MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
Shades of Rock by Jill Florio


Fiction

Faces of Wounds

Bushra Farooqui

Your wounds are secrets
I share, too.
It is your blood,
but my torment.
He was bleeding.

The room was reined by shadows and darkness, save for him, lit surreally by a single bulb which hung like a noose.

His eyes followed the trail of blood dispassionately. He was marble and silence, numb to his own ache. Within the cage of his golden hair, eyelashes blinked; the faint sketch of a grimace just barely stretched the skin around his lips.

He felt his body stiffening, felt the glacial touch constrict him to immobility and retrospection. He told himself that he was becoming stronger, that each time in the ring he surmounted what he could not have done years ago.

He told himself that he overcame tragedy and circumstance by the human struggle for survival.

Lies.

He told himself lies.

Nothing changed.

It was too late. Two years of silence of involuntary silence now became an invisible prison.

He had been unable to speak of it then, but now, he would not speak of it.

But, he knew.

And it was this secret knowledge that that festered within, wounding him.

It was all that mattered.

The monster was awake. He was becoming something he did not want to become again.

He was becoming a victim.

Again.

He held his head in his hands, his eyes staring at the frayed carpet, but looking far, deeper into the chasm of his memories.

Blood mixed into his hair, colored his forehead a threatening shade of scarlet.

Memories like fragile spider veins conjoined in his mind.

Hands. Skin. Heat. Unkind. Rough. He had disconnected his mind from his body; shut it down.

He had sequestered, broken the god-given mold; severed the connection from his mind and body. Now, he could not fit the mold back again.

There is no looking back…there is no looking back…the words crooned in his mind back and forth like a lullaby.

Shame.

He felt the familiar sting of heat, warmth that was abrasive and callow. Guttural laughter, the stench of sweat, whiskey, and his body a blazing sun.

He remembered everything as if it were the present.

Tears dried within the confines of his eyes. Anger. Pain. Humiliation. They came to him in clear urgency, responding to his cruel, unforgiving call.

The monster thrashed within him; he had accomplished what he had intended.

The door closed with a small squeak.

A mute angel, with shivering grief, she descended the stairs.

It was always cold like this, and she had come to associate the silence as a part of it.

She knew he needed no words. It was always like this: his voluntary silence submitting her to her own quiet reflection. She knew he did not want to listen, that he would be unable to speak. She knew crossing the line between man and beast was in abject stillness, and that what she saw before her was more crass and elemental than controlled rage.

Only the naďve thought it was passion that possessed him in the ring, that lifted him to victory.

She was not naďve.

Only a short distance and a bulb stood between them.

Their eyes stilled warily in assessment; black fire fought black ice.

I’ve never been cold
like this.

His face was a sharp angle of cold planes. Untouchable, hardly ever did an emotion ever brush it, except in the ring. If he avoided fights, he could be considered pretty in a way that was nearly poetic. If it wasn’t a busted lip, it was a purple bruise on his cheekbone, or a swollen eye; the man simply inhaled fights. He fought in bars, on the streets, in public bathrooms, in five-star restaurants, in peace rallies.

He fought himself.

His body was not conventionally beautiful. Rather, it was harsh on the eyes, much like the glaring impudence of the skeletal bulb. With creases and sharp lines, it was matter of fact, unapologetic and stripped of the tame, symmetrical poetry that glossed the covers of popular magazines. In each ripple, each undulating curve of unyielding muscle and nerve, there was a stark, unabashed promise of violence and aggression.

There was no mincing words here, no fanciful descriptions of his gross glory.

Blood dripped down his arm.

He could kill her, easily, mercilessly. She dwarfed him in every way imaginable.

You did not need to kill people bodily for them to die; he knew that.

He could ignore her protest. He could ignore his protest.

Why this little mouse braved his uncertain temperament confounded him when no sports medicine doctor dared to near the threat he posed.

Each finger in her hand was half the size of his own.

He could easily break her. All it took was one unwanted move, and she would crumble, this tightly coiled woman.

Each finger in his hand had once been half the size of their fingers.

Bastards.

They had not been merciful.

The leather chair creaked its complaint.

They had not been gentle.

Wordlessly, he leaned towards her with knowing, unwanted need.

His helpless grace did not fool her; he was not usurping or submitting. She knew, each time, she came to him she was facing what Daniel had faced with the lions: fear, uncertain hurt, and an unreasonable trust in something that was bigger than both of them.

The bare bulb cast a pale halo on her black hair.

The dance had begun; the lion was awake and raging, and she was Daniel.

He gave access to her, allowing her to breach his private circle of stiff isolation.

She did not chide him, did not blame him, did not ask him why.

The first touch, the barest brush of her fingertips against his wrist made him flinch reflexively.

She flinched, too.

Her hands were clammy.

He was hissing ice.

I am sure you
think nothing of me.


She listened to him breathe, and not breathe.

These were the only sound she was familiar with.

It was like this: every time she persuaded him anew, slowly, sensitively, with feathery, uncertain gentleness, with soft trust, catching and releasing, soundlessly till the steel melted to something barely malleable.

Some middle stage between beastly and human.

But she did not know; he wondered what she would do if she only knew.

She inched closer to his injury, to where her breath made warm, invisible circles on his cool, honeyed skin—he inhaled sharply.

He hated her.

He was taut, his spine casting a straight, lonesome silhouette, rigid and ready to attack, and possibly, defend.

Her eyelashes clumped at the ends; he wanted to separate the silly sweetness.

He hated her.

More than ever, he was keenly aware of his own voluntary muteness.

And more disturbingly, aware of her: the weight of her body on the corner of the chair, the down of her cheeks with faint broken capillaries, the soft narrowness of her shoulders, all the while catching hints of the smell of her hair—clean, appropriate, homely.

Warmth, innocence, hope, candied emotions; she was a little bundle of stereotypical goodness.

This was clearly no seductress, no romantic princess, and importantly, not a woman he had ever wanted.

He hated her.

With gauze, water, and warm exhale, she began wiping his blood, starting from his fingers, her motions betraying an unexpected strength.

She smelled of isopropyl alcohol, sterilization, soap, and safety.

Clean and homely, little mouse.

Carefully, she wrapped white dressing around his self-inflicted cut.

He smelled of sweat, shame, disgust, and fear.

Lifting his eyes from the ground, he stared at the crown of white atop her hair. The irony struck him bitterly; it was only in his service this woman was granted a halo of light.

He was the last person through which anyone could attain heavenly blessings.

She bent down to gather the stray gauze, while hastily, carelessly rolling her sleeves, unaware of her actions, too absorbed in the wound and the man who possessed it.

…and then he saw it.

When we do not speak,
everything—
our hands, feet,
eyelids,
toes—
becomes a mouth.

The sleeve of her shirt shifted to reveal her bandaged upper arm.

A cut, a wound, a bruise—it could be anything.

His reaction was instantaneous as if he someone else had carved a physical wound.

A shot of cold zipped through him such that it was scorching.

He gasped, as if pained; she turned quickly, knocking over a bottle of spirit with her arm.

She knew.

He knew.

She bit her lip in worry and hesitance; he stared openly, his lips crusted shut from disuse.

In sharp silence, she yanked her sleeve, burned her eyes into his in fierce defense, and began wiping the spilled liquid.

Behind the distilled sweetness of her heart-shaped face, she was a demon of circumstances.

The monster lived in her, too.

Did she, too?

Oh, God.

No, of-course not…it doesn’t have to be.

Questions, like a heavy downpour slapped him. Had it hurt, or was she oblivious to the pain? Was it self-inflicted? Was she used to it? Was she afraid? Why did she do it? What did she run from? Why? Why? Why?—

Damn.

He saw his own wrapped secret.

He could not ask her; he had no right.

And so, he withdrew his queries, and spoke in ways they both knew: with his body, with his eyes, toes, and hands.

His body became his mouth, became his voice, and with this, he took a step forward.

He departed from the light, stepped into the shadows, became a stranger, became something she wasn’t prepared for with gauze and bandage.

His eyes crept to her, swallowing everything in sight.

It was clear; he was no longer her patient.

This man was the potential killer, the unhinged lunatic she had been repeatedly told to beware of.

She took one step back.

He took two closer.

She took one step back.

Her eyes roamed in distress, wanting to devour space, any space, but the space that belonged to him.

He was not worried, and it was his steady, impassive gaze which worried her; no matter how many steps he took and when, all would lead to the same place, namely, to her.

With another step backwards, she almost stumbled over him when she met the solid expanse of cool wall.

However, she caught herself.

Desperately, she eyed the door; it was too far. He would easily get hold of her and the retribution would be too much.

No, she would calm herself…there was a way out of this. She could convince him—

He breached the distance between them with another step forward.

Her mind went blank, went frighteningly empty; every thought became vapor.

His breath fanned her forehead in hot, harsh bursts. His naked torso flaunted its threat.

He was too close.

Too close. This was too close.

He saw the distress beating in the fragile vein on her neck, and something akin to empathy took its first breath in him.

He wanted to embrace her.

Closer. To himself.

For a body solely crafted for vengeance, the selfless thought shocked him; using his body as a means of comfort for someone else had never been a noble desire in his possession.

Dimly, he realized, his pulse throbbed.

Desire did not translate into action: he would not embrace her.

He was not ready to comfort, was not ready to share his space, was not ready for nobility and selflessness, things he had never possessed in his entire life.

One blinding conclusion chained her to her impotency: she was going to die.

Maybe this is what Daniel felt like, being encircled by the lions, felt the hysteria coming at his throat—maybe.

Terror pleaded in her eyes; she was not innocent enough to believe in miracles.

She smelled the spirit she had applied to his skin, but in no way was he safety.

She wondered, panicking, why she had never noticed the unforgiving lines of his lips, the hardened eyes, the dagger jaw, the carved abdomen whose strength she knew needed no proof.

Surely, she should’ve seen him as the demon—

She shut her eyes tightly in sudden fright, waiting for the blow.

As if in slow motion, the last thing she had seen was his bending head, light-tipped hair, dark figure breaching her space.

Her nostrils were overwhelmed by the smell of sweat and alcohol.

Help me, dear God.

You wound me
with your
gentleness.

It was a hand.

His hand.

On her face.

Not an expected slap; but something between a touch and caress.

She felt dizzy with expectation.

Softly, with painful sweetness, he touched the tired skin beneath her eyes, as if intending to wipe the evidence of sleepless nights and tears.

She blinked, her eyes flitting up and down, uncertain of where to look, before she dared to rest them on his own and the sight of them surprised her.

Kindness, a serious kindness that was palpable lit his eyes in liquid warmth, the first sign of anything other than the impersonal, somber ice she had grown accustomed to.

Reaching below, he grasped a hold of her hands gently in his calloused ones. They were cold, stiff, and slightly swollen; he only had himself to blame for the temperature and the state of her hands

Even the Devil was once an angel.

Deliberately, slowly, sinuously, with an airy gentleness she had never expected of him, he made circles over her knuckles with his thumb; .it gave her shocks of warmth and chills simultaneously.

When she opened her mouth, he leaned down to bring her hands to his lips.

He kissed it, a phantom brush of chapped, abrasive lips over smooth skin.

If the hands that she had used to heal him had become an enemy to herself, he would hope they would be more forgiving the next time.

In this way, he returned her service.

He had never hated her.

That was another lie he had told himself.

She was still pure, still lovely.

Abruptly, he released her.

The magic snapped.

Not fully aware of his actions, in awkward discomfort, he wiped his lips with his fingers, in remembrance or surprise, she could not tell.

There was a pause, each party distraught by the roles that had been switched knowingly or unknowingly.

He made the first move.

He strode toward his jacket, roughly shrugged into it and pulled his hood covering his head, which masked his face in the shadows.

Clumsily, he zipped the jacket, and then proceeded to stuff his own hands into the deep well of his pockets.

She thought he would leave immediately, but he paused, not turning, his back to her.

He could not wait, would not wait—he had asked her to forgive herself, but he had not forgiven himself.

Indecision hung in the air like an ominous symphony.

Would he stay?

A knot formed in his throat; an apology was born.

I’m sorry.

He walked away, taking quick strides towards the door.

Today, the man who won every boxing championship he participated in, was going to lose.

Today, he would not take home a trophy, but himself.

It takes humanity to become
close—
that which
I do not possess,
always—
so,
God help me,
because
I want to be closest to you.

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