On a street there were two Victorian houses that stood facing each other. A girl was born in one and in the other a boy. The baby girl was gifted with a box of thumbtacks. The boy knives.
They realized they were neighbors when in middle school the children were assigned to sit next to each other. One afternoon the boy went over to her house and knocked on the door. She opened it to find him holding a knife. The blade was sharp and shiny. The handle was a beautiful, centuries old carved wooden handle. The sunlight caught the knife. She peered closer and saw her reflection; distorted and surreal, gnarled and caricatural. She clutched her math book, turned inward, and howled like a wolf till she was exhausted and weak. The math book slid out of her hands and fell on the boy’s feet. The boy’s eyes were wide and open, but now they narrowed and squinted. His lips pursed as he shoved the knife into her face. She backed away and ran. Into the house he chased after her. Up into the attic and back down the stairs, out into the alley and into the forest until she had enough. She turned around and held up her hands. “Stop!”
The words reached his ears, but not his head. Before he could comprehend, her thumb had fallen off. The children stared at the spilled blood; running down her hand and arm, dripping onto her clothes. The boy took a step back. He clamped the knife into his hands. Now blood oozed from both of them; pooling and collecting at their feet that traveled quickly to their knees. When the blood reached the girl’s thighs, she fainted. She floated. Her hair spread out in every way as if it was calling his name. He sprinted off to his house.
In the tree branches, the squirrels and sparrows flung down the tree and darted through the tall grass toward her. They lifted her and carried her to her bedroom. The sheets beneath her turned red. When they left, the gifted thumbtacks crawled out of the box and attached themselves to her feet. At midnight the pain woke her up. She limped through the house, looking for her parents. They were in bed snoring. A sticky note was posted on the fridge. Her supper waited for her, wrapped in Saran Wrap. The pain throbbed. The pain had a voice. It told her she didn’t deserve to eat.
The boy locked himself in his bedroom. There was a pain in his heart. He stuck the knife into his chest. He welcomed the pain.
Five years later they met at a convenience shop. She was by the diet cokes and Red Bull’s. He stood in the candy aisle, holding a bag of orange Spangler marshmallow peanuts to his chest. The thumbtacks in the girl’s feet migrated to her calves. She winced. Facing him, she whispered, “I use knives to cut my body.” The boy, whose chest was covered entirely in knives, was speechless. The only sound was the cashier register ringing in the background.
The boy kept finding more spaces on his body to stab. Behind his ears, the space between his fingers and toes, the back of his thighs. The thumbtacks on the girl’s body traveled to her chest and nestled on the undersides of her arms. In the mornings she used a pink ribbon to tie the thumbtacks to her feet. Standing up she flinched, but put a smile on her face and advanced forward. Blood flowed from her in great tidal waves. She knew, but didn’t know. Her family and acquaintances didn’t know, but knew. They approached her with a shepherd’s crook, a ring buoy, and life vests. But none of the items helped. They fell and were swept away. Behind her back, their heads bobbed in the streams. It was only when they disappeared she took notice. She pushed this fact deep inside her, close to the thumbtacks that now took residence near her heart. When once in a blue moon, they did manage to reach her shores. They stood, panting as if running a great distance and wiped the blood off, but by then it was too late. She refused to interact with them.
Eventually, the girl and the boy left their Victorian houses. In Spain they met again. He was moderately obese, she was anorexia thin. Inside each others pupils, they saw their childhood houses. Her house was purple, his was blue. They drank coffee until the wee hours of the morning and walked around the skyscrapers and lampposts talking about pain ruling their lives. The boy stopped. Underneath the lamppost he unzipped his jacket; the blades piercing his chest flickered in the light. She nodded. “Look at this,” she said. She raised her foot up, held it in her hands and showed him. Dried blood caked the tattered pink ribbons wrapping her feet.
“I know,” he said. “I’ve always known.”
That night she undressed for him. Her hands traced the carvings she made over her thighs and arms and breasts. He took off his sweatshirt. The knives were numerous covering his flesh, but seeing the knives were not enough. She wanted to see his flesh, she wanted to touch his flesh. Her hand touched one of the handles, her fingertips were just about to pull, when he slapped her hand away.
She stepped backwards. She stomped into her thumbtack shoes with great force. Blood swept throughout the boy’s apartment. She stared at him. “You made me do this,” she said. Blood pooled under his feet like a crashing wave. He slipped. He called out to her.
“You disappear just like everyone else,” she said.
Ten years later they met in the middle of a beach strip. Each had built their own house on the opposing end. One was a sand castle and the other was a shack. The tide touched their feet. She tilted her head to her sand castle. “Come live with me,” she said.
He feared the sand castle would not be sturdy among the ocean currents. He nodded to his shack up in the hill surrounded by the trees. “Come live with me,” he said.
She feared the strong winds would blow the walls away.
They went back to their own houses.
Thirty years later they met, their hair white, the tide rose to their shins. Half of her sand castle was still standing, the other half had fallen into the surf. Behind him, the roof on his shack was gone. These were not the only things that have changed since they have last met. Several of the thumbtacks on her legs were missing and a patch of knives that once covered the boy’s shoulder was no longer there. The sun shone down on them; exposing their skin, raw and scarred, wrinkled and old. He bent down into the waters, his hands searching until he found her feet and pulled several thumbtacks loose. She stepped closer; their faces inches away and pulled out the knife stuck in his heart. Pressing all her weight onto her thumb tacked feet, she raised herself up like a ballerina and opened her arms. His hands covered his face, his shoulder blades shivered.
“I’m waiting,” she said. He looked at her, his eyes red and wet, and embraced her. The knives and thumbtacks pierced inward into their skin and bones, deep into their marrows and deeper still into the intricacies of their muscles, veins, and memories. Blood blossomed in the waters around them. The tide rose to their waists. Dolphins, sharks and seals swam by; touching their ankles, wrists and chests. The waves crashed against them, but they held each other tight standing firm, until a swarm of seagulls descended upon them, pushing them into the sea.
Xenia Taiga lives in southern China with a cockatiel, a turtle and an Englishman. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and is part of Best Microfiction 2019 Anthology. Her website is http://xeniataiga.com/. Her abstract artwork is available on Etsy.
Artwork: Natalia Drepina