[ Indelicate is a short story about overcoming abuse and discovering how to be your authentic self. It was first included in Mythridate's September 2019 issue, 'Beauty as Terror'. For similar stories, interviews, poems and more which deal with darker side of beauty, please consider purchasing a copy of the issue by visiting our store and supporting both our contributors and our publication. Thank you, and Happy New Year!]
[TW: Abuse, language, brief references to suicide and self harm. ]
Here is the secret to becoming a Changeling: you must hate yourself first.
Down to the very marrow in your bones. You must let the hatred possess you, and fester, and grow until it causes your muscles to ache with such a sorrow that you cannot bear to move. And then you must find the solution.
That is how all change begins.
Autumn that year was misty. The kind of October where blue skies were forgotten, and the air was consistently slick with dew drops and the scent of rain and distant wood smoke. Such a scene was as much a home to me as my own bedroom, and as I stood there, feet teetering on the steps of my childhood home, I willed the goldenrod leaves to swallow me up and return me to the soil below. To my rightful home. With the worms.
I had cut my hair, you see.
It was the greatest sin.
In doing so I had also cut my cheek, but that would seem less of an offense to my mother. She was never one to flinch at the sight of blood.
My heels dug further into the brick. Unwilling to move.
The party had been worth it. There was no doubt in my mind. Not anymore. I had waited anxiously during my first year of college to understand them. To be invited to some great secret with a card slid under my door. A crimson envelope with delicate handwriting which read,
And then, at long last, I had.
And this, I told myself, was the result.
In our small town there are only three institutions worth knowing. There is the 17th century church-turned tavern-turned church again. A footnote in only a select few Civil War road trip guides. There is the art college that reached its height of recognition in the 1970’s and only dwindled since. And then there is the Athenaeum.
It is not a kind building. One could make the argument that nothing is kind in a forgotten town, nestled in the foothills of Appalachia. Not genuinely. Our kindness is like the tight-toothed smile from a waitress with bags under her eyes and blue eyeshadow. It’s not meant to be cruel. But you can’t help but feel the sting.
No, the Athenaeum is an unkind thing of a different sort. It is a marble box in the middle of a brick town. A relic that is so mismatched by its surroundings that a decade or so earlier the planning commission chose to surround it in brick by way of a new footpath and makeshift patio. Instead, the additions simply made the Athenaeum look all the more peculiar. And all the more unwanted. I suppose, for me, that had always been its appeal.
In childhood I would walk past it and make up stories about what happened inside. I imagined wizards, and books once owned by kings. Old books, with letters written with quills and ink from crushed insects. And then at night, with its surroundings black and shadows dancing among its windows, I imagined who such movement belonged to. Never human.
“It’s just a stupid library,” Johnny used to say to me as we walked home from school.
“You don’t even know what a library looks like.” I used to tell him.
“I don’t need to. They’re boring.”
It was a conversation which in some iteration had occurred countless times from countless classmates until at last, I thought I could leave and escape that town. I was done being the strange girl clutching my rented books as I walked alone down Main Street. Done being the girl who always smiled and never said a word unless it was sweet and easily overlooked. But Greenbriar, and my newly divorced mother, were not going to release their claws on me for something so small as ambition.
Greenbriar Arts and Design was built in the 1950’s, and had not been updated since. It was not the ivy-covered quads that I dreamt of, but after a few art shows in high school, and a lack of enrollment, they gave me a scholarship. And so, at my mother’s insistence, I stayed.
Everything, you see, was always at her insistence.
From my hobbies, to my clothing, to my hair.
Especially my hair.
I can still hear the brushing sounds. The bristles as they stroked the locks.
“Delicate,” my mother told me. “You cannot be harsh with beautiful things.You must always be patient.”
But her fingers when they gripped my arm were never gentle. They were as brutish as her screams. Kindness was only reserved for beautiful things, and my hair was all that ever seemed to apply to.
So at night, when my mother pulled that antique brush from her purse, I hated what it meant. Every stroke, one of adoration. A cooing voice, sometimes scented with vodka, other times painfully sober. I think it was the only way she knew how to apologize. At least, that is what I told myself. What I wanted to imagine.
For every one-sided screaming match in the supermarket, or slam of my body into the nearest wall, there would be a moment later that night. One where she would freeze, and her aging eyes would go wide and glassy. And she would look at me, and reach out with thin fingers and a chipped, neon manicure and say, “Oh, Tammy… your hair… it’s- it’s so long now,” or, “Look... it’s got those little waves in it again…” and despite the softness, and fragility in her voice, I always knew what would come next.
By the time I graduated high school, my hair was down to my hips. It was a curtain of mousy blonde that made my neck sweat and ache from May to September every year. It was too heavy to hold into any sort of ponytail without causing even more pain. The day I visited Greenbriar Arts, I didn’t even need the tour, and so the weight of it in the late Summer heat, made the experience all the more terrible. I had grown up with the school a simple ten minute drive up into the hills. I knew it’s brutalist campus from their summer festivals and farmer’s markets. But still, despite the heat I had gone that day with the hope that maybe I could find some semblance of excitement. Anything to feel, as opposed to the dreadful thought of having trapped myself in this town for another four years.
The group that day was surprisingly large. Eight or so new students and a handful of parents, equal parts doting and judgmental. I lingered in the back, rubbing my neck and giving space to those who needed to hear the guide’s advice more than me. Then, for some reason, I drifted back to the discussion in time to see a hand shoot up into the air.
“This is the school with the Changelings, right?”
The question came from a red-headed boy in a baggy sweatshirt so large that it made his wrists seem deathly small in comparison. And when the guide arched his eyebrow and frowned saying, “No. I’ve never heard of them. You must be mistaken,” the boy turned to me, I suppose as the nearest person there, and said under his breath, knowingly, “He’s lying.”
I had lived in Greenbriar all my life. I had carefully learned every rumor about the town since the age of two so that when I heard one, I could keep my head down and not get involved. But Changelings, I had never heard of beyond fairy tales and children’s books. And once the name had been revealed, like a seed, it took root and consumed me.
It had been thirty seconds. Perhaps even less. And yet, that boy, with his unanswerable question, had given me the single thing I had come that day to find. And in the weeks that led up to my first semester’s start, I began a healthy rotation between every cafe in town with my fingertips scurrying across my keyboard in search of news articles, blog posts and anything else that could tell me more about the group. Or, what seemed to have been a group.
But when that first fall came, I still had nothing. The Changelings were, as far as I could tell, the best secret Greenbriar had ever kept. But then, like so many things before, the curiosity subsided. After an absence of campus whisperings, the myth of the Changelings fell into yet another childish dream, overshadowed by schoolwork and all the challenges, and graces, of being a freshman.
With some bit of luck, the university required all Freshmen class members to live on campus, and this provided a respite from my mother for the first time in my life. She complained, and I gained a series of four bruises on my bicep to prove it, but in the end it was not her decision, and so I was given my first small taste of freedom.
The dorms were nothing fancy. A sliver of a room with two beds on either wall and a bathroom to share between our neighbors. But my roommate, Christina, was kind enough. At least in comparison. She was from Nevada and moved there to Greenbriar Arts to study glassblowing. Which to me was a strange skill, but she had muscle to show for it, and a penchant for 80’s rock music that during every round of finals, kept me awake as it blasted through her headphones anytime she wasn’t in the lab. We were undeniably opposites, but we made it work. And so, when it came time to decide between remaining in the dorms or moving back home for our Sophomore year, there was no question.
It was the end of September that second year when I saw the boy in the sweater again, being tugged along by his still-thin wrists by Christina herself, and out our new dorm room in a hurry. They had giggles bubbling up in their throats and her grin was wild with a new kind of mischief. The boy however, upon seeing me, let his smile fall ever slightly.
Christina took in a sharp breath, trying to stop, but the laughter permeated every word. “S-sorry Tam, we were just—”
The boy eyed me with interest. And then, when he finally spoke after what seemed like forever but was likely just a half second, said, “You didn’t tell me she was your roommate.”
Christina stopped, and looked between us. “Oh, yeah! Wait... You two know each other?”
I wanted to step back. I wanted to rush past them and into the safety of my room and lock the door. Two people having their eyes on me made it feel as if I had done something terribly, and unforgivably wrong. A habit, I suppose, from childhood.
I didn’t move. I just stood there, and let my hair fall into my face.
“No,” said the boy, “We just met before, on tour day...Hey—” he reached out his hand. “I’m Eli, by the way.”
I stared down at his hand, his wrist, and finally came back to myself enough to extend my hand as well.
He smiled and glanced briefly back to Christina. “We uh, we were heading to a party down at Eaton. You wanna join? I mean, if you’re not doing anything.”
“Tamsyn never does anything,” said Christina. “She just reads. And draws. And reads.”
“...She’s not wrong.” I said softly, changing my gaze from the stained blue carpeting of the hall, and to Eli’s face.
Something in him softened. “Well, if you change your mind, it’s on the fourth floor. You can’t miss it.”
Suddenly Christina was yanking on his arm again and pulling him toward the elevator. “Ugh! Come on, Eli! At this rate the good booze is gonna run out!”
I watched as Eli was shuffled off in a stumbling hurry. “I’ll keep an eye out for you!” he called just before being dragged inside the lift.
“Tch, yeah with all that hair who could miss her.”
I don’t think she meant for me to hear. Or maybe she didn’t care. But Christina’s words as the elevator door closed were enough to make me dig the dorm key out from my pocket and hurry inside as fast as possible, and away from the newly lonesome emptiness of the hallway.
It was as soon as the door was safely shut, that the familiar anger began to rise.
In the mirror across from me, I saw her. The same, small, shadow of a girl in a stupid black t-shirt and a simple pair of charcoal-stained jeans. But half the mirror was not a girl. It was a curtain of murky gold. Pale and lifeless and obstructing everything from my eyes, to my ears, and my shoulders. An ugly sheet as if I were no more than a comedic ghost.
I was not a girl.
I was a thing. A carrier for a treasure other’s praised, and mocked, and yet—
Peeling my eyes away from the mirror, I glanced to my closet.
Christina was right. I never did anything. I had been at university for a year and had avoided every bit of socializing afforded me. I had skipped the Freshman mixers and the end of finals parties. I even turned down an invitation to a Christmas party thrown by one of our professors last December, and for what? To sit alone on my bed getting ink stains on my sheets and crumbling up every half-finished sketch.
I was not going to do the same that night.
Eli’s directions had not been wrong. As soon as I approached Eaton Hall I could hear the music pouring out from the windows, and I could see the shadows of a dancing crowd from the fourth floor. By the time I was inside, the room was thick with people and the scent of alcohol and sweat. Neither things were enough to turn me away, but each step forward into the crowd came with a new pair of eyes, and that was more concerning.
For as long as I had been alive I had learned that to be seen was to be hurt. To be hated. To be mocked. My existence as a human being was not wanted and so, to be caught existing at all always froze me like a deer on the highway.
Women did not have hair like mine anymore. This is what my mother told me on those nights. When her fingers would rip through the knots and my head would swim, dizzy from kneeling for hours on end. “They always cut it,” she'd say. “Or dye it...they always killed the soul just to be flashy.”
My hair had not been cut for over ten years. Not even a trim. All that was allowed was oil on the ends and a daily brushing. Soft bristles only.
In the months since I’d left home, my mother had driven up every Sunday. “I just wanted to see you,” she would say. But it wasn’t me her eyes focused on. If she could take a measuring tape to it she would have, just to make sure every plain, boring blonde strand was just as long as she had left it.
In school children would tease me. They would grab scissors and chase me around the playground. I learned the hard way, to sit in the back of the class, just so no one had the opportunity to sit behind me. To do something that I couldn't see.
College, I had hoped, would be better. But it was the same town, and so the same kids, and the same wide eyes as I walked into every new classroom. And with each new room came the same paranoia, and even worse, the same hatred.
Nothing ever changed.
And so when a hand reached out behind me, and that strange and spider-like movement crawled across my scalp, I froze. While the music blared, and the laughter rang out into the air, I stood there, helpless as his fingers combed their way through each strand until coming to rest, large and heavy on the small of my back.
I could feel that he was close.
So close his voice was louder than the music and unsettlingly deep.
“You’re in my class, I think. Art History, right?”
Each word he said was slow. Or maybe I just remember it that way. Each second at that moment seemed to tick on forever and yet, each beat of my heart propelled me into a further sense of dread.
“...I gotta say, it’s hard to forget you when you walk around with this,” his hand moved, letting his fingers twist around my hair before gripping and giving a hard and warning tug. “...just hangin’ around.”
My muscles tensed, and despite the flashing lights and shouts the only thing I could feel was his hand.
Move, I told myself.
“Oh hey! Tamsyn!”
From behind a group of people I heard my name. And suddenly Eli was there and the man’s hand was moving off my back. He didn’t need to say anything. I hadn’t realized it but I was trembling like some helpless animal and so, when his eyes met mine, the tears welled up instantly.
“Hey...hey, hey, are you ok?”
I don’t know where the other guy went. It didn’t matter. I never even saw his face.
But my knees felt like were going to give out and so I sank down to the floor, where Eli quickly followed after. He put a calming hand on my knee.
“No,” I told him.
“Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
We left the building as quickly as possible, the night air misty and cool with the first taste of Autumn, but the wind was just enough, and as it blew my hair wild around, I found my hands reaching up and scratching in a desperate attempt to get every strand away from me.
Our footsteps hurried across the quad. No matter how far we walked, I still managed to hear the music, echoing out from that room.
“I’m so...stupid,” I mumbled through grit teeth.
“No, you’re not.”
My feet stomped the sidewalk harder. “I’m too delicate. I should have punched him! I should have screamed, I should have kicked him in the fucking balls!”
Beside me, Eli let me scream. He kept pace with my frantic, rage-filled movements and never once told me I was silly, or stupid, or all the terrible things I felt that I was.
And when we made it to my building, he followed me to the lobby, and then, just before leaving, he paused.
“You don’t need to change, Tamsyn,” he said. “But if you want to, I think you’ll find a way...Anyways, G’night.”
It was the next week, a red envelope appeared on my bed.
Looking back, it’s possible I should have understood more of Eli’s parting words. But that night the lore of that first Summer’s research was far from my mind. Instead, as I cried myself to a night of restless sleep, I did not imagine in the slightest, that I had attracted their attention.
The Athenaeum expects you. 10:34pm, Tomorrow night.
The side entrance. By the rose bush.
I read the letter twice. I don’t think the words even registered the first time. I did not think to question how the letter came to appear on my pillow and not in my mailbox, although I should have.
But it arrived that Saturday following the Eaton party. And so, for the entirety of that weekend, I busied myself with a growing adrenaline, and fear of what was to come.
At 9:59pm, as I changed my outfit for the third time, a knock came at the door. And when I opened it, came face-to-face with Eli.
“Hi Tamsyn,” he said.
“Christina’s not here, she—”
He raised a finger to his lips.
And that was when I realized.
“I’m here to take you away,” he said.
We walked the entire way. Down the road that lead from campus and back toward town, and did not say a word. Eli stood tall, more confident than I had ever seen him, and when I at last paid attention to his jacket, I saw that it was tweed. Nicer than most kids at the school bothered to wear.
We continued to walk, past the street lights and the emptied buildings along Main Street, until I saw it up ahead, under the clear skies, that marble box surrounded by brick. The nerves surged again.
Classical music was the first thing to greet us. A melody of strings, echoing through the marble walls as we paced nearer. Eli had brought us to an entrance I had never noticed in my childhood walks as it was half shielded from a large rose bush. But we paused there, on the steps, as he turned his ear to the sound, and I watched as the corner of his mouth turned up into the smallest of grins. And then, Eli did the unimaginable.
He opened the door.
They were in the midst of some debate. A girl with raven black hair and a round face and a boy on a couch, equally dark and cherubic. But from the way she was frowning, I could tell the animosity was not a genuine one. But they were there, framed by the golden hue of ancient books and antique walls. And at once, my heart felt alive in a way I did not know was possible.
Eli cleared his throat, and at once the room stopped, and all eyes turned to us.
“Colin,” he said, and from the antique couch in the corner, the boy turned his head to the wall across from him and clicked his tongue.
“Well look at that, it’s 10:34 already.”
He turned back to us, his eyes meeting mine, and then smiled.
“Hello, Tamsyn. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Sorry!” he shouted, and then turned back to the girl. “Delphine, she’s sorry! Love, whatever reason do you have to be sorry? Unless it’s to apologize for the insanity the past two days! In that case then I sincerely accept it. Eli hasn’t stopped pleading your case to me since Friday night! On and on, he went. And to think I sounded like that last year pleading his!”
Beside me, Eli frowned, and it was then that the dark haired girl let out a bark of a laugh. So sharp it stung the air.
“You were terrible! Like a whimpering puppy!” said Delphine.
I did not think people like Colin or Delphine existed in Greenbriar. But as I discovered then, they did. Just not in the places I had previously frequented. Each of the people in that room that night were my age, or around it. Colin was the oldest of us, though I would discover that detail later. But as I looked about the room, each of the people there had something in the air about them which made me curious, and oddly wistful.
They were loud. Bold in their words and every mannerism. From the twitch of their fingers to the stomps of their heels as they grabbed the nearest individual and began a half-hearted waltz to Vivaldi with a grin on their lips.
They were relaxed.
And I was struggling.
“What is this place?” I asked. “You’re...you’re the Changelings, right?”
“Ding, ding, ding,” said a red-headed girl I would learn was Emma.
“But what do you..is it like a club? A society? A—”
“A curious one!”
“I guess we’re like a society,” said Eli. All this while he had barely moved. “A secret one.”
“And what do you do?”
“What our name suggests.”
“But, I don’t understand—”
“You’ll learn,” said Colin, grinning. “But come on. Join us. Emma! Grab her a drink. Delphine! Shut up about Montesquieu for a second. Eli,” he continued, calmer. “Bring our guest over.”
And so it began. With Eli, guiding me by the hand and into the great center room of the Athenaeum. Across the parquet floors and into a space surrounded by marble statues and two floors of leather bindings. Everywhere, in the darkness of the night, was something golden and impossibly warm with nostalgia. As if with each step I was going backwards in time. And as we reached the couch, and I saw Colin’s handsome face, I completely lost track of this century.
As some amber liquor was being poured into a crystal glass in my hand, they gave me the full introduction. No questions. No trials. Just the four of them, Colin, Eli, Emma, and Delphine. And I simply sat and listened.
There had been iterations of Changelings in some form since a poet’s visit to the Athenaeum in 1893. The record of his name, and his lecture, had long been lost. But a photo of him on the antique couch remained. At least, they liked to believe it was him. The photo was in an oval frame and a time worn sepia. But it featured that very same couch we laughed on that night, and it had a handsome young man, not entirely unlike Colin, in a three piece tweed suit. He wasn’t smiling. They never smiled in those kind of pictures. But there was something peculiar about him, and he just... fit.
They only ever referred to him as The Poet. No name would do. Just a title. I don’t think any of the Changelings ever cared to discover his name, or the truth to the mysterious man at all. He was The Founder. The Poet, who each night we toasted to. His past did not matter. Same as theirs.
And that, I came to know, was the truth at the center of the Changelings.
They saw a need in me that I did not know existed. Perhaps somewhere in my soul it had a name, and had existed in dreams as something filed away as un-achievable. But the Changelings saw in me a need to renew. A newer Tamsyn, waiting behind a shell of everything I knew about myself, and everything that I hated.
Eli had seen it the night of that party at Eaton. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
No matter what happened next.
It was 1 am, and I was lost in conversation. I had been lectured by Delphine for the better part of an hour on how modern day cafes could never be a match for the coffeehouses of the 17th century. And how she yearned to spar with her idols and run illegal pamphlets through the streets of Europe, but also, through the streets of New York City and D.C. to combat the modern terror of student debt. But all the while our glasses kept refilling and my head swam with a kind of intoxicated comfort.
I knew nothing of her idols. I had slept my way through most of my history courses in high school but the passion with which she spoke of them made it all feel impossibly alive. As if she had just met them all for brunch the day before. But Delphine’s passions were not shared by everyone. Colin for one, detested politics and only seemed to entertain thoughts of them for a few moments at a time. So it wasn’t long before he stood up and sulked his way down to a back hallway and disappeared. Meanwhile, Eli joined in on the debate with Delphine purely to gain an attempt to urge her to change the topic to something more enjoyable and less depressing for the four of us.
That night, by some great mercy, I think I came to talk more than I had entire life. At least in one sitting. With every new topic or point, someone in the room would pause and turn to me as if to ask my own thoughts. My own opinions. And so, with liquor on my tongue and Eli at my side, I did.
But it was a while before we saw Colin again, and when he returned, there was a solemn air about him. And that was when I noticed him. Another man, trailing behind. Red cheeked, and red eyed.
His name was Garrett. And he was the fifth member.
The Changelings, I learned that night, each had something. A fatal idol at their core, that, on the worst of days could cause them to collapse. To reach for the wine. The whisky. Whatever was stronger. It was more than the brandy that sat in my glass and it lacked, in every manner, a positive lining. And on occasion, this darkness overtook them. And on those days there was a room for them at the Athenaeum.
So they didn’t say a word when Garrett came in. They had all been there.
They would all be there again.
The first night I arrived to the Athenaeum it was Garrett’s.
But I did not realize how soon it would be mine.
My mother came for a visit that next Saturday. I had not been to class much that week and somehow, she knew. I had skipped Monday with a hangover and nursed it until Wednesday. When she arrived she did not come to my dorm. Instead I was asked to meet her downstairs. To get in the car. We were going to go for coffee.
It wasn’t that I was naive.
I just didn’t expect her to lock the doors as soon as I got inside.
The truth is, my mother never once mentioned my classes in her screams. She didn’t give a damn about my academics. She wasn’t paying for school and my art school degree was a useless one. So when she drove us down the long forested road that stretched out from campus, not the one that went into town, but the other one, I knew what it was about. And her knuckles stood white with rage as she gripped the steering wheel all the way up into the hills.
“You’re ruining yourself!” she said. “You look like you haven’t showered in weeks!”
This was a lie. I had showered only the day before. I just hadn’t combed my hair. And I had bird’s nests to show for it.
Nests, kept as mementos from what had become the only good night in my life. Knots from rolling around with wine-drunk laughter and forgetting my hair for the first fucking time since I was born. I was a person. For once. A person with a name, and a smile worth showing, and a face that Colin had insisted I show with a simple, kind, movement as he brushed the weight of my hair behind my ears, and for once, I did not flinch.
So when she stopped the car, pulled out that brush and told me to turn around, I refused.
And as a result, the passenger window gained a bloody streak where my nose had been.
Everything went blurry. When I awoke, I could taste the blood in the back of my throat, and feel her fingers brushing, combing their way through my hair as she hummed from the driver’s side seat.
I sobbed, a deep growl of a sound as the realization struck, and my fingers fumbled to undo my seatbelt. As soon as I was free I slammed the door behind me and ran down the dirt road so fast I lost my shoes and still, I could hear her screaming after me.
Stupid girl. Mind the branches. Useless cunt.
Every bone in my body felt weak, and helpless, and burdened. The barest breeze or movement in the air made my scalp itch with an unbearable fire. And every stray strand that found its way to my arm made me flinch, and scratch, and cry all the more. And so I ran. With the dirt clinging to my shoes all the way into town and away from where she could find me. The only place I could feel safe.
I arrived just as my fit had reached its worst, and as my fingers began to scratch at my arms, Eli had grabbed hold of me, and welcomed me in. With Delphine’s help, they dragged me into the room at the end of the hall, and gently, lovingly, sat me down on the pillows on the floor.
The room still smelled like Garrett’s cologne.
“I’m weak,” I said later, fighting back tears and with a voice through grit teeth. “I’m fragile.”
“Liar,” said Colin, and the word was sharp.
As he came into the room he was still wearing his coat and gloves, and there was still the faintest hint of woodsmoke coming off him. He had run. Eli had called him.
I watched through stinging eyes as he walked across the room and toward a vase of flowers that had been sitting on a table in the corner. They were dried, and pale. An unhealthy shade of brown.
“Death,” he said, holding the small, dried flowers between his fingers, “Death makes you fragile. Living makes us indelicate.”
I swallowed the snot in my throat. “I don’t… I don’t understand.”
“Your dead, Tamsyn,” said Colin. “You’ve been decaying for nineteen years.”
In one motion, Colin crushed the small petals and we all watched as they fell like dust to the table below.
“Stop it. Stop being poetic for one fucking moment and—”
“Then tell me! Tell us, Tamsyn, are you going to stay dead, and sit there and watch yourself turn to dust?! Or will you make the choice tonight to change, and to live?”
But I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand. My nose ached and my eyes were blurry and every part of me felt bruised. I was sickened with myself. An anger that bubbled up from my gut so strong I couldn’t breathe and yet I was there. Sobbing on the floor of that back room and watching as Colin, not getting an answer, turned on his heel and left.
I sat alone in there for hours. Long enough for me to angrily punch the plaster walls until my knuckles bruised, and to stain my clothes with blood. Long enough for me to scream, alone, but safe from the woman I hated and yet, inescapable from the person I hated the most. And then, at some point later that night, with the echoes of Baroque string music trailing in through the cracks in the doorway, I heard a pair of footsteps approaching.
When the door opened, it was Garrett, and in his hand was a pair of scissors.
I expected him to say something. But he didn’t. Instead, Garrett stood there, and let me watch as he calmly sat them on the table, and as my gaze darted back between him, and the silver blades.
“It hurts. I know. But this would be the last pain,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
For hours I had sat there in the dark. Finger combing my hair and ripping it out in a fit of hysteria that I couldn’t process and wishing, needing to be rid of it in any way possible. And so cautiously, I reached out, and picked them up. Just to feel them. To imagine.
They were heavy in my hand. Heavier than I thought they would be. But I let my fingers run over the silverwork of the antique handles. There were two things I could do. Three, technically. But still I didn’t know what Colin or the group in the outer room wanted.
The first cut was small. A shake of the scissors and just an inch off the ends. Yet I will remember the sound forever. The slice of the metal grinding against itself overshadowed everything. The music. My heartbeat. My thoughts. And it repeated itself in my mind over, and over, and over until I was addicted.
So I cut, and I cut, and I cut until the floor was a sea of mousy blonde, swirling about my feet. Until my head was intoxicatingly light with freedom. And then, I readied the antique scissors again with such a fury in my small hands. And with every bit of rage, and the memory of every bruise and taste of blood in my mouth, I thrust.
The feeling of the scissors hitting my cheek did not resonate. All I heard was that beautiful sound. And at once, as the door opened and I saw Eli’s face, his worried eyes, and Colin rushing in behind him.
After I awoke again that night, I was on the antique couch, and everyone was around me. Eli was tending to the cut on my cheek and Colin was standing, nervously clutching a glass of wine while Delphine made an appointment at a local salon. And after the shock wore away, and the fear had died, and dulled, I had understood at last what he had meant.
The worst of my pain was over.
There was just one final thing.
Emma drove us to my mother’s house, and I watched the exhaust gather in my small childhood street as it idled. I did not want to do this. But it was inevitable. The second part, Colin explained, to my rebirth. To freedom.
So I walked. Across the street and to the sidewalk, and up the series of brick steps that led to the front door.
I could feel the wind on the back of my neck. Not a hand, or my mother’s nails, but the wind like a loving kiss. Something soft, and gentle as it tickled the newly cut hairs.
And so, before my mother’s weekend visit could come, I lingered there, on her steps for just a moment longer, and then at last knocked.
When my mother opened the door she did not recognize me. And when she did, something dark overcame her. Instantly her hand reached out to grab my bare neck like a kitten to drag me inside, and slam the door before I was thrown to the ground.
But I let it happen. For some reason I just smiled in between the winces, and I stayed on the cheap, carpeted floor where my mother’s angry screams bounced against un-hearing walls.
“What have you done?!” she yelled. A piercing, agonized shout.
I was a dead thing to her now. A fragile, delicate, corpse. And she beat me like one.
The sirens did not wail as they turned down the street. Colin told them not to when he called. So when the door slammed open again just as my mother threw my body against the coffee table, calling me a whore, she did not see them, or their badges.
And so I stayed there, smiling still, as I tasted blood in my mouth for the final time. Committing to memory the sight of her eyes going wide as handcuffs were thrown around her wrists.
And when my mother’s spit flew across the living room as she was being dragged through the doorway, all I could think about was them. The strangers whom I had barely known a month and yet who had given me such a gift.
I was ugly in the eyes of everyone. Everyone but them. And as I walked into class with the cut on my cheek and my hair shorn away that Friday, every gasp struck me like a dart. But I was numb. I was new. And for once in my life, I did not shrink away.
Kit Mayquist is a Gothic loving dandy in Boston, and founder of Mythridate Magazine. His upcoming novel, Tripping Arcadia, will be released in Spring 2020. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram for regular updates and all publishing news.