“What on earth happened to your face?”
She closed her eyes, tilted her head down so that her chin was resting on her chest, and chuckled quietly under her breath to nobody in particular. I saw the tremor in her hands, her tiny, childlike hands that were holding on tightly to the sticky surface of the bar as if she may collapse without its support.
She looked up at me and held my gaze for just the right amount of time before abruptly shifting her eyes to the rows of glass bottles lined up at the back of the bar. She was studying each bottle like she were choosing which liquor to drink. Which is strange because I know that she is not allowed to drink spirits anymore.
As she opened her mouth to answer my question, she failed to look at me. She just kept on reading the labels on the bottles and did not even turn to me, which told me that she was going to lie to me. She can never look into my eyes and tell a lie, she always looks away. She doesn’t know that I have noticed this.
“I got in a little argument,” she said, smirking.
“I got into an argument…”
She paused, then said, “With the cat.”
“What the fuck?”
She released her famous tipsy laugh and all the men turned to look at her, as they do, as they always do. She went on reading whiskey labels, ignoring me.
“What happened to your face? Tell me.”
She gestured towards the 5 inch gash across her cheek that started at the outside corner of her eye and ended near the corner of her mouth. It was about a centimetre wide and looked pretty deep. She’d tried to cover it with makeup but the red glared through, and the scabs that gnarled her usually silky skin gave it away. It was a straightish line, it wasn’t curved. It was not done by a cat.
Finally she swivelled her head around to face me, and staring right into my mouth she said,
“If you think I look bad, you should see the cat.”
She cackled her infectious laugh, the one that bordered on hysterical, and turned to the barman who had promptly placed a large dry white wine in front of her.
While shuffling the coins around in her shaking hands, she said,
“As a matter of fact, the cat’s dead.”
She laughed and wandered out into the garden.
“What the fuck are you on about? What cat?”
“What fucking cat?!”
“Which cat…” she said, quietly, lighting the cigarette that dangled lovingly from her lips. “I don’t know. A cat. The cat. Some cat. I don’t know, it was just a cat.”
“A cat with kitchen knives for claws? Pull the other one, I wasn’t born yesterday.”
She smiled but it was not a nice smile. I have seen this smile before. It was a sad smile, it was a fucking heartbreaking smile. She flipped her sunglasses off her head and they landed perfectly on her button nose. She was staring right ahead at the fence, smoking, smiling, sad.
I grabbed her face and turned it towards me. She didn’t flinch. Maybe she has become too familiar with men grabbing her by the face – this thought makes me uncomfortable so I drop it.
“You are so beautiful. Who did this to you? Who did this to you? To your beautiful face. Tell me.”
“Don’t say ‘what’, say ‘pardon.'”
“Who did this?”
“Lots of people did this to me. They did it, she did it, he did it, you did it, I did it. You all did this to me. I did this to myself. You all did it.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, you did this to yourself?!”
“What the fuck?”
“Mentally, perhaps. Yes I did this to myself mentally, but so did you. This mark on my face is the mark made by everyone who has ever hurt me. Forget the people who have hurt me physically, forget about that, they’re gone now and they will never hurt me again. This mark has been made by too many people to list. It doesn’t matter who did this to me. Inside I am so hurt that I don’t even feel physical damage anymore. I’m in so much pain on the inside that I no longer have any spare pain to feel on the outside. This is a product of the ‘final straw,’ you know the one that broke the camel’s back? Yeah. It’s like that. Don’t worry about who did this to me. You’ve all done this to me. I have done this to myself.”
We were silent for about two minutes. She kept smoking, I stood drinking and thinking and worrying, and we watched the trains go across the bridge.
“Leeds,” she said suddenly.
“Don’t say ‘what’, say ‘pardon.’ That train’s going to Leeds.”
“Says me! That was the Virgin East Coast 16:27 from Kings Cross to Leeds.”
“How d’you know that though?”
She exhaled a cloud of smoke through her nose and smiled, her old smile, her soft smile, the one she wore in the days and years when I knew her best, before the trouble started.
She threw the butt onto the floor and as she was crushing it under the heel of her wedge sandals, she said,
“I’m a very observant person.”
She picked up her glass of wine and knocked back exactly half of it. Then, as she was walking away from me, she called to me over her shoulder to say,
“Oh, and Mummy dearest reckons it won’t scar. So don’t worry, once the scabs have fallen off and it’s all healed in a couple of weeks, I’ll be pretty again!”
She winked at me and then she was gone.