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Little Scratch

there is no doubt, here it is, on the sign:                Prawn chowder

 

prawn                                    chowder

 

(words already unfamiliar but growing more distant as I say them in my head for a third time)

 

prawn ?           chowder ?

 

on reflection        cream of cauliflower doesn’t seem so bad

which is why I’m ladling (eyebrows peaking, just a little, at how the soup matches the sides of the takeaway container)

And now I’m paying                                                               tap your card darling

and tapping (darling)          and     walking

and my hand!, container too hot, palm softening, losing lines,

switching hands (surprisingly pink!), round to the lifts, sound chiming, me picking

up pace, just fast enough to make it, stepping in

someone else asking                                                             what floor

  One

‘One’? Christ, should’ve said ‘first’

rubbing my leg against the side

 

Intercom, now,                                                                      First Floor

Out, doors wide,

down into the corridor (averting my eyes, upwards, away from the red and orange concentric circles across the carpet), upper arm preparing to negotiate the swing doors, nudging myself and the soup carefully slowly slowly through

 

I must walk as if I am not checking whether the sofa and table are free, I have no purpose, nonchalantly wandering, with my soup that is not too hot and my spoon that is just in my hand for whenever I fancy using it, purely making a casual parade of the office, bearing to the left, towards the kitchen area where a certain sofa resides, not that I’m hoping to get that exact sofa and table I use most days, just after the fridge, hidden behind the coffee station, and which may or may not be occupied, no no, just walking, just scheming at how, if someone has their lunchbox firmly on the table, how I can walk (not dejected, not me!) as if I am only passing by, not turning around,

 

(approaching now, scanning for a foot sticking out, a coat draped on the side)

I will keep walking, I decide, walking, and just go out the other door as if this was only ever an intended throughway but ah ahh free

 

soup quickly down, (hands now free) seared pink

pot, spoon, just so, in front laid out, precise, just so, juuust             knocked off-centre

by my colleague walking past

(not literally, the spoon is still there, soup too, but he has interrupted the process,

eye-contact already made                                       ) hello,

haven’t seen much of you, it’s been a while,

what have you read recently?

mind gone,

 

not a clear head but a blank head, making me question my capacity to think at all (even though I know that questioning my capacity to think is thinking in itself but a different sort and not a sort I’m interested in much) I know I was reading a book on the train this morning, in fact I finished it a few minutes before we pulled into Liverpool Street and yet here I am, searching desperately for any hint of a book I might’ve encountered

what                     have                  I         read

I say

 

pensively

as if the choice is just too

eeeeeeeeeexxxxxxxtraaaaaavagaaaaannnnt

 

and I merely want to select the right book from my shelf that’ll interest him (the shelf inside my head I mean), so that I’m not just delivering any old thing,

 

which will only make things worse naturally because my head is still blank and time for rumination is running out, only implying I am thinking over what I say, so that now whatever I say should seem more intelligent – but I still see clearly the table in front of me, (my legs underneath, asking to be scratched), spoon still clean, phone flashing whatsapps, , , , green,unbroken chats , , hiding the carefully , chosen , background of my phone (although now I can’t remember what it ever was) and I see him noticing too, looking, without wanting to, at my phone, flickering, , , him to the phone, and then to me, to the phone, me too, to the phone, to him, him to me, phone, me, me, him, and I now can’t turn the phone over (letting the back face up), because he’ll know that I know and that we both know,

, so I let it flicker, whilst I continue to think,                   ,                    ,

,

 

, still not in my head, seeing clearly what is in front,          (and overhead:

him, standing, jutting out, signalling to those walking       lightbulb blinking

that the nook behind the coffee station is in use,                  )

signalling to those passing by, look in!, look at the

reddening girl sitting on the sofa, mouth shut

 

 

still me, looking out, locking eyes with the him who is now cocking his head – unimpressed?

am I applying that to his face, or is he

unimpressed?                                                     legs warm

but now I see oh boy I seeeeeeeeeeeeeee

white

 

 

blue lettering?

An image! not my spoon! not my phone! (although I can see that too, an emoji of a pig, which distracts me for a second but oh no I am not letting this go, yes an image, a book

 

Yes)

 

Yes

 

blue lettering

That’s it, you’re doing good, it’s what I read last week! That’ll do, that’ll do, he doesn’t know the order of when I’ve read things

Hm ha har dhahrd Hard Hard – something

Hard-castle? no look let’s grab the title you’ve got that               Well, I guess it’s funny

 how you can so easily forget what you’ve read recently, but I’ve read

Yes yes it’s a-coming                                                       The Second Body?

That’s something, that’s something!

Not what I’d like to pick out for him,                      Have you heard of it? Quite interesting

 

too millennial it won’t please him,

but it’s a book, he’ll know I’m                                              looking at butchers and meat,

reading, engaging,                                                           and our existence on this planet

he’s not interested, I can see him           and how we interact, but bringing in literature th-

glossing over and I realise,    as he says                                    Oh, nice, must check it out!

that it was only ever a polite question,

 

I could’ve said anything (well, not anything,

if I had said Cloud Atlas perhaps he might’ve

wrinkled the bridge of his nose,

but really I could’ve gone                                                          he’s gone

with anything),

 

Slide phone, into whatsapp

Why is it, whenever anyone

asks what I’ve read, I go

completely blank?

Active 10m ago

Must stop checking

Find my way to the toilet cubicle

 

Whilst staring at                                                      It’s long past that

    should be

11m active

 

I am not going to scratch my skin

 

I instruct myself,

studying the space between the floor and the cubicle door,

deciding, quite firmly,                                                            chipped grouting by my foot

that I am not going to scratch my skin

a fingernail’s gap

 

as I pull my tights down and let my hands, flat, reach down to my ankles and up, behind my knees, as I do this I know I am not going to scratch, sliding across the danger zone (still not going to scratch!) against the back of my knees, not scratching, stroking, (not scratching!),

 

can feel

paper-thin

a well-worn phrase but

accurate

here

right here behind my knees

my skin could be torn so easily

fewer layers

 

And I feel where it has scabbed

Just a little scratch, just a tiny graze                     [I hear that in my head to a tune,

tickling already                                                         “Here a little nip, there a little tuck”, is

and oh fuck                                                                that a song?]

 

I have to stop myself, I know I will stop myself so my body scratches faster, gets in more moves in less time, if you’re going to make me tear away so soon I better get my pound’s

worth and I                                  ha                                  pound of flesh

Pull

My hands

Away

Ah

God that was difficult

No!

Stop! That’s you done!

but reaching down to ankles I catch a little scab and it’s free

and on repeat oh

booooooy

And now I’m scratching because I’m annoyed that I’m scratching

furious

feel small

and angry

a small angry itching thing

scratching at scratching and oh fuck me scratching and I must stop scratching AND

Tights up

Stop.

 

Stopped I have stopped.

Skin

stiiiiiiiffffffffffff

so stiff

 

hurts to bend my legs a bit, can feel behind my knees skin relenting, too stiff to wrap around the bone quite right, tearing, paper not made to flex this way

 

legs moving like a soldier, in front of mirror, face seems calm, can’t tell the heat under my tights, me, completely separate from my body, but still in it

 

recalling from when I was younger

face silent just like this

when I had the thing

well don’t know if it was a thing

let alone a definite article thing

but it certainly happened

a few times

 

when I was younger

seeing me now, face cold (legs pulsing)

I would look in the mirror (a different sort: toothpaste-marked, pink cup by tap) and hear rising voices

 

Wait

 

that phrase is ruined, it was my own voice, loud, I think, resounding in my head, just

narrating                 surprising me in what it, wait, no, me, I, had to say, didn’t know when, what to quite expect

Wasn’t the usual way, you know, when your thoughts don’t quite make it to words,

gliding over the surfaces of phrases, faster, quieter,          instead whole sentences appeared

 

 

I didn’t know where they came from although they fell incessantly and I remember

looking

in the mirror               like I am now

 

and being confused at how still it (my face) was, how it wasn’t moving when in my head things were so loud, rising furious right out and yet I did not move, did not seem to feel or wince or, look at that face! look at that frozen face (I used to think), prod at it as if it wasn’t mine

the worst part was the stillness                             this thought backing off, now being

replaced                     looking away from the mirror

(no sound,) (no big drama in its departure) as a new thought takes its place, the previous clotted, trudging off, breaking its own fall, sifting down the sink, younger self

with echoing head submerged as I reach for my phone,              out of my pocket

flow completely broken, now, thumbprint unlocking, automatically refreshing my email

SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE

  being hit

by                                                                                We are shocked by recent events

my boss,

the boss who lingers on my face for a full

One

is having a crackdown

two

three

four

Getting boring now but you’re still                               looking

five

Says he is taking this                                                       very seriously

 

Door shut, walking, back to sofa

(assured, soup and spoon reserving my spot),

six

recalling         my boss looking at me

Me looking at him

recoiling          Looking at me looking                           now, spoon in hand

And him looking

And me looking                                                                  cauliflower less bland

At me                                                                                        than anticipated

seven

And still

Him still, me still, yes, yes, the worst part was the stillness

eight

him

far away enough to be appropriate

never touching

just looking

(apart from the first introduction,

hand shaking mine)

nine

feeling his fingers                                         scraping up through my body into my mouth

ten

(fine! yes! imagining it, not feeling,

only a handshake after all

but I know this pattern,

and I know to wait

In case he begins

to                     edge               )

 

Aside from the reminder of what I am                              (ass                             istant, he said, as he finished shaking my hand, making clear that yes! ha! he can locate anatomical puns in job titles) but yes aside from the reminder of what I am and the absence, the absence, knowing that my body can be reached out, at any moment, and touched, flicked, painted with great slathers of yellow and green but yes aside from all this and more and oh don’t get me fucking started on the rest but look the worst part right now and let me say that okay the worst part right now is the fucking stillness the stillness the simmering underneath keeping it down, pushing back down

 

yes yes the silence the silence the slowing down the switching into whatsapp to explain consent to men who I thought would get it, at least them, How! How are they not with me here! and keeping strength, keeping expressions fixed, that do not imply anything, imply always nothing because it’s the stillness again, the carefully selected stillness

 

(whilst in the toilet I tear) face unmoved, (frantically collecting skin under my nails), teeth tight, chin set against my tongue

 

Still, as I am now, as I keep my legs stiff, half bent, under the table, spooning cauliflower, still

as if miniature scabs are not forming, as if later I will not extract the tights,

ever so carefully off my legs,

pretending, as I sit here, now, that later     the scabs, just formed, will not, however

gently I peel,              break               kicking up a bloody resistance

and that          tomorrow morning             I will not wet the corner of my towel, dulling the    marks across my bed               red to brown


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

is a freelance arts writer, and works as an Editorial Assistant at the Financial Times.  

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