Scars & Souvenirs

six

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The knife glints in the dim glare of the bedside lamp, and Max swallows thickly at the sight of the sharp blade. She hates that it’s come to this, that she’s had to take this drastic of a step just to keep herself safe, but she can’t change it. So she merely tucks the knife further under the pillow, out of sight but within reach, and sits on the edge of the bed.

The blank walls stare back at her, and Max almost sees them inching ever closer. Closing her in. Against her better judgement, she lets herself slip into a half-daze and imagines what the walls could have looked like in another life: Paintings of nature, posters of her favourite musicians and movies… Pictures of friends. Family. She can’t understand why she tortures herself this way. All it ever does is make her wish for something she can never have.

A knock echoes through the flat, and Max barely manages to stifle her squeak of surprise. Her heart kicks up a painful rhythm beneath her ribs, and she can scarcely breathe. Blood roars in her ears, drowning out any other sound except for the red-alert screaming in her brain. Chewing on her lower lip, she slowly, shakily, rises to her feet and tiptoes down the short hallway.

An unfamiliar woman stands on the other side of the door when Max peers through the peephole. The man - Niall, her brain whispers, reminding her that he’s a human who has a name - Niall’s door is open across the landing; Max’s gaze shifts to the blurry shapes moving just inside the flat. The woman knocks again, calling out a “hello?”

Heart in her throat, Max reluctantly pulls the door open and peeks through the crack. “Can I help you?”

The woman smiles, an apologetic thing. “Hey, sorry. I wouldn’t bother you if I didn’t have to, but could I possibly use your toilet? I’d use Niall’s, but it’s occupied right now and I really, really, really have to go.”

Max wants to say no, wants to shut the door in the woman’s face and go back to not existing to anyone else, but she can’t. Not when the woman looks so harmless. She steps back, closes the door enough to disengage the chain, then opens the door again. The woman ducks past Max and hurries toward the bathroom.

As silent as the flat is, it takes a herculean effort for Max to tune out the gurgles of water rushing through the pipes, of the other woman humming under her breath. Max can hear the faint traces of music - thumping bass and drums - coming through the walls, now that she’s listening for anything other than the sounds of someone using the toilet. She wonders, albeit without much genuine curiosity, what the party is for.

“You’re a fucking angel, thanks so much.”

Max twitches as the other woman emerges again. “Oh. Um, you’re welcome.”

“So now that I’ve barged into your flat, I feel like I should introduce myself before I become known as the girl who demanded use of a stranger’s toilet at ten o’clock. I’m Nikki.”

Max stares at the hand that’s outstretched towards her before hesitantly shaking Nikki’s hand. “Uh, Max.”

“Well, Max, it’s nice to meet you.” Nikki stops at the door, turning to face Max. “So, listen. My friends and I are going out to a club to celebrate Niall’s birthday - he lives across the way, if you didn’t know. You’re welcome to join us, y’know, if you’re into that kind of thing.”

“No, thanks.”

Nikki blinks owlishly at Max’s abrupt rejection but takes it in stride. “No problem. Thanks again. See ya.”

Max watches Nikki rejoin her friends then shuts the door on the festivities. The part of her, the one she lost when she was eighteen, yearns to let loose and have fun with people she doesn’t know. Make memories she’ll never remember and friendships that will last the night through. But she knows better.

So she goes to her usual spot on the couch and spends the rest of the night imagining all the ways her life could be different.

____________


Some old country song plays quietly on the radio, static fading in and out every few seconds, and a soft breeze flutters at the edge of the envelope tucked under the windscreen wiper. Max stares at the white rectangle, vision going black at the edges. The face of the envelope is pressed to the glass, and the familiar scrawl of her name - along with the names she’s used since she left - sends a shiver down her spine.

Makenzie

Beth

Martina

Katy

Lee

Pamela

Maxine

Max pushes open the car door, grips the edge of the envelope between two fingers, and hurriedly ducks back into the vehicle. The thunk of the locks engaging is loud over Hank Williams singing about family traditions, and she jumps in her seat at the noise. Tossing the envelope onto the passenger floorboard as if it’s scalded her fingertips, she puts her car in drive and goes.

She has no destination in mind; going home isn’t an option. Not yet. So she drives around the city until her body is numb, exhaustion bleeding throughout her muscles. By the time she pulls up in front of the building, her eyes are dry, and she’s pulled over a few times to throw up in the street.

Max makes her way up the stairs on weak, shaking knees. Somehow, she manages to reach her landing without falling on her face - or apart. It’s nothing short of a miracle. Shutting the door gives her permission, and she collapses to the floor.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Why won’t he stop?? Why can he not let me go. I’ve spent so long - so much energy and time - into becoming numerous new people so I could be free from him. Why can’t it end???

He left photos on my car. He’s found me and he has proof. Pictures of me at the bank, at the market, carrying my garbage to the dumpster… I can’t keep doing this. Why do I have to keep doing this? How is this fair to me?

Why can’t you be here? I deserve to have my parents. I deserve to have a support system and not be hunted like a fucking animal.

I hate him for doing this to me. I hate myself for not just… ending it.

This letter goes into the sink, paper curling and crumbling into ash as flames eat the words into nonexistent. This message doesn’t belong with the rest. Max adds the photographs without looking at the images. Seeing them again will only force her back into panic mode, and she can’t do that.

No matter how much she wants to give up, to lie down and let Gabriel win, she can’t. She has to keep going in search of a future without him, even if it never comes.