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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 22 page 09

fiction


a surface cut on the skin

Coping Mechanism

by Alyssa Murphy

It’s midnight and all you can see is what you’ve done wrong. You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself. Compared to everyone else in your world, you’re nothing. “A good friend,” somebody described you tonight, and isn’t that all there is? You’re a reliable phone call at four in the damn morning when one of the others is in bad condition, a shoulder to cry on when someone’s significant other screws them over. That should be enough, but it isn’t, because you’re nothing really. You exist because of them, and when they don’t need you, there’s no point in breathing.

You’re sitting on your bed, shirt off, blade carefully positioned over your forearm. You’ve done this countless times, will do it countless more. Two inches across, just the slightest hint of pressure — you want to feel something, not bleed out! They’d never forgive you if you did, you know they wouldn’t. Last thing your group needs is you locked in Psychiatric for a week while the doctors decide how to keep you from trying to end yourself again. As if you even have the guts to properly die.

You’re not brave. You’re the one on the sidelines, keeping tabs on everyone, watching the reckless behavior but never engaging in any of it. And maybe that’s why you haven’t done anything worse to yourself than these little cuts — because you don’t have the balls to put yourself out of your misery. You’re not brave.

You take another sip of water — you don’t drink anything stronger on these nights, don’t want to risk your concentration — and you stare down at the new marks. Two tonight, perfectly normal, and it won’t take much to bandage them, you think as you reach for—

The door creaks open suddenly and you freeze. You always tell yourself that you really ought to fix those hinges but now you’re glad you never did, as some wisp of a girl slips into the room and into your field of vision. The look on her face is utterly frightening, like she could breathe fire.

“Oh. My. God,” she says.

She’s standing opposite you and you know she sees the marks, you know you can’t lie to her and say something about one of your housemates’ adorable recently-acquired kittens because cat scratches aren’t ever that even. You have to tell her. And maybe it’s fitting that she’s the first to know. On the rare occasions you thought of revealing your secret, Jen was always the logical person to tell. At once part of your group and not, prone to crashing on the couch because her latest boyfriend kicked her out (and in a house of people who fail at love, she’s got the worst record by a decent margin), the irritating but endearing younger sister no one ever actually wanted. And beneath that, kind and empathetic if given a chance to be something other than distant and bitey. She, you are sure, would never tell anyone else what she’s seen in you.

Before your mind processes any further, she takes two steps toward you and kneels down, taking the blade from your shaking hand. You put up little resistance — you know, somehow, that this is something that needs to be done. She takes it, stares for a moment, and throws it across the wood floor. “What the hell, Matthew?” she growls, looking up at you with her unfair dark-brown eyes. A pause as she takes a few cautious breaths, then — “Why?”

“Some people drink,” you shrug. “Some people fuck a different person every night. This is my coping mechanism.”

She takes your outstretched arm in her hands and runs her fingers over the scars, smudging the new ones that are still bleeding. She’s surprisingly gentle despite the hostile look on her face, and after a few moments she softens. “I didn’t know,” she breathes.

“No one does. I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Please, who the fuck am I gonna tell?” She rolls her eyes, tries not to laugh. “You’re better than this, though. You’re the one who thought I needed a key to this dump for reasons other than people being sick of letting me in at three in the morning. You’re nice, you’re good.”

No, you want to tell her, you’re really not. But you’ve known that girl long enough to know she’s not a good liar, no matter what she might think to the contrary, and she means what she’s saying to you. Shit. And here you thought this night couldn’t get any more complicated.

She leans forward and brushes her lips across one of the older scars, closer to your wrist. “I mean it,” she mutters. “I know you don’t believe it, but...you are.”

You take her hands in yours, pulling her closer — practically on top of you, quite by accident — and gently kiss her forehead. You’re normally not affectionate, but she brings something out in you, something reckless and dangerous and wonderful. “You’re sweet,” you whisper, because there’s really nothing else to say to a girl whose first response to seeing your self-inflicted wounds is to tell you that she likes you despite them.

“Am not,” she laughs, jabbing her ridiculously bony elbow into your stomach just hard enough to hurt. “You’re one of the good ones, I mean it. But if you ever fuckin’ do this again...I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be pretty.”

You fall asleep like that, tangled up in her. She doesn’t seem to have any plans of leaving you, and you find you don’t mind the company or the weight of her body on yours. Her steady heartbeat — you lie awake longer than she does — is an unexpected comfort. And in the morning, blinking as you spit out a mouthful of tangled dark hair, you start to see a future beyond slit wrists and shattered dreams. Maybe you’re worth something after all.