Bonnie Hogan

One. I’m being hugged.

Not a normal hug though; one that warms your chest and squishes your cheek as you dip your chin in the crook of their neck. I’m being hugged in the way that…leather seats stick to the back of your thighs in the heavy heat of summer. Or the way a cat person turns rigid as a golden retriever bounces towards them, all slobber and fur. My arms rest in the universal what-the-fuck? position while I struggle to identify my surroundings; patches of rainbow lights scattered across a dark room, shattered glass at my feet, squashed bodies bumping off one another and –

Two. You.

Eight months’ worth of words cling to my cheeks before dissolving into a metallic heap on my tongue. All those rehearsal conversations in the shower, all those articulated mirror pep talks…for what? A slightly deranged whimper before I run for the exit? Fucking hell.

I’ve never been one for surprises. Even nice ones. When my parents threw me a surprise tenth birthday party, I cried. My creased-eyebrows-means-I-care therapist says it stems from the fear of the unknown, the future, the loss of control. I think it stems from the fact that everybody jumped out wearing clown costumes as if the movie It hadn’t ruined that forever.

Three. I just wanted to say sorry, you say, cornering me in the now well-lit beer garden of cigarette smoke and chatter. Sorry doesn’t fix the fact I haven’t slept without a Valium since does it? You say that’s a bit dramatic. I’m dramatic? You ask how I’ve been; you avoid me well. You know me well enough to ask now? You say sorry again, touching my elbow. My arm snaps away. I’m the mouse-trap now, not the cheese you try to steal before getting caught.

Four. You tell me you’ve been depressed since your mum passed away. Good, I think. I’m sorry, I say. Heart attack wasn’t it? While she was sleeping? At least she went peacefully, I say. I’m a good person. I don’t tell you how I hadn’t felt such a spark of joy hearing that dreadful news since before I knew you. How I celebrated death for a split second because I was so desperate for you to feel pain like I did. That’s a bit dramatic. Am I dramatic? My nature-sounds-will-help-you-sleep therapist says they’re just intrusive thoughts. They’re normal to have, she says. I’m a good person. I sent you a text the night it happened offering my condolences. How sorry I was for your loss. I’m a good person.

Five. I don’t remember how we first met. You were just…there. A slightly burnt loaf of bread, soft-centred, dappled in seeds and flour offered to me on a silver platter. I engulfed you, swallowing every crumb, every grain ‘til there was nothing left. And you let me. You didn’t bother to tell me that I had to give all of myself in return. You didn’t tell me you would leave me to starve once finished. I was naïve, I know. But I was eighteen and hungry and you were a mountain demanding my attention away from the view I climbed all the way up to see because you told me it was beautiful. That doesn’t make much sense but then again neither did you.

Six. When I lie on my back in bed I’m suddenly scared of the dark. To fall asleep, I have four pillows pressed against my body and a doona so fluffy and thick I sweat throughout the night. But with that warmth comes light. A balmy, orange shade that swells behind my eyelids as I drift into a realm within myself. One where the weight of you doesn’t exist. Strings of fairy lights hang from my ceiling in case I can’t find that heat. Tiny, glittering dots shining softly above the cocoon I curl into, my knees held to my chest. I’m getting better.

Seven. My mother once told me a woman’s independence can be intimidating to a man who defines his worth through the lack of hers. Her words ring in my ears as you tell me how terrible you feel about that night. Who the fuck cares how you feel, I think. You look at me, all brown eyes and freckles, waiting. I stay silent, tangled in the wires of everything I could say, should say. Did you enjoy wearing me down? Knocking down each wall, digging out each nail until there was room enough for you to fit inside? Why bother carving a space if you had no intention of living in it? Your sudden patience unnerves me. You didn’t wait last time.

Eight. I wonder if it was just me. How big is the haystack you picked me from? I ask you if the girl you’re seeing knows about me. The frizziness of my hair in the rain, the scar on my knee you asked about and how I crossed my legs slowly, knowing you were watching, waiting, wanting. We could’ve been a dream – I can still see it, even now. You lean in slowly, sweep me up with the soft flutter of your lips before driving away with the promise of tomorrow as I float upstairs with blushing cheeks and – stop.

I realise you’re not answering me. You’re just laughing and doing that weird thing you do where your eyebrows furrow and your lips stretch upward. I used to think that was charming. I wonder if she does too. I swallow my jealousy, struggling to keep it down. I remind myself that I don’t want you. I want you to want me like you want her. Gentle and slow, like the tide returning to shore before pulling back in awe. Not the heavy, slippery mess in the back of your car drowning under gin and wine, the handle of your door digging into my neck as I struggled to detach my hips from yours, my nails in your skin mistaken for pleasure – I ask you again, since you didn’t answer me before. You say there’s nothing to know. It’s unhealthy to hold onto the past. I’m unhealthy? You notice the jittery twitching of my legs and the dilation of my eyes, black ink spilling across fractures of light gold. You say you didn’t think I was one of those girls. You think just because you touched me you know me? How could you even begin to know me? I could slice you open with the sharp edges of my sweet intentions and leave you to rot in a heartbeat.

But I don’t.

I’m a good person.

Nine. Everyone says you’re such a nice guy. Door-opening, meal-paying, tuck your hair behind your ear kind of nice. You’re a rare species on the brink of extinction, they say. It isn’t wrong for you to consume what’s rightfully yours, not after you’ve waited for so long, starving and unfulfilled. Is that why then? You say we’d both had a lot to drink – too much. It wasn’t anyone’s fault really. You’re sorry, but you can’t change anything now. Your voice drones on, seeping over and into my pores like black tar sinking into the earth. I’ll be buried alive if I’m not careful.

Ten. I look at your shirt instead of your eyes. It’s pink but a cherry-like pink and I hate it. Pink used to be my favourite colour. You tell me my hair looks nice, different since you last saw me. Don’t do that. Don’t make me think about the fact that everything I do is a direct result of shedding you. Don’t remind me of the shell I had to retreat to, adapt to, evolve to after I learned my skin was not there to protect me but to lure you in. You tell me you think I’ve had too much to drink, reaching to take my glass. You care enough to notice now? You pause. I tighten my grip.

I prefer the soft, sugary kind of pink. Strawberry milk spilt over fairy-floss skies at twilight kind of pink. This pink is putrid and stains the whites in your washing. This pink is the wine-soaked dress I didn’t bother peeling off as I sat on the shower floor for hours scrubbing at my skin. This pink is limp limbs and the milky stain just below my belly button, forever replacing the rosy hue I used to paint my dreams with –

Stop. They’re screaming at me to stop. Dazed, I look down. I see your chest, splattered oddly beneath me. Your hands, palm-up over your eyes. A dark, gooey liquid oozing down your chin, your neck, to the collar of your shirt.

It isn’t until I see the smudges of blood along my arm and the pink shards of glass nestled into my palm, that I realise I’m crying.

I’m a good person.

Bonnie is a third-year creative writing student with a passion for delving into the depth of human emotion. Her poetry and prose often experiment with concrete imagery/metaphors, dream-inspired content/visuals and an immersive second person POV, along with themes of love, lust and the self. She hopes to publish her poetry collection she is currently working on once she graduates. You can follow her writing journey here.