Friday, May 23, 2008

Touch Sensitive

Meg said she can’t remember the last time I touched her but I can, I know exactly, it’s right here on the photograph – 10:03:2008 01:47. It was just this morning, about six hours ago. 01:47 hours, give or take a minute or two to allow for taking the picture. See, living proof; I had to’ve touched her to make her look like that. Meg’s brain never remembers me touching her but I think her skin does. The skin is made of the same embryonic tissue as the brain apparently, which implies an intelligence doesn’t it, an ability to remember. My skin remembers everything, from decades ago: the hot fat, the first degree burns, the pain that lived in the left side of my body for years.

Meg’s brain doesn’t remember me touching her because of the drink. She’s an alcoholic, though Meg won’t admit it. She says she just likes gin, the taste of it, the way it puts her to bed every night and tucks her in. Nothing is soft enough until she has a drink. Meg drinks to take the edge off life, the corners. Still wakes up black and blue with a hangover every morning. I don’t mind her drinking. I definitely don’t discourage it. In fact I quite like it. She’s one of those quiet drunks, you know, someone who goes into themselves the more they drink. Actually, I need her to drink. I need her gin dreams, those holes in her sleep she falls into, just as much as she does. I need them because that’s when I feel closest to her. Basically Meg is a problem that solves herself in the morning when the booze wears off.

Meg believes that we can’t live without touch, it’s a basic human need like air or food or water. I’m not sure about that. Lying in the burns unit, seven years old with half my skin burnt off, I thought I’d die if anyone touched me. I kind of know what she means though, about the need to touch. When I look at my hands, I can see touches inside them, memories of how her body felt and fantasies of how it will feel the next time. But they stay in my hands untouched until Meg drowns her last drink and passes out on the bed again. Only then will I let myself steal her skin.

I like it best when I’m on the edge of touching of her, that moment beside the bed looking down at the clotted skin on her bottom and thighs, the silence of her pale hair on the pillow. In that moment I can feel every molecule of gas in the air around my hands. And that’s when I understand just how big the need to touch can be, how much room this need takes up inside us. At first it was enough, just stroking her skin, seeing it change colour when I pressed it. My hands were like thieves looting her body while she was out. But then it started to irritate me how lifeless she looked just lying there, pressing her shadow into the mattress. So I started posing her, putting her in different shapes. I even bought a bigger bed so I’d have more room to move her about. It wasn’t so I could sleep further away from her; Meg was wrong about that. She looked amazing, so amazing I started taking photographs of her, whole albums full. Meg never lets me take her picture normally. She hates photographs, won’t have them in the flat. She says they’re only ever about lies and death but I love my pictures of Meg; they keep me going till the next time I can touch her.

She seems somehow bigger in her sleep when I pose her. It’s like there’s more of her. Usually Meg sleeps curled up, almost disappearing into herself. Like now; she’s on the other side of the bed, this adult foetus with its back to me. Her cold shoulder is freezing the bed into a sheet of ice. She’s fast asleep. I envy her that, I envy her oblivion. I asked her once, where do you go when you sleep and she said, to the gone place. I can’t remember the last time I slept. Sleep just falls through me then out again; it never stays long enough. It’s like I’m an uncomfortable place to be. Meg says I don’t sleep with her, I sleep with insomnia. She makes it sound like an accusation, like I’m making a choice. But she’s right, I do sleep with insomnia, every night I sleep with it.

She’s starting to stir. It’s like seeing her dig herself up from her grave, watching Meg emerge from sleep. She wakes in this field of herself then staggers off in the direction her body’s auto-pilot tells her is the bathroom. She’s sitting up now, clutching her head, hair so shiny with grease it seems to emit its own light. A groan escapes her lips. She swings her legs over the side of the bed and reaches for her robe. It feels odd seeing her move without me doing it for her, moving without me putting her limbs where they need to go. We say nothing and this is the way of things for us now after six years. We set out on this relationship together but somehow never quite got there.

She heads for the bathroom, her feet on the wooden floor heavy, laboured. It’s like every bit of her is treading on them, you know, the way your whole body is involved when you tread water. And there is a loneliness in the way she moves that hurts my eyes. I look at the ceiling, waiting for the sound of running water and Meg splashing her face. I imagine her looking in the mirror above the sink, confronting her hangover, the grey towelling dressing gown with its snags and stains giving her the usual dressing down.

From under the pillow, I pull out the picture of Meg I took last night. In it her arms are spread wide, her whole body open and inviting. I stroke her belly with the tip of my finger, noting the contrast between the raw mottled skin on the back of my hand and the smooth paleness of hers. A loud banging noise. I scramble out of bed, pulling the rugby shirt down over my jogging pants and head for the bathroom. It’s Meg. She’s banging on the window at something in the street, banging with both fists, shouting, her breath misting the glass - why don’t you just piss off. Go on, piss off! I stand on tip toes and, over her shoulder, five floors down, there’s a couple kissing, oblivious.

Melissa Mann

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