by Len Kuntz
Clumsy girl, always falling. That’s what her mother says.
Others say something similar.
Her father, her brothers say, Klutz. Say, Idiot. Say, Retard. Say, Yo, Helen Keller missed a step.
And so yes, of course, she’s fallen again.
This time a new gash, shaped like Madagascar, rises over one knee.
When she blows on the fresh blood, the blonde hairs beneath the wound seem to sway like stalks of wheat.
She bends her leg and feels the burn sing a cappella all the way up to her throat.
She perches her chin on the part of her knee that is unmarred, and stares down at the other rapt, as if she is meeting Jesus or the Devil.
The girl thinks it beautiful, spectacular even, though she keeps this to herself.
Initially, her falling is accidental. She really is a klutz, an idiot, Helen Keller missing a step.
But then the idea blooms without her, like a weed or virus, and it becomes a plaything, a hobby, like scrapbooking.
She loves the ceremonial aspect of it, the predictability, the belief that here is something she can both cause and control.
There’s also an intimacy in self-wounding. A decadent thrill in the quick bite and lingering sting. It reminds her she’s alive and that life is ultimately painful yet meant to be endured.
What fascinates her most, though, is the scab, how it grows surreptitiously, hardening magically, as if a separate limb is trying to sprout.
Before long, the girl discovers an added benefit.
It happens the night she’s done something wrong again.
Her father beats her across the back of the head with a hairbrush. They’re in the bathroom, alone. Her father swings and swings. He shouts, Rude! Rude! Rude! into the mirror, before God, before the angels, before both their reflections. While the girl clasps the towel tighter around her body, her father presses and presses from behind.
Afterward, the scab becomes a rabid monkey gone berserk, screaming for attention.
To drown out the noise, the girl rakes her nails across the scab, light as butterflies at first, then hard as a cheese-grater. She picks out crusty slivers. She taps the pasty blood and uses some to draw a pair of wings across her calf. She claws at the mashed-up scab some more. Blood keeps oozing out, so she dips a fingertip and paints a body between the wings. Then a face. It’s a cartoonish depiction at best, yet she recognizes the person as herself.
Someone’s at her bedroom door, working the locked knob. The girl only half-hears it. She’s focused on the scab that’s become a fresh wound, no longer looking anything like Madagascar.
Still that’s where she sends herself.
She lifts off her own calf, crimson wings spread in flight. She flies through the ceiling, the roof, the clouds. She flies past the night and everything it wants to do to her. She soars and never looks down, never looks back.
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection This Is Why I Need You, out now from Ravenna Press. You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.