She stretches out on a sofa that isn’t hers, in a house that isn’t hers, and listens to the rain, cigarette in hand. Drumming static and lazy plumes of smoke. The clock says 4.01am. Eyelids drift closed and jolt open. A hand shudders and clenches over her chest, drawing ragged, spidery patterns in the air. The wound is still there in bright, angry red. It’s a stupid mockery, Holly thinks. She’s seen the real thing. No resemblance at all.
Staring down at her own glassy-eyed face, the day after it happened. She’d thought the morgue would be solemner. It’s just a room. There it is, the old vehicle, and here she is, the driver. Tortoise without a shell. Everything is reversed – of course it is; only seen herself in mirrors – and fuck, it looks so wrong. Bruises blossoming down her cheek, skin scraped off her knuckles. There’s the proof it happened: the fury of that fight; cold air and burning in her lungs; wave after bursting wave of sound. She was there. Now she’s here and it’s there.
The small, pale, bloodless thing itself. Cold branch went in; hot blood came out. Sticky, warm. Breathing shouldn’t feel wet. Darkness. Sound of a heartbeat faltering. Sluggishness in the veins. Faithful movement finally giving up. Blood’s probably still there, a patch of reddened grass somewhere outside Milton Keynes. Of all the places to die.
Another drag. The steady beat of the rain. Another hour sliding past. She takes a hand, explores the soft, jagged edges of the wound through her shirt, fingers trembling despite the jarring lack of pain. Holly doesn’t look at those hands if she can help it. She’s seen the short, slender joints tossed and shattered under Muriel’s teeth. Looking throws her back to the neat row of reddened stumps and the short, sharp bark the bones made cracking. She had learned to write with those hands.
No use lying around all night. She stumbles upright, pads barefoot to the door.
Swings it open, leans in the frame. It’ll be dawn soon, but for now it’s just the dark and the rain. Little bursts of cold. If Holly tries hard enough she can almost fool herself. Icy fingers. Somebody coming in from the cold.
And there it is, the breaking point. Everything else: tolerable. This particular curse: not so much. Skin feels rubbed raw for want of contact. Existing becomes a long, slow obstacle course; anybody walking too close is a threat. Learn to know where everybody in the room is. Learn to flinch out of the way. Learn to ignore that small, shrieking need to be touched.
Something needs to be done, but not in the middle of the night. A time and a place for everything - she'll put a schedule on her suffering if it kills her. Another hour slips by while Holly isn't looking.
And slowly, quietly, bashfully, dawn breaks.