how much do I owe you? | a short story

“Remember the time when I let you drink directly from my water bottle? You only had to ask once. And you were beyond thirsty. Remember that? I don’t offer that to just anybody. So, I’m a bit irritated that you make me ask you for your help now. I mean, you can clearly see that I need your support and you’re not even thinking about offering me a helping hand. That’s just… I don’t know what to say. You must feel quite bad about yourself. Treating me like this. A friend who is always there for you. I will remind you of this incident next time when you need me. If I will even be there with you, who knows, maybe not if this is what you call a friendship.”

Georgia stared at Lottie who didn’t dare to look her in the eyes and hid her gaze in a little stain on Georgia’s trousers because it seemed to be the only part of her friend that didn’t reveal how angry she was.

“It hurts, Georgia.”

“Don’t take my name into your mouth right now. What hurts?”

Georgia grinned, but her unflinching eyes burned a hole into Lottie’s stomach. She still couldn’t face her, mumbling towards the stain.

“It still hurts from last time. My mother-”

“Your mother has got nothing to do with this, do you understand me? She doesn’t matter to me. She plays no part in this whatsoever. Am I your mother’s best friend, no, I am not. Your mother doesn’t constantly need my help either. Unlike you, she doesn’t owe me anything. You have to repay my kindness. You deal with her. Not me. Get it?”

Georgia lifted Lottie’s chin, which made her jaw crack, and put her lips towards her ears. Lottie held her breath and thought about how fast she could run, places where she couldn’t be found, a world that was unknown to everyone in her life, changing her name, cutting her hair, stopping to sound like herself, walk like herself, exist as herself, and she found that soundproof vacuum within her body and disappeared behind her eyes and functioned the way Georgia wanted her to.

“I’m going to take out my knife.”

Georgia’s tongue whispered in Lottie’s ear. Lottie’s body cut Georgia’s words into as many pieces as possible to minimise the incessant sting they caused. Lottie’s body was barely breathing because she didn’t want to upset her friend even further.

“Now, if you would have bothered to ask about my needs, you would know that I require two pieces of you today. And, as you well know, unfortunately I am not a giver, I can only receive, so this is on you. You know everything that I do for you. We must be dutiful. I will cut off some skin below your throat, you know where you have this unique pattern of freckles, I overheard Jonathan saying that he finds them attractive and you know how much I like him, so, yeah, they’ll suit me better anyhow. I’ll take the tattoo on your back as well to cover up a bruise that just won’t heal. I mean, it’s not what I would have gotten, but at least I can have a tattoo without the pain. Shouldn’t take too long, you know how quickly my skin absorbs yours. I hope you brought your own plasters this time. I can’t be responsible for everything.”

Georgia cut out the skin she requested, she did it slowly so that the pieces that she wanted remained intact and unblemished. She pushed the patches of Lottie’s skin on hers and rubbed them in until they melted into her, became one with her and looked as if they had never belonged to Lottie in the first place. But loss stuck with Lottie and her body. You could always see what Georgia had taken from her, what couldn’t even be remembered, the parts of her that would never be returned. Something had been there once, but nobody knew what it looked like, what she looked like. Lottie was raw and open and she stayed that way. A giver’s skin never heals, never comes back. There’s only so much to give until the receiver, or the taker, is in need of a new skin that suits them and how they want to be seen. Sometimes the giver remains unfinished and the wounds expand. When that happens, robbers tend to skin the rest.

“Clean yourself up. You’re disgusting.”

Georgia’s voice reverberated in Lottie’s body and she crawled back out of her space. She looked at her tattoo on Georgia’s back and the freckles she had given up or couldn’t hold on to. She felt their absence from her painful body. From the moment she was born, she had been told: you’re mine.

Georgia left in a hurry without patching things up between them. Lottie didn’t bother to clean her wounds or hide them and just let them bleed into her clothes as she stumbled through the streets pretending to go nowhere.

When she stood outside of her home in her stained clothes, her cell phone got one message after another. From Georgia.

“Just so you know, I just ran into Jonathan.”

“He hates it.”

“He said that it doesn’t look good on me!”

“What the hell were you thinking?”

“I always thought this tattoo was ugly.”

“Well done, you. Fucking useless.”

“I’ll loosen it out of my skin and sell it. I’ll get a lot of money for it, I’m sure.”

“At least I’ll keep your freckles for a few weeks or so.”

When Lottie looked up from her phone, she caught her father standing in the doorway, grinning at her, his face marked by her mother’s beauty spots.

“Now where is my little daughter?”

My own drawing © Laura Gentile 2022 | Instagram: croque_melpomene

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