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Kate Heartfield




Skin

I am the worst kind of insomniac: a lazy one. Other insomniacs, I feel sure, spend the night hours scrubbing the kitchen floor, or writing emails to old friends. Me, I'm too afraid of waking you. You'll only ask when I'm coming to bed, and I'll have no answer.

So I lie here on the couch, staring up at the ceiling with sore eyes. After reading my own words all day, these eyes have, for once, no inclination to read the words of others. They'd rather rest in the lines in the plaster.

So I lie here on the couch, aware of my skin.

I would like, when I die, for my skin to be tanned with lime and stones and river water, and made into the pages of a book. But they don't make books of skin anymore, so you'll probably bury me whole.

I hear jungle creatures pacing in the hall. My skin aches with tired, but still I don't sleep. Not sleeping is not a lack of action; it is a marathon sport. It takes effort. Sleeping takes something else; I don't know what.

When I met you, I did not have this scar on my pinkie.

Tonight my 30 years are a collar. Thirty years of nights led me here, to this couch, to this tired skin. And every night a chance to sleep, scuttled. A choice, if I will admit it to be so. A choice: to sleep or not to sleep.

Where would I be now, if those choices had been different?

I would be in Saskatoon, with Susan. We would stay up late and read Anaïs Nin. We would have a red couch. Very late at night we would kneel on the floor and touch our girl lips together. My skin would be soft next to hers. I wouldn't be happy but I would have moments of bliss, which is more than I can say for this couch, this night, and you in the next room.

I would be in Switzerland, writing books. No one would know me there. I would write books and look out on the mountains. My skin would be chapped and ruddy. I would have the ham-hock hamstrings of a skier. I would not have a telephone. People in the village nearby would say hello when I came in to buy coffee and toilet paper and they would wonder what my story was.

I would be in Somalia, helping children. I would have a skill. I would wear linen shirts and khaki shorts and my hair in a loose flaxen braid. My skin would glow from the sun. I'd fall in love with a brilliant exiled rebel with midnight skin who'd be killed and I'd never love again, but if my life were a book the other characters would pine for me.

I am aware, now, of a rough spot on my skin, high on my cheek. It is where your blood stuck to my skin, earlier. Tonight after we had sex I stood in front of the bathroom mirror.

Half my face was dotted with red where you had kissed me.

You had cut yourself shaving, and left this trail, crumbs of blood, across my skin. My face, my neck, my back. Your blood. I stood still as wood in front of the bathroom mirror and wiped it off with toilet paper, and you watched me.

It can't be easy for you.

And now I'm lying here, an effigy of myself, writing on the plaster of the ceiling. I will remember these dreamings in the morning, and I will write them down on something other than night ceiling. There are scraps of paper all over the house with my words on them. You leave them where they are. You don't want to know what is written on them. Besides, you respect my privacy. It is part of our deal.

But you did not give me permission to write on the ceiling. And so I don't, or at least not in ink you will notice.

To remain, or not to remain? But you can always find me, by following the trail. Of paper. Or of blood.

When I met you, I did not have this rough place on my heel.

I didn't ask your permission to spill out our lives on eight-and-a-half-by-eleven. You didn't ask permission to bleed on my skin. Sometimes in a marriage, we take what isn't offered.




©2003 by Kate Heartfield


Kate Heartfield is a writer in Ottawa, Canada. Her columns, editorials, and features appear frequently in the Ottawa Citizen and other publications. Her fiction has appeared in Another Toronto Quarterly and The New Quarterly.


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