The Hands of a Healer
Sam woke from his usual dreams irritable and tired. He looked at the alarm clock by the bed out of routine, rather than from a wish to know the time. Sunlight circumvented his attempts to block it out by creeping around the sides of the blinds and over the top of the curtains. It was nearly midday. Sam put a pillow over his face, screwed up his eyes, and tried to retreat back into sleep. There was always a chance that her face would not be there.
It was no use. His mind was awake, turning over his desire for sleep in a way that prevented him from getting any. That was one of life’s little ironies that he could do without. The muffled sound of motor racing drifted through the walls; his housemate, Neil, was awake of course and likely had been since 8 in the morning. He allowed himself the luxury of an hour’s lie in at weekends. Sam couldn’t remember the last time he had woken up before 8 in the morning whatever day of the week. Now that he heard the sound of the TV, however, it seemed to be twice as loud.
Cursing to himself, he threw back the covers and reluctantly swung his legs out of bed, sitting on the edge with his head in his hands. More often than not he woke up more tired than when he went to bed. He always seemed to be awake at night, even when he turned the light out, bored of staring at a computer screen or half-heartedly reading books.
The dagger did not help him sleep. It protruded from his chest between his ribs; the handle was angled downwards, its Japanese style white wrappings a depressingly familiar sight. It was not that it hurt, not anymore, but more that it pressed on his spirit, nagging away at him. He had tried a few times to remove it, only to be met with a wave of pain and the sudden appearance of copious amounts of blood. He had never managed to get the blade more than an inch out before the pain forced him to slide it back inside, the square hilt nestling against his skin.
He scowled at it and then, with a heavy sigh, rose to visit the bathroom. He splashed water onto his face and scrubbed his hand at the stubble on his jaw. Reaching unenthusiastically for the razor, he eyed himself in the mirror and stopped himself. What did it matter, after all, if he did or didn’t shave? He had a cursory shower, but he didn’t savour the hot water on his neck or the tingle of the mint shower gel the way he had done in the days before Gwen had pushed a dagger into his heart. That and a collection of conflicting feelings were the only things he had left of her and he wondered if what stopped him removing the sharp blade was not the pain, but the fear of losing her entirely. It was not a thought that brought him any comfort.
“Morning! Well, afternoon,” Neil said by way of greeting when Sam had dressed – taking care not to jar the handle of the dagger as he pulled the t-shirt over his head – and descended the stairs. He grunted a reply and went into the kitchen to make his customary cup of coffee. The dull roar of the cars from the TV buzzed in Sam’s mind as he stood watching the kettle, waiting for it to boil.
“We’re out of milk,” Neil said after Sam had poured the water into the cup, stirring the sugar in. He looked at the black liquid in the cup with disdain, but his options were to pour it away and go without or drink it as it was. Settling on the latter, he went back into the living room and sat on the sofa next to Neil, who was engrossed in the race.
Sam found it dull. Nothing was happening except cars going around a little bit of road at high speeds and the graphic that explained they had fifty laps to go before the end did not help at all. He sipped at his coffee and allowed dark thoughts to congregate at the back of his mind, sending trickles of anger and frustration through his body. That happened a lot since Gwen.
Finally bored of watching uninteresting footage of an uninteresting sport, Sam stood up and went back upstairs to sit in his room. The power light of his computer winked at him from where he had left it on overnight. He sat down in front of it, sipping at his inferior coffee, and checked his e-mails. There weren’t any. Not one. Not even an offer from a company he had bought things from a year ago or a junk e-mail offering cheap Viagra. Nothing. Zilch. Silence. He slammed the lid of his laptop shut in disgust and pushed the half drunk coffee aside.
He pulled on a pair of shoes and a light jacket, adjusting it to rest behind the white-bound handle in his chest. Grabbing keys and his wallet, he took the stairs at a run, ignored Neil as he crossed the living room, and left the house, shutting the door with force behind him. He had nowhere specific to go and nothing to do, but he was bored of being at home, bored of the same walls and the same activities, pacing the same floors and turning his mind over the same points in futility. He walked purposefully along, ignoring the few others in the street. From somewhere came the sound of music pumped at an unnecessary volume. Sam tried to ignore that to, not caring where it was coming from or why. Gwen had taken his curiosity with her when she had left the dagger.
His pace slowed the more he walked, anger and frustration sapping out of him through his feet, until he was trudging along in a daze, too restless to stop walking, too apathetic to continue. When he reached the park he could see flashing lights on fairground rides and food vans assembled in a small square. This was the source of the music. He frowned over at it, not wanting to get closer to the pounding monotony of the live band, but he went into the park anyway. Grass beneath his feet would be a change from barren streets.
Once inside he followed the tree lined path rather than straying into the open field, where families played catch, dogs gambolled after balls thrown by their owners and couples laughed together, staring up at the sky, entwined in each other’s arms. The last he want to particularly avoid, but seeing them was enough for his brain to conjure Gwen’s face from the storm clouds of his thoughts. He sat down on the nearest bench. Fucking Gwen.
People walked by him without a second glance, which didn’t bother him at all. He grimaced as a group of families passed, children weaving between the adults and shouting to one another. Their high voices were like spikes to his ears. He watched them go, glad that the sound was receding, and then turned back to his own thoughts. He closed his eyes and tried to drown the noise of the world and to drown his mind in silence.
He heard a gasp of shock, but ignored it, and ignored the noise that followed; like a wine glass shattering on the floor. Something struck the side of his shoe and he opened his eyes in annoyance. A golden pound coin lay propped against his foot and coins lay across the path, glittering in the sun. He picked up the pound wearily and then stooped to gather the coins nearest him, before looking for the owner to hand the coins back.
It was a woman, about his age, her blonde hair tied loosely back from her face. She smiled a perfect smile as she reached to take the coins from Sam, her purse held in her other hand.
“Thank you,” she said.
Sam managed a smile back. There was a scar on her cheek, still red as if it had only recently closed. He barely noticed it next to her bright eyes. She frowned at the white handle sticking out from his chest and put her purse in her bag. Then she moved her hands towards him, placing one either side of the blade. Her hands felt cool on the wound.
“I’m Eloise,” she said.
He took hold of the handle – Gwen’s handle – and pulled. The keen blade pulled free, but only the smallest amount of blood followed it, flecking Eloise’s slender fingers. She kept her hands pressed there till the sting of an open wound had changed to warmth spreading through his chest. Sun broke through the storm clouds in his head.
He reached up to her cheek and brushed the scar away.