Beth held the straight edged Gillette razor to the back of her left hand, just above the wrist, a rather innocuous place to begin.Sharon took her razor and held it to the same place on her hand. Judy did the same. Anticipation of an intimate exchange floated among them. They giggled the laugh of sixteen year old girls. Beth’s face tightened; her eyes were dark. She put pressure against her skin from the top of the blade; at first a dent, the blade pressing in. Slowly, with her mouth open and her eyes glowing like dark searchlights, the silver blade slit her flesh. Fresh blood appeared like magic. “Ah!” She slumped forward, hair covering her face. Sharon followed Beth’s lead, and so did Judy. Each of them watched her own blood. Beth lifted an arm into the air, the blood seeping and trickling down her skin. She adored it. Sharon and Judy matched her, studying their patterns with solemnity. Then each of them held a finger to the cut and then to their mouths. They lapped like little kittens. They giggled again. “OK,Sharon, your turn.”
“Thighs,” announced Sharon. She uncovered her left thigh and held the razor to the inside, close to the top. Beth and Judy imitated her. Each had baby fat thighs. Each had wet blades. Beth’s red hair was full and thick and shone with healthy luster. Her eyeliner was delicate and enhanced the invitation of her face. She looked, as her mother was fond of saying, perfect.
Sharon worshipped Beth with her eyes as she cut, the razor sweeping across her thigh with light touch speed. The slice was long. She raised the blade into the air with the flourish of a Musketeer. Immediate results. “Oh,” said Sharon, slumping forward. Staring down at her thigh, panting. Beth and Judy sliced together.
Judy said, “You do me, Beth.”
Sharon laughed, “You want Beth to do you?”
Judy opened her legs wider and gave a wicked little grin. The girls giggled nervously. Beth scooted over next to Judy. “And you do Sharon.”
“And I’ll do you!” said Sharon, her face bubbly.
“You count, Judy. It’s your turn!” said Beth.
Each of the girls took the other’s left arm and placed it into her lap. Blood was still oozing from the top of their left wrists. At three, they cut each other’s thighs and laughed, as if they were playing with dolls. The tingle of the escaping energy was vibrating in their bodies. Then they studied themselves, transfixed by the webbed pattern, the hot flow, the release.
“But why the hell would you do that! What’s wrong with you?” Her father paced back and forth in her room, staring down at the stains on the shag rug.
Beth’s face scrunched into an expression of utter disbelief. “There’s nothing wrong with me! What’s wrong with you?”
Her voice and the look on her face caused a prickly pin feeling on his skin. He wanted to grab her; and hit her; and scream into her that she was ruining her life. That she was ruining his life. That her mother’s life was already unsalvageable. He did none of those things. He had to stay in control. She wasn’t going to listen if he screamed. He knew that. “You can’t do these things to yourself, Beth.”
“Yes I can,” Beth said softly. She looked down at her hand lovingly. It had felt so good! When she cut she was right there, all in the moment. Everything was right in focus, not a hair out of place.
Beth’s mother sat on the edge of the bed silently. She was not crying or saying a word. Joan had positioned herself so that the words of her daughter and her husband traveled across to her. She knew that her husband’s screaming wouldn’t help. “Charley, let’s leave her alone for a little while.”
Beth’s gaze popped up to her mother’s face. She locked eyes with her. They had identical eyes, only Beth’s were brighter and her mother’s were softer. When she was sure they had attached to each other, Beth delivered her line. “Yes Mother, leaving me alone is a really good idea.” The words burnt into Joan like a cigarette being held to her arm and put out. Beth felt good.
Charley screamed, “Why are you such an ungrateful little bitch?”
“I don’t know, Dad, but thanks for caring, OK!”
Charley left the room and Joan tried hard to manage a smile at her daughter but couldn’t. She reached out and took her hand. Beth’s palm was dry and her hand was limp and unfeeling. “Can’t you tell me what’s hurting you?”
The girl’s voice was a low and intense whisper. “You’re hurting me. He’s hurting me. Everything is hurting me. I hate my life. Ok? Is that what you wanted to hear?” Her lips were trembling and she felt held down all of a sudden. She got up from the bed and went to her bathroom. She shut the door. Joan wanted to say leave the door open, but she didn’t say it.
Charley and Joan sat at the analyst’s office, holding containers of coffee. “We just don’t know what to do,” said Charley. “If she was using drugs, everyone in the world would be there to help us.” Charley leaned forward with his knees on his elbows. Joan and Moyra were watching him, knowing that he wasn’t finished. “We called the crisis management center. We took her up there, and they made us feel like we had done something wrong. She winds up laughing and joking with the counselor, who looks like he understands her a hell of a lot better than he understands us. He winds up telling us that sometimes kids play dangerous games and that he’s sure that Beth is really OK. She’s not OK. She’s sick. She’s been sick for a long time, and we can’t get her any help. She won’t come to see you anymore. She says that you are part of a Christian conspiracy to make everyone ashamed of themselves.”
“Which is strange, considering that she knows I’m a Jew,” said Moyra.
There was short, mirthless laughter among them. Joan was staring at Moyra, waiting. Wanting for her to say, this is what we should do here… The lines around Joan’s eyes were getting deeper and showing an intricate pattern of their own. She saw them in the mirror that morning and drew her skin back from her cheekbones to spread them away. Her skills with makeup had improved with her need to use it, she thought. Then she was back in the room again and her heart was hurting, and her daughter was off someplace doing she didn’t know what. She couldn’t remember the last time her husband had kissed her.
“At some point, she will bottom out,” said the psychologist. She shifted in her chair and adjusted the flaps on her blazer. The office felt warm today. The light was glowing behind the closed blinds. Her plants were reaching up for it. “At some point, she may very well have to be medicated.” She had known these people for six years and they seemed bright and caring and helpless. “At some point she may very well need to be placed in a hospital.”
“Maybe she should be in a hospital now,” said Charley. His hands were clasped in front of his mouth. He was studying Moyra.
“That may very well be the case,” said Moyra, “but you would have a hard time convincing a psychiatrist of that right now.”
“Why? She was cutting herself. Jesus!”
“Because she does not appear to be a danger to herself or to anyone else right now. The law is very much in her favor. She would need to request hospitalization, in my opinion, unless she did something that was more harmful to herself.”
Charley said, “That sucks, Moyra.”
“It is a set of laws designed for the protection of the patient’s rights. They had been widely abused in the past, particularly the rights of children.” Moyra found herself smiling at Charley as he tried to nod in agreement. He was a good looking man in his early forties. He was fit. Moyra particularly liked the way that he dressed. His fabrics were soft and hung about him very well. Nothing was ever too tight or too loose on his body. She could see that he took some care in the way he presented himself
“So what can we do?” said Charley, his hands flat now, palms spread open.
“We have to wait,” said Moyra. She watched Joan’s face collapse with her words.
Beth was sitting cross-legged on her bed talking on the phone. She was staring at the thin, white slice on her thigh. “My dad is mad because he doesn’t want to have to be bothered dealing with me, and now he’s gotta. Too bad. And my mother is pathetic. She wants to understand.”
“It felt so good when you did it to me, Sharon, better than when I did it myself”
“I wanted you to do me too,” said Sharon, “but it was Judy’s idea, and, well, you know, Sharon paused. “What do you think your parents are gonna do, Beth?”
“What they always do. Charley will scream and then try to be reasonable. Joan will suffer. She loves to do that. They will talk to everybody and come back and say that we should try again to understand each other.”
“Yup, why can’t we all get along?” said Sharon- doing her imitation voice.
The girls giggled.
Joan sat at her vanity in front of a large glass of water and two bottles of pills. She had taken her dose of Valium for the morning, but it hadn’t calmed her today. She had taken the first Xanex an hour ago and only felt it work for a few minutes. Now, she shook two more Xanex out of the amber bottle. They were white cylinders, tiny actually. She felt their hardness in her palm and thought… they’re so small. Then she swallowed both of them with a wash down of tap water. She waited for the fifteen minutes they took to kick in. Sometimes it didn’t take that long.
Beth’s music was a muffled blare that forced its way through two closed doors. Joan felt herself bounced along on the steady bass. It was thumping just like a heartbeat. She wanted to lie down and put her head back and close her eyes and vanish. She wanted to float and feel whole and desirable. She wanted to hear her child call her mommy and be able to turn the little girl’s frown to a smile with the simplest of actions: a hug and a smile, a band aide, a song like the one that she used to sing to her. She wanted to walk around her bedroom in her panties. She wanted to watch her husband become distracted by the sight of her and have him come up from behind her and bend her over the vanity the way that he had done once and the way she had dreamed of him doing ever since.
The blare of the music seemed to be fading as she lay on the bed. She wondered how she had come to be a weak person. What had happened to her? Was it the way that she loved Charley and Beth that made her weak? She had done what had come naturally to her. Did that mean that she was naturally weak? Should weak people not love other people?
The Xanex was working. She felt the pressure at the base of her skull disappear and felt the warm strokes of relaxation moving across her body like a massage. She drifted into the snuggle of the soft bed and let it embrace her. The lines fell from her face.
At first the phone was a soft, distant voice, but the second ring made it louder, and she reached out a lazy hand and lifted the receiver. Slowly, she brought it to her ear and heard voices.
“Thank you for calling me back, Moyra There are some things that I really need to speak with you about” Joan’s mouth said Charley but no sound came out.
“It’s OK, Charley. You must feel that you can always call. You are in a very delicate position. Where is Joan?”
“She’s upstairs. She took too many pills again. She left the bottles open on her vanity. She’s just withdrawing further and further every day.”
“I could see that when the two of you were in my office. You are the source of strength for both of them now. And that’s OK because you are a very strong man,”
Joan’s mouth opened again but no sound came out.
“I feel as if I can accomplish anything after I have been in your office, but then I have a job and I get distracted and that feeling evaporates. I get distracted by the moment.”
“We need to talk about ways that you can maintain a perspective that allows you not to be drained that way. They will both try to drain you, Charley.”
“I feel that way. I feel them draining me, and it feels as if I should let them because they need me.”
“Charley you have to do what you need to do for yourself. Take what you wish to take for yourself.” There was a pause and then a smaller voice, a low soft voice. “Whatever you wish to take for yourself is there for you, Charley.” Joan’s eyes opened wider. Her face felt as stiff as a mask.
“I need to see you without anyone else around,” said Charley.
“Do you wish to come into the office or …” It was the soft voice again
“Could we meet for a drink?” said Charley.
That might be more comfortable,” said Moyra. “There’s a bar called Henessey’s about three miles from where I live on the north side of town.”
“I know Henessey’s,” said Charley.
“I can meet you there now. I’ve just finished my last session.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes. We can talk then.”
Joan felt as if she had been beaten up. Her stomach hurt. Her face was stiff. She did not think that she could stand. The music had stopped in Beth’s room. She heard Charley go out the front door and heard the car starting.
Beth and Sharon were lying very close to each other on the bed. The cd was over but neither of them wanted to move. While the music was on, they had begun to touch the white lines on each other’s thighs, and now their hands were inside each other’s shorts, almost afraid to move. And then they kissed. They kissed the way they kissed boys, but better. They were easy on each other’s lips and long in their embrace. Their tongues were wet electric wires that shocked other parts of their bodies.
Beth began to tug Sharon’s shorts down. Sharon responded by wagging her tongue wildly in Beth’s mouth. Soon both of their bottoms were off and they were inside of each other with needy fingers.
When Joan opened the door to Beth’s room she saw her daughter’s ass humping back and forth on Sharon’s hand. She stood there without saying a word. When the girls sensed a presence, they looked up in panic. Joan’s eyes were glazed.
“Mom, we were just pretending,” said Beth.
They disengaged and were frantic in their efforts to get their clothes back on. Joan couldn’t move. She stood there, a soundless, pathetic statue. It took all of her strength to close the door.
Wobbling back to her bedroom, she thought, I have no family.
Underneath the sink was a package of old razor blades that Charley liked to use before he took up his affair with electricity. Joan took out a shiny blade and sat at her sink staring at it. It looked new and held a sense of promise in the glint of its smile. The blood moved through her veins like a heavy ribbon of weight. She wanted to be released from it.