By Graham Tugwell
“Take your hands away. Let me see.”
But I wouldn’t.
Kept my head bent, kept hands over my mouth. “Don’t,” I whispered, “Please. I don’t want you to see.”
(I wanted her to take my hands away one by one, to linger on the holding.)
(I wanted her to work to reveal it.)
(I wanted her to know she’d won it from me, that only she could win it.)
She didn’t ask again. Her hands came up and closed over mine. She took them away, left then right. I had no wish, no strength to stop her.
A heat stained my chest and neck, my body empty except for inadequate breath. All of me rang with my beating heart. My hands laid down upon my lap she gently touched my face.
“Let me see.”
On my lower lip her thumb, fingers under my chin and slowly, gently, she turned the lip down on itself, curling pink, showing wet run through with blue.
“Made for me,” I said, words thickened by the pinning of my lip. “It’s just.” Noise to shush me— she stared at the thing, stuck in the gum where a canine should be. Her lips she licked and in long moments said, “Can I touch it?”
My gum was drying to chafe, tickled by the trailing edge of her breath.
She didn’t wait for my answer.
The pad of her thumb softly down upon my point.
(Swallow the scent of the soap she used.)
“Oh. Sharp,” she said, and her grip tightened; fingers up into the hollow under my jaw, lifting my tongue on a bed of flesh. I leant forward to allow, watching her watch her thumb whiten as it pressed.
She was lost in concentration; I let myself enjoy her mouth and eyes, the lines of eyebrows, her delicate ears—
With a sudden high in-breath she released, hand pulled away to cradle. “Oh,” she said, stunned into a smile. She showed me what she’d done to herself— blood on her thumb-tip, tumbling from roundness into a tongue.
My fault— my hand up to cover the horror in my mouth. “Are you…?” I tried to ask but she put the wound in her mouth and sucked. She bit the lips to force out beads and swallowed until the bleeding stopped.
She looked at me through her fallen fringe, eyes over the frames of silver glasses. Her lower lip gathered between her teeth.
(A pose, I’m sure.)
Fingers walked her hand across bed sheets, claiming mine and resting upon.
“Can you… kiss?”
“Can you kiss with it?”
What to say to that?
Everything about that moment: my bedroom, both of us sitting on my narrow bed, schoolbooks open on the floor. Staring at us the broken television, its rounded square of deepest grey, surrounded by matchstick houses she’d admired. Closed curtains kept this moment ours, the sun no more than a butter gap, busy with dust.
The heat and her closeness, aware of every inadequate inch of myself— dried spit in the corners of my mouth, straggling mucus in my nostrils, sweat on my back and prickling my forehead, seated so close to the smell and animal filth of myself.
And my hands.
Should’ve been doing something with my hands.
Tried to say something.
I swallowed again.
She kissed me.
My hands dead things, crossed, up-bellied on my lap and she did all the work herself— the press of lips against mine, parting and opening, the slip of her tongue in my mouth, running root to tip my alabaster fang.
I had no idea what I was doing.
But I was there.
And that was enough.
Our house was the last on the lane, old and graceless, at an awkward angle to the road. The garden was more a quarry; nettles and lilac grew around weathered slabs of sandstone, between ice-cream coloured marble blocks. Sunk in grass, the corpses of cars that had given up the ghost. The back garden ran wild into fields, all the posts lain down to rot, you had to search on hands and knees to find where one ended and the other began.
I lived in that house with my Granddad.
Just the two of us.
A small man, still with strength in his limbs and grey only claiming his temples, he did his best to love me, and I tried to make it easy, but he was a bitter, frustrated man, cheated out of a better life by the constraints of his own upbringing.
“If I had the chance,” he’d tell me.
(A hand over his mouth, pinching unshaved cheeks to free the words.)
“What you have, the learning.”
“Could’ve made something.”
“Made something more.”
Clarity was his only when shouting; then the flow came, a dam bursting with rage. Softer words had to navigate the hardened, tortured parts of him. Not everything was strong enough to make it through.
Often the incoherence.
And the broken sentences.
And noises to convey the tone.
Nights there were and many, we spent in silence.
Thirty-five years he carved gravestones but a machine did that work now. They gave him the job of driving the delivery van.
“Menial,” he’d grumble and stare at hands rough and reddened and beginning to twist with rheumatism. “When will they get a.”
He opened his hands.