None of her lovers lasted past a first visit to the warm hospital room. They forced joviality and suppressed disgust, where before there had merely been contempt.
To their credit her female friends did not abandon her. They treated her, after the initial tears, as they had always treated her, as she treated them. They were shallow creatures, but occasionally well-meaning, despite their natures.
It was weeks after her accident that he found the courage to visit her, his hand still wrapped and bleeding. Through no fault of his own he had stumbled upon one of her coterie at a midnight booze shop. He, there to buy the tools of his trade, she to be loud and obvious.
"Don't you?..." she'd said. He'd nodded curtly, focussing on her chin. Avoiding eyes and cleavage.
"You've heard?..." Again he nodded, this time slowly. He fisted a drop of blood from the sodden bandage and turned away.
He tensed as a hand touched his shoulder and she said, "I'm sure she'd like you to..."
"I'll go tomorrow."
He took another pill in the car-park, on top of the two earlier that morning. He counted his pulse and mentally checked for signs of panic, but there was nothing but an emptiness. Too many closed doors.
There had been times when she'd phoned to say she'd be over. To visit his liquor cabinet and feel good about herself. There had been times when he felt momentary fear. Trepidation. Invariably he was drunk when she arrived. If she arrived. He was such a silly boy, she said.
Fingers touched as they passed cigarettes back and forth. She smiled, cooed and stroked his arm. Admired the tan muscles. He counted her eyes, her nose and her lips, relished the intangible.
And sometimes...sometimes there came a point when something almost happened. Perhaps one time in ten she would say nothing as she left, but in such a way that he eagerly anticipated her next visit. Nothing ever came of it.
When he was young there had been even less, so this was heaven. She was still young. a special friend inherited from his departed sister. Departed to a better job in a city far from home. He had never lived away from familiar landmarks, though he did not feel the less for it. It doesn't take travel to die slowly.
There was no-one else, had never been anyone else. Even the family was gone now. They had never been close. Why she remained he did not know. In her way she was as dysfunctional as he was. He prided himself on his strength, some aspects of which he was at pains to hide from her.
He got directions at reception, then wandered through corridor and stairwell until he found a window and a view to lose himself in. What was he to say? Moments earlier someone had described in clinical detail her reactions when the bandages came off. She hadn't cried or become hysterical. They seemed surprised, but he expected no less of her. He was sure she would have resigned herself to something much worse. No. She would barely have registered the change. One more injustice heaped upon the rest. Constant whining complaints. One after another. Nothing was ever right. Nothing rarely is. He had enjoyed the sound of her voice without troubling his brain with details. Here the alcohol helped. She had such a pretty way of forming words with her skinny lips.
He pressed his hands against the thick pane of glass and tensed. Comforted that he could push through if necessary, he set off for her room.
So there had come a night when he pushed his fist through the mirror in the hall that greeted him each workday's end and he remembered the offer made him. He carried a jagged shard and vodka to his bed.
In the morning there was blood and an empty bottle. The blood mostly from the diagonal slash he had sawn into the palm of his hand without noticing, but also from the wish he had carved down his belly and along his left leg.
Almost he turned back at the door. He stood, swaying, shivering, wishing for another pill. Eventually he recaptured his look and entered. She was asleep. Blood smeared where he steadied himself against the wall. Again he thought of leaving now, while he could. Most of her body would heal. There was much they could do but the blaze had eaten her.
He brushed aside the chair by the bed and crouched down so his nose was inches from her face. He counted her eyes until she woke. Her face contorted. A smile? Moments passed until he was afraid she would speak. He pressed his lips to the coarse skin where her lips had been. Her mouth opened, their tongues touched and they kissed.