She watched, fascinated, as the bead of red bloomed out of the cut in the soft white flesh in the inside of her forearm. It formed glistening petals before breaking the surface tension to trickle down to the bend of her elbow, making patterns like naked trees against a winter sky.
It hurt surprisingly little - just a small drag of tension followed by a clean metallic sting as the razor’s edge bit into her skin.
She held her arm up to the bright electric light and admired the vibrant liquid as it pooled and dripped onto the enamel of the washbasin, making bright circles of surprise on the white. A sly smile crept across her lips when she thought of the questions that would be born in her mum’s mind when she found the broken blade in the wastepaper bin and spotted the bloody splashes that she would ‘accidentally-on purpose’ miss when she cleaned up after herself.
It felt good - grown-up, powerful, deep, in control, even glamourous. She was the romantic lead in her own movie, and surely the tragic heroine would get the attention of some tortured prince out there. Wouldn’t she?
The flow was starting to dry up, so she clutched the blade in her fingers and slashed a cross-hatching over the first cut to revive the wound. But she held a little too tightly and the sharp edge bit into the pad of her thumb and index finger. She dropped it with a clatter into the sink, wincing in pain, and tried to suck the ache away as it throbbed at the tips. She laughed at the irony of her nicked fingers, as she tracked the new trickle working its way down her arm, then held it up and twisted it to make it work its way around her arm like a shining amulet of ruby liquid.
An angry banging on the door roused her.
“Get on with it!” yelled her sister. “Get out of there - we’re leaving for school in a minute and I haven’t even cleaned my teeth yet.”
“All right, all right. I’m coming!” She wiped down the porcelain, scrabbled the soaked tissues into the bin and hid the blade in the back of the cupboard for later. The door burst impatiently open the moment she turned the key, and before she could cover the bloody tracks with the sleeve of her shirt. Her sister rolled her eyes in exasperation and muttered “Idiot” as she bustled past and grabbed her toothbrush.
“It doesn’t make you any more interesting, you know,” she said as the toothpaste frothed in her mouth, making her look like a rabid doll. “It’s not clever, and it’s not cool. It’s just stupid.”
The younger girl responded with a haughty supercilious smile from doorway, tossing her hair in what she imagined was exactly the same move as the girl in her favourite teen vampire series.
Throughout the day, she obsessively examined the reddened welts, stroking them, picking at their edges, enjoying the frisson of pain when she prodded it. She relished that sharp ache, just like she did the part she’d given herself to play. Her sleeves were left casually rolled up throughout the day, but no-one noticed – until Annie grabbed her arm in the playground, stared intently at the skin and looked up with glittering eyes and a vulpine grin.
“We’re blood sisters now,” she whispered. “Your pain is my pain. We’re connected, and I’ll always know when you’re hurting. Next time, we do it together.”
At the dinner table, she waved off her mother’s enquiries about the spots of blood in the bathroom, saying she had cut herself shaving her legs in a hurry before school. The muttered “Yeah, right” and cynical, accusatory stare of her sister went unnoticed or ignored.
“Mum, can Anna come round this evening? I’ve done all my homework." I Despite the sound of her older daughter slapping her forehead in exasperation, her mother nodded as she loaded the dishwasher. It was a Friday, after all, and she had a week’s worth of work to get through before Monday - having a friend over would keep her attention-hungry youngest out from under her feet.
Two hours later, behind the locked bathroom door, the game continued. Anna held the blade and expertly slashed her own palm, then swiped at her friend’s before fiercely clasping their hands together until the drops of their mingled blood oozed out and trickled down their embracing wrists.
“Do you trust me?” she demanded softly, all the while looking intensely into her friend’s wide eyes. A mute nod answered her. “Hold out your other arm.”
Anna drew a long line from inner elbow to outer wrist, admiring the flowering of scarlet that followed the blade’s progress. Her friend winced, and panic flashed in her eyes. She felt it bite deeper than before, flashing hot fear through her as she saw the flow well up out of the cut. Fat shining globules fell to the floor like hailstones in summer.
This wasn’t a game anymore – and now she didn’t want to play her role.
But maybe it was too late now?