Gravel – Ellie Cottrell

(i)

The darkness swallowed him. Hid him as he sat under the awning, rain mixing with sweat as it dripped of the end of his nose into a small puddle in his lap. His skin burnt against the cool night air, he lit a cigarette calmly, it glowed bright against the dark. He held it between his lips, breathing heavy gravely breaths, but not yet trembling. He heard her whisper in his ear, and lost an angry tear, spilling down his cheek. He took a deep inhale and let smoke take the thought away. He closed his eyes. The fire danced before him, he tried to imagine where she was. He ran his fingers along the soft skin inside her thigh. He opened his eyes alone. Putting his hand to his pocket, he rattled the matches against the knife; her warm breath kissing the skin on the back of his neck.

He had known when he met her. She had been under his skin in a second, piercing small holes with her fingernails to help her breath within him. She had given him something. Something that was slowly fading as she suffocated unseen beneath the surface. He had loved her. He had wanted to. She had tried. They were nothing now, but silence and anger. Drunk with antipathy they spiralled in and out of nights with murderous lust and vicious tongues. The nights hot silence reminded him of her. The rain had stopped.

He stood up suddenly, and began to run, long tangling strides through the empty streets. He knew she would be there, where he left her, unwilling, unmoving, glued to the sheets in the unlit house. He ran.

(ii)

She sat alone. A bottle of Gin and an imaginary cigarette beside her. Her eyes watched shadows of the trees, dulled by the rain, dancing on the whitewash. Her anger bubbled despondently in her ears, she sat enveloped in the orange sheets and hot breaths of another swollen night. She took a deep breath and tried to quiet her raging chest. She knew he’d be back, he was never out at the first round. He had told her her inadequacies today, but that was never enough, he always had to fling every other days mistakes, bruising her pale flesh with his biting words. She fought back, with her silence, her hate. Her unrelenting refusal to understand his roaring anger.

She took the cap of the gin, and took a mouthful, chasing it down with another.She heard the key go in the lock. For a long drawn second she held her breath, waiting, motionless. He closed the front door behind him with a soft thud. She heard him taking off his shoes and shirt, she didn’t hear the light so she knew he was prowling around the inky dark. She heard him outside the door. She heard nothing. She wanted another swallow from the bottle, but her limbs were frozen, paralysed against the stillness. She took another deep breath, her rage clattered against her bones, her heart threatened to leak out through her skin.

The door crashed open, splintering at the hinges, and clattering against the wall. He caught the rebound with his fist, punching through it, blinded by fury. Words fell out of him, one by one, punctuated by gesticulating hands, a tirade of cruel unnecessaries pummelling the air. He paused. She stared. He breathed in and out heavily, gasping for room. She stared. Her silence killed him. Picked him up by the scruff of his neck and ravaged him into madness. He took a step, his large heaving body so close to her she could smell his hot breath on her face. He taunted her, daring her to spill out onto the floor. The anger in her ears burnt so hot she was afraid her eyes were on fire, as she met his gaze. With one hand he took her. Knuckles smashed on cheekbone, blood fell from her mouth, her body crumpled to the bed. When she pulled her self back up he was closer, holding his knife to her temple. He growled at her, caressing her face with its blade. He held it there for a heartbeat, then trembling he dropped it onto the smouldering sheets beside her and turned away, from her, from everything. He lit a cigarette. They watched it burn. He felt empty, she felt tired, she ached. She stared at the man with the cigarette.

In one swift move it was done. Metal flashed through the dim light. Pain ripped through his flesh. Crimson rushed from his neck, quick, smooth and final. His eyes questioned her, his words finally gone. She watched, creaturous and quiet as he crumpled slowly to his haunches. She turned, a cold calm washing over her, and walked away.

She didn’t take a breath until she was outside, then she filled her lungs with the night. She felt her heartbeat in her skull, battering from the inside, blinding her. She fell quickly down the steps, scraping the skin from the comfort of its bone. Dragging herself to her feet she disappeared into the deserted streets.

(iii)

She looked down at her hands in the dark. They were bleeding from the fall, one still gripping his knife. She felt hiss breath on the nape of her neck. Small clots of flesh and gravel, clung to her warm pink palms. Fresh and stinging, childlike, from a fall in a playground. A flash of smile glimpsed across her face at the thought, then vanished. Her fingernails traced his skin. A memory of youthful days, of seeing your mother at the end of the day. Of the sudden broken floodgate as all the bravery washed away with a salty wave. She felt his kiss on her lips. She imagined telling her mother who she had become, someone she neither desired or cared for. Who let a violent narcissist make her vapid and apathetic, pathetic. Imagining the look on her face, she felt a tight sting in the black behind her eyes. Her mother would be disappointed in her. The aching burning kind of disappointment, which gripped your throat and turned blood to ash, a disappointment almost worse than her own.

She wept. Soft angry tears of relief.When it was done, she wiped her eyes with the unscarred back of her hand, threw the knife in the drain, and made her way silently through the empty shadows.

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