I pull out drawers and rummage through the contents. I select my best knives and rank them by length along the worktop, the way a toddler might arrange her toys: breadknife; chef’s knife; carving knife; the whole gamut of blades, right down to the fruit and veg knife with the yellow handle, still smeared with dried threads of pumpkin from our supposed romantic meal. Pushing back my sleeve, I test each one against my forearm. None of them up to the job.
I fumble in the cupboard under the stairs for my torch and beam it around until it highlights an old shoebox stuffed with tools. The Stanley knife is a work of art in its simplicity, with its green plastic casing and satisfying heft in my hand. The blade seems sharp enough but it’s freckled with dirt-coloured paint. Taking a crossed-tip screwdriver, I unleash the blade and turn it over. The triangle of pristine steel peeping out from the sheath gives me an artisan’s sense of accomplishment.
My ears are abuzz with white noise as I push back the sleeve of my dressing gown to the crook of my arm. Flexing my wrist, the blood vessels reveal themselves below the surface like waterways on a map. The pads of my fingers trace a raised blue-green vein, from the middle of my forearm, through crossings of taut white scar tissue to the base of my thumb where it branches out with arteries and purple capillaries in a sanguineous river delta.
I locate a patch of clear skin amongst the tangle of old scars and apply the blade. At first there’s nothing more than a puckering at either side. As with sex, I’m sorely out of practice. I press harder, digging the tip of the knife so deep that by rights it should reach bone. Still nothing. Pressing harder still, a tiny red bauble bubbles at the tip of the blade.
Maintaining an even pressure, I scrape the knife along my arm. The bauble clones itself over and over, beads on a rosary that multiply and merge into a glistening red band. Dropping the knife, I bring my arm to my mouth: the vibrant colour, the taste of hot coins, the pain as sharp as vinegar spearing the fug of nothingness with the promise of peace. When Simon left, I was drowning. Now I’m floating on a sea of calm.
In the kitchen, I bind a folded tea towel round my forearm, gripping one end in my teeth to brace the knot. Secure as a swaddled baby, I mount the stairs to bed.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish