap spirits, he realises that it has been a few days already. That most of her things are gone: everything from essentials like clothes, to trivial things like the mementoes that she kept upon the mantelpiece. He realises, also, that there is only so much that the body itself can heal, and that many wounds never truly close. The best you can do is stitch them with makeshift, multicoloured seams, a constant reminder of all the points where life has torn at the edges. The best you can do is stitch them, and hope that your stitches hold everything together.
And so he continues, meticulously, stitch after stitch, as evening becomes night, and night morning.
She might never come home. But he’ll wait.
© Edwin Jamieson