The young woman strokes the scalpel blade against her skin. She has carefully folded back the sterile foil wrapping to make a handle, and holds it firmly between her forefinger and thumb.
Looking up at herself in the full length mirror of the hallway Alice finds her face frowning, the extreme edges of her mouth tugging down, in a clownish vex which she tries to correct.
She had selected her favourite light cotton dress. With her hair washed and brushed, it falls straight down over her shoulders but still she is not pretty.
She might not be pretty but tonight she was going to be something to look at.
Fearing the pain, Alice tentatively tests the scalpel, back and forth gently along her forearm preparing. Then, taking a deep breath, she cuts a short shallow line; lets out her breath, and stares at it intently. It takes so long for blood to come that she wonders if she has got through the skin at all. When the dark line, thin as a hair, appears, she allows herself a smile and calmly begins work on the next cut.
Her research had uncovered that taking aspirin would make her blood thin and more fluid. So, she has taken a couple over the maximum dose for several weeks now. Methodically now she cuts four lines of equal length into her arm, each time patiently waiting for the blood to come.
Glancing back to the picture of her in the mirror, she sees what looks like a cat scratch on her forearm. Frowning harder, she raises her cutting hand higher and more triumphantly clutching at the blade. Pulling up the skirt of her dress, she began to cut slices into the flesh of her thighs. Now the blood comes in plentiful oozes but still too neat, too obviously intentional.
‘It doesn’t even hurt.’ Giggling she sets to work on both her shins and feet. A coolness rinses her whole body; adrenalin clean.
Back to the mirror she looks. Light from the late afternoon diffuses through frosted glass, but still the hallway is dingy. Brown banister beside her as functional as it is filthy, dark walls and smooth worn carpet, dimming her background to generalised dirt, a nondescript cave, save for the bright red colour blooming from her body. She cuts again deeper, more viciously, across her belly through the cotton of her dress. Now she feels stinging, not pain exactly but rousing enough to make her inhale deep.
The cuts had gone deep in the middle, two or three centimetres maybe, as she gazes hypnotically at the colour she begins to recognise the rusty stink of her blood. Alice loses control, cutting longer and longer gashes some even slashing through existing cuts, but always making sure; “not too deep.”
Alice plays a game of not letting herself look at the mirror, “not till you are finished,” she tells herself sternly like she is playing with dolls. Over an hour later finds her folding back her blade into its foil sheath. Blood has flooded the tucks and folds of her dress and seeped strange patterns on the remaining complete cloth. She has cut her face too, a grisly crisscross map of dribbling red lines.
As she squeezes the foil parcel into a crack between the stairs she is still not peeking. Not till she has arranged herself lying back against the wall so that through half closed eyes she can take in her full-length reflection.
‘Oh!’ Alice knows she looks amazing bloody cuts feeding one another, exaggerating the damage, would anything so awful be aloud on news at six?
Lifting the phone to her face, Alice watches herself dial, without looking down her fingers finding the nine as she flicks it down. When a concerned operator asks her “what service” she requires she says simply, “help me I’m going to die” and then lets the phone fall to the floor. Lying back, legs outstretched, arms loosely by her sides. Alice concentrates on keeping her palms upwards in her surrender, coaching herself to stay “relaxed and ready, relaxed and ready”
Some fifteen minutes later feeling stiff and thirsty, Alice wonders if perhaps she should have given them her address rather than make them trace the call to find her. Shifting position slightly to avoid a cramp, she tries to look at the phone. Her tension relieves to see it is still connected. Then she hears the clarion bell calling to her. The dimming hallway becomes saturated with a pulsing blue which banishes the brown and turns her blood vibrant purple. Her moment has arrived and she is so excited she has to remember not to grin, although it is the blood seeping into her mouth from her face cuts that first reminds her.
Heavy footsteps at her door, then a large fist is pounding on her glass. A pause, then a man’s deep voice is calling her name. Then more, not to be ignored knocking. Each time the hand lands, Alice feels the call of sex swim through her deep tissue.
Smartly the letterbox is lifted open, and fingers framing blue eyes meet hers. She watches the world’s most beautiful pupils dilate as they strive to see her. The skin around his eyes puckers in surprise as they make sense of what they see. Alice closes her eyes floating in the ecstasy of the scene, a hero had come to her rescue, she loves him already.
The policeman must of shouted to someone else to “call an ambulance, and now” before he begins putting his shoulder into the door frame. Frightening gnashes of metal make her jump back a few stairs, fearing injury, as her door is ripped open. Disappointed that she can no longer see herself in the mirror she reminds herself that she must not smile.
The three big men in uniforms crowd around her. One splutters, incoherent with shock, gagging on the blood, but the youngest one is coming towards her on bended knee, taking her hand gently. “Can you hear me” he whispers seductively. The owner of the blue eyes is just stood starring at Alice, his face bloodless with shock, as if he had never seen anything like this in his life. “Am I worse for them than a car crash” she wonders.
The whining trumpet of an ambulance announces the arrival of more burly men, this time in greens, they seem to get to work with her right away. “Alice, can you hear me Alice?” This man is not attractive, he has bad skin and terrible bad breath, he checks her mechanically ruling out injuries from a list irrelevant to her.
‘Fool’ Alice thinks as he pushes her hand holding young policeman out of the way. His tone insistent, bordering on annoyed, over and over. “Come on Alice you can confirm for us that you are Alice Mottle can’t you?” Alice nods to keep him from repeating the question one more time but she keeps her body limp as her pulse is taken by a gloved rubber hand. The medic’s questions continue, intent upon reply. Alice decided weeks ago that she would not speak, she could not be expected to, in view of the obvious trauma she must have suffered. Then she had toyed with not granting them the relief of knowing she was even alive.
“Nothing here at all, all superficial cuts, probably self inflicted” the medic dictated for his colleague to write down as he snapped off his gloves and started to pack his kit away.
For a moment, everything else is suspended still, in the once bustling hallway. None of the policemen move and Alice holds her breath.
“What do you mean?” The young officer beside her asks, rising to his feet “I don’t think I understand, do you mean… ?”
“Did it to herself,” he paused looking at her then adding. “Probably for the attention.” He spoke as if Alice wasn’t in the room, as if she was a case in which only they were involved. Alice heard her heart start to bang with fear.
Her focus locks onto the blue-eyed man who has held her in his gaze for so long, his eyebrows raised, all concern. She saw the glorious pity drain away. His face contorting into an angry snarl as two deep lines solidify between his eyes, and she recognises the hooded glare of repulsion. As his emotions communicate with his brain; disgust.
Alice lets her eyes rave wildly around the other men, searching for a smile, or understanding solace. Only the medic seemed unperturbed. Dabbing at the wounds, which seem to disappear invisible as he just drones on about the plasters she needs to buy herself and how she might not want to bathe “for at least two days.” He explains that they will send a psych team round as soon as one is available in the next few hours but that they could not afford to take her in themselves.
Alice knows enough that there is nothing she can say, or do, to stop them leaving now. No stretcher, no saline solution drip to help her make up lost fluid, no siren sounding through streets of bright lights, just her, sat on her drab stairs, skin tingling from the antiseptic wipes and a couple of tummy strips. She hates psych teams, always full of women who can’t wait to get practical about strategies for how she could cope better with what was “after all a pretty good standard of living compared to a lot of people”
As her front door is pulled as shut as it can go, Alice is returned back to the hallway of her life, but something seems so much further away.