Imagine, if you will, the sound of a song recorded to cassette from a crackly radio station, then played through speakers covered with stickers from TV Hits magazine. Imagine Brian Molko’s genderfucking lyrics being purred at a volume nearly high enough to compensate for the bad recording technique, the sound bouncing off the purple walls. No posters. Not after Mum discovered the centrefolds from Horse and Pony were taped up four thick, one over the other over the other, a poor découpage of mares, stallions and fluffy foals in green fields. I am at my desk, on a cramped chair, my ears as close to the speakers as is comfortable, mouthing along to lyrics that make my angst-wrapped teen soul believe someone out there knows me.
On the desk is a plain blue biro, a brown notebook, a cream-shaded table lamp, a metal pencil sharpener and the broken clip from a black fineliner I stole from my mother. Molko blares, the speakers crackle and I dig the slanted edge of the sharpener blade into the softest part of my thigh. The song peters out and I lean over to press the rewind button. I have rewinding down to a direct science, I know exactly how far to go on this tape to only listen to a few words of the DJ announcing the song before it starts.
Outside it is night but not dark. I am close enough to the city that on overcast nights the sky is lit with a dirty yellow-grey glow, making the clouds seem closer, heavier and full of menace. A white night where my mouth tastes like salt and metal, my head buzzes no matter how loud the music is and my restless feet tap out a frantic, discordant tattoo on the wheel covers of the desk chair. This room is not a sanctuary, this room is a cage.
There are voices in the hallway – my Mother will come in nine seconds to tell me to turn down the music, to go to bed. I slide all evidence of my crimes into the desk drawer where it rests among old homework assignments, quarter-written stories and the detritus of a fourteen year old with well-established hoarding tendencies. I needn’t bother – she speaks through the door. When I click the stop button, it jumps up with a click and the tape stops whirring. The stop button doesn’t say stop, it displays a tiny unicorn sticker meant for a toothbrush. The play button features a cat. I am suddenly disgusted at the things around me; china ornaments of horses and unicorns, the shaggy yellow dog with the glow-in-the-dark chest on my bed, the white melamine furniture, all overflowing with stuff, the purple paint sponged onto the walls. There is no space in here, there is no air to breathe.
From the bed, in the dark, I can’t see the glowing sky. There are stars on the ceiling and I trace imaginary constellations as I scratch, flaking the dry blood, getting into the wound underneath. The house is quickly quiet, even Lucy, the retriever, is asleep. The slate floors are cold in this house, so after everyone has gone to bed, you can hear her stand and click-click-click across the floor before she not-so-sneakily heaves herself onto the sofa bed.
Eleven pm. Midnight. One. Two.
I don’t have headphones, so the volume is low. Click, listen, rewind, repeat. I am staring at nothing; the blinds are closed and it’s dark and I can still feel the night pressing on me, weighting my lungs, pulling me down. I am not strong enough to bear this sky. The blade has slipped in between two sheets of maths equations.
Skin has layers – epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. I press the blade slowly through the dermis, listening for the pop of collagen and fibre, watching the skin retract, then well with blood. I am consumed with the inside of me, with escaping from the purple room, the white night; going deep into my blood and my bones. White fat makes me recoil – the hypodermis bleeds more freely, as the blood vessels aren’t constricted by tightly bound skin cells. With the blade out, the weight of my upper leg is enough to hold the wound closed. There are a few drops of blood, suspended by water tension in perfectly round balls on the carpet. I lie on the floor, half under the bed and gently pierce the top of each with a tissue corner – as if by magic, the blood climbs upward until not a trace is left behind.
We are all just chemistry.