i worked on a story from last semester. the first draft can be found here. this is the first six pages of the second draft, which i changed when i continued, but here it is anyway. again, please forgive the spaces between paragraphs; i don't know how to indent on LJ.
red on white
I first noticed it that night.
We were leaving the club. I’d extended my arm to put around her shoulder, but rather than settling into it, weaving her own arm around my waist so that we became one person, impossible to lose one another in the crowd shuffling through the door, she instead flinched violently the instant my arm made contact with her body. As she drew away from me, I lost her in the crowd. Eventually I could see her, just beyond my reach. She made it out the door before I did. As she stood there right beyond the opening, I reached out to grab the back of her shirt, to let her know I was behind her.
My hand touched wetness, a thick, goopy layer. At first I thought it was sweat—she’d danced nonstop all night—but when she jerked away from me I saw that my hand was covered in red, red so deep it looked almost black. I emerged from the crowd, able to get a good look at her in different light. The back of her shirt was soaked in it. She didn’t even seem to have noticed.
Lani,” I said, “you’re bleeding.”
We walked back to our apartment much faster than usual, on my urging. I made her sit in the bathtub. She let me unbutton her shirt, but insisted on taking it off herself. It sat, ruined, in a pile as I began to wet a sponge.
Lani sat silently as I stood over the sink. Her back was so covered in blood, I couldn’t see what was causing it. The blood flowed down the floor of the tub, towards the drain, turning a shocking red against the clean white porcelain. I hadn’t realized just how much blood there was. It covered her back in its entirety, had begun to stream down her legs.
I was babbling on and on, unable to stop the words pouring from my mouth, asking if anyone had hurt her at the club, if she’d noticed anyone with a weapon, if perhaps she’d fallen on the dance floor and landed on something sharp. Lani said nothing. I asked for the fourth time how she could have missed such a large amount of blood coming from her own back, and then I realized that Lani did not seem to be as flustered and bewildered as I was. She sat entirely motionless, except for her hands. When I told her at the club that she was bleeding, her hands had automatically gone to her back, one on each side, in a near-accusatory stance. I remembered that she hadn’t held my hand on the walk home, but had kept moving her thumbs in small circles across her fingers, feeling the slick, dark blood on her hands. She was doing that now. She seemed lost in thought.
As I sat on the edge of the tub, prepared to sponge, she finally looked up at me. I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “You look just like you did when you came up from the garden the first time,” I told her. Lani remembered, and even smiled a little. She still hadn’t said anything, so to keep the silence from filling with blood, I pushed on. “Remember, baby? You came up from working in the garden all day, and it had started to rain before you got finished, but you didn’t want to just leave it. So you got yourself all covered in mud, came up here and just sat in the tub. Yelled for me to come in here and help you. Poor little gardener, your arms were too tired to turn on the water.”
She’d stopped rubbing the blood on her hands to listen to the old story. We’d laughed together then, me sitting on the edge of the tub just as I was now, her weary, naked body covered in earth. She’d wanted me to help sponge her off then.
“Does it hurt?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied.
She flinched when the sponge touched her skin. She didn’t push me away, though, and I kept trying to clean the blood off. I thought about the little shared garden in the backyard, Lani’s section conspicuously long-untouched. She’d planted packs and packs of seeds in the little plot of earth that was allotted to our apartment. That was way back when we’d first moved in together. The garden had been left untended for over three years. I left her abandonment of it out of the story.
The sponge was quickly soaked. I made very little progress. The blood still seemed to be coming. I put the sponge down and looked hard at her back for any signs of injury. It was impossible to see through all the inky liquid. I ran my hand across the top of her back.
She screamed. “Stop it, Michael!
“Did that hurt?”
“Of course that fucking hurt. Stop touching it!”
“I’m trying to see where you’re cut. Just relax.” I reached out and touched her back again. She cried out in pain and leapt out of the tub.
“Stop, stop touching it!” she shrieked and darted into the bedroom.
I followed her. She had thrown herself onto the bed, facedown. The blood ran off her back and leaked onto the blanket. “Lani. Let me take you to a hospital.”
“No. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. It doesn’t hurt if you don’t touch me.”
“Do you see how much blood is coming out of your back?”
I retrieved her shirt from the bathroom floor and handed it to her. “Look, see? Your shirt is soaked.”
She took it from me. “Fuck,” she said, “I paid eighty-eight dollars for that shirt.”
I took it back and let it fall into the trash can. “You don’t need that shirt. You need to go to the hospital.”
Lani looked me full-on in the face for the first time that evening. “Don’t tell me what I need,” she cried. She pulled the shirt out of the trash can and hung it up in her closet. It was already turning gummy, but I didn’t want to continue the fight and tire her out further. I went to clean out the bathtub and left Lani to climb back onto the bed and lay on her stomach.
The next morning I woke up covered in Lani’s blood. Thick, almost like oil. Lani was awake, red-black rivers running down her arms and matting her hair. She was on the very edge of the bed, still on her stomach, and looked deeply weary.
I lifted her, backside up, and brought her back into the bathroom. I began to sponge her arms, wash her hair. She said nothing.
“I’m taking you to a hospital,” I told her firmly.
“No,” she said, even more firmly.
“Why the fuck not?” I demanded. “Look at you, you’re exhausted from losing that much blood.”
She answered me in a very tired, little voice. “I’m exhausted because you kept touching my back in your sleep, and I had to keep scooting away from you.”
I was startled. “I’ll sleep on the couch tonight then.”
“Would you please?” Lani struggled to an upright position. Another wave of blood came pouring from the top of her back. The sponge became useless. I turned on the shower. The water pounded her skin, washing a good deal of the blood away. I put a dab of shampoo in her hair. She barely moved as I worked the soap into her hair, trying to get rid of the stickiness.
“I don’t know why you won’t just let me take you to the hospital,” I said.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Because I don’t need to.”
The gluey black layer on her back finally began to thin. I looked hard for an injury.
“It might be serious,” I told her. “It might be fatal.”
“I don’t feel like I’m dying,” she said, irritation starting to fill up her voice. “I just feel tired. All they’re going to do at the hospital is ask questions and give me pointless pills.”
I saw them. Two deep, pulsing gashes, about an inch long, running along the edge of her shoulder blades. They seemed to ooze blood with every beat of Lani’s heart. I looked closer. Stuffed inside the cuts were what seemed to be feathers. As I watched, a feather from the gash on the right slowly pushed itself out of the hole and unfurled. It was a shocking white, nearly glowing against the inky stream it was coming out of. The blood rolled right off of it, like spilled oil on a polished tabletop.
“Lani,” I said. “You’re growing wings.”
You would have thought from the expression on her face, or lack thereof, that she was almost expecting this. Carefully, without any hurry, she pulled herself out of the bathtub, still naked and dripping with red-tinted water, her hair still white and glinting with soap, and walked, a little shaky with weariness, to the full-length mirror in her closet. Ignoring my attempts to help, she turned around and looked hard at the reflection of her back.
Another feather was showing its tip through the cut on the left. Lani reached over her shoulder and gently touched it.
I leaned over to touch it as well, but Lani moved away from me with a surprising quickness. I decided not to push the hospital matter any further.
That night I slept on the couch. I hadn’t slept alone in over three years. My arm kept reaching out towards my left side, grasping for the Lani that wasn’t there.
thank you for reading!