They always start the same. I'm standing on stage and the curtain is pulled. A soft sweet sound ripples through the audience as the spotlight shines down on me. My hair is pulled into a tight bun, my body wrapped tight in white leotard, feathers, and rhinestones. The heat generated from the lights and amplified by the bodies before me causes me to sweat, but I don't care. I don't even notice as my muscles respond, trained and supple as silk. Though my body is here, my mind is a million miles away- on the shores of some exotic island. The sky is a deep shade of blue- so bright and deep it would take your breath away. The air is crisp and clean- a place so far away that pollution seems to be just a rumour. The sea water washes over me, frothing like champagne- and I rise like Aphrodite from her clam.
And then I wake up.
That lifetime. It was so far away, and yet so close I can taste it. The drips of sweat as they roll down my brow. The saltiness of my tears. The rumble of applause. I was so beautiful, once upon a time.
My head rolls to the side and I check my phone. It's early. Too early, but there are chores to be done. Rising from my bed, I hunch over, lost in thought.
It still amazes me, the human capacity for suffering. They say what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger- I suppose in an abstract way that's true. I think now, especially now- that consciousness is just some cruel joke. There is no life, no death, only perception. Maybe it's god just fucking with everyone. Maybe he just wants to see how much pain one person can take. You either die, or survive, and then he throws something bigger at you. How much can you take, how much can you shoulder before you finally snap? Loneliness is the human condition, I'd heard once. Cultivate it. Appreciate it. You are born alone in this world, and you will die alone in this world.
Getting dressed, I step out onto the makeshift patio and look up at the stars.
There's something breathtaking about that glimpse. When you live in the city, sure you see the stars once in a while, but you never really SEE. I mean. Every single person that's ever lived has looked up at the stars and contemplated their reality- how am I any different? But when you're in the city, and the night sky is polluted with bright artificial lights, it looses something in translation. Something key.
The lights. Pink. Turquoise. Lavender. Love me! They cry. I can still hear them, the siren call of society. The way it reverberates in my bones, drawing me in. They seem to speak another language now. Sure, I can still hear it, the want, the need. The desire for protection in numbers- only now, only now their words are garbled, like the grown ups on Charlie Brown. Sometimes I pretend to understand, but I don't really. My fingers stroke absently against the wooden bannister as I descend into the dirt, tall whisps of grass pale as straw brush against my bare ankles. There's a chill, deep in my bones, the kind that makes you ache inside and out, but I don't care.
I haven't spoken to Ellie in months. It makes me sad to think about it. I'd tried to talk to her once after the... 'accident'
Yeah, that's what we're calling it now, that single moment when my entire world was shattered and fell to the floor in a pile of ash around my feet. It's just an accident. It's such a shame, they say. What a tragic accident. She was so talented, I'd heard them whisper. Such a natural! What grace! What presence! Well, at least she's still alive. Oh? Please, tell me more? Younger you say? Well, perhaps this Anita will be even more talented.
And just like that. You lose an arm and you're tossed away like a broken toy. Replaced by something whole, and sweet, and innocent.
I could never be that girl again. Even when chatting with Ellie on the phone, it hit me like a ton of bricks. All she could talk about were boys, and her hair, and how well school as going for her- and all I could think about was the nerves where my hand used to be. It wasn't her fault. She hadn't changed, but I had.
I was bent now. Broken. Damaged goods.
I knew then why people tagged graffiti on walls. Why they beat children. Why they would destroy something they could never have. When you're so damaged on the inside, why it should show on the outside- If not for my scars, who was I?
I wasn't sure anymore.
I could hear his voice still. Those sweet promises as he nursed that cup of coffee that never seemed to need a refill. The hunger in his eyes as he flattered me, cool fingertips stroking absently against my arm as I brushed past. He'd been so charming. So suave, how could I not be caught up in his web of lies and deceit. He'd waited for me, outside of the cafe. I felt his breath on my neck as he moved behind me.My keys jangled in my palm, that thrill of the chase rippling through me. He touched me, kissed me, aroused me until I was breathless and begging for more.
And then he cut off my fucking arm, just for fun.
I remember screaming. The pleasure he'd given me just moments before long forgotten. A lifetime had passed in the blink of an eye as that sweet blood rippled past my lips. The high, well it was unlike anything I'd ever felt before. There were so many questions, so much confusion, but there was no time for anything.
I remember the pain.
I remember his voice. So calm, smiling as he cut through bone with a saw. He murmured in that soft monotone of his while I sobbed. He told me it would be over soon, and it wasn't personal, it was research after all. He watched me as my arm fell to the floor, cupping my face as he lectured me on how to stop the bleeding with my mind- that I would have to do it or I would die, and there was much too much fun to be had with me to go dying on him.
My name is Astrid, and I remember everything.