Sarah likes to walk around the apartment naked.
She knew a girl once back home whose father never spoke to her again once she told him she was pregnant out of wedlock. He was afraid of what the neighbours would say.
When she was twenty Sarah posed for a painter in Paris. They’d had sex afterwards but when it was over he told her it was like making love to a corpse. But you told me to stay still she thought, remembering the way he consumed her as he drew. He made her a light omelette before she left, turning it expertly in the pan until it was just firm with a liquid sheen. It was the most delicious thing she had ever eaten. He had wanted to paint her because of the way the light reflected on her exquisitely pale skin.
A man called Colm had loved her not so long ago but he’d hated the way she cracked open boiled eggs, smashing them from the top. When they first went out he made her feel she was made of glass, he always spoke to her so quietly, always caressed her with the lightest of touches, always watched her as she perched on the edge of a table in the bar among his friends, his face sliced with anxiety. When she moved he put out his hands as if to save her.
Oh but she didn’t need saving.
The first time her uncle put his hands on her where he shouldn’t she thought he was joking. He used to help her make sandcastles when she was little, pat the sand into the bucket. He wasn’t very good at it. The sand was too dry and the sandcastles spilled away, but once he’d found her a some beautiful razor shells, so fragile. He’d helped her put them carefully on top so that they wouldn’t break.
Her father had had to go out, he always had to go out. He asked Ian to stay, to mind her. No-one had minded her since her mother. Ian had climbed into bed beside her and told her everything would be fine, that she was special, that her skin was so soft, that her hands were…..Sarah wondered what her father would have done if Ian had made her pregnant. On the nights when her father was downstairs she put her hands on her stomach and whispered to it. All the phrases from her mother that she could remember. ‘There, there. Sleep tight. You’ll be better in the morning’. But that baby wasn’t true.
She used to manhandle her father’s greyhounds instead, drag them round by the scruff of the neck, tying their ropes too tight when she took them for a walk so that they were wheezing and choking by the time they came back, friction sores materializing under the hair. Her father had discovered this once and hit her around the back of the legs with his belt so that red welts came up. That was the only time he touched her, he had been sorry after. He had cooked her egg and chips.
Once the teacher made her stand outside the classroom for writing on her hand. She stood in the long slow hot corridor hearing the mumble of far away voices. She had written her own name three times on the left and twice on the right.
When she was twenty five she’d had a tattoo done just below her naval. The pain didn’t bother her. Getting it done had reminded her of her diabetic mother injecting insulin. The first time Colm saw the tattoo something changed between them. He was no longer as gentle. When he made love to her he bit her neck and she thought of the greyhounds.
The apartments are heated from a centrally regulated system. It’s spring but unusually warm and the radiators are blasting. Sarah opens the sliding door of the balcony and feels the air travel over her skin, with the light touch and sweet nostalgia of the pink blossom that still hangs on the tree outside.
The baby snuffles and mewls. Colm had taken his hands away and she hadn’t broken, although there’d been a difficulty with the birth, they’d sliced her open under her tattoo to take out the baby.
Sarah picks him up and puts his mouth to her breast, his clear, unblemished skin against hers. Outside the window a vapour trail slices the sky, its knife edge morphing to soft rings the further the trail lags behind. The baby holds her finger in his fist, traces her face with his tiny hand. Sarah thinks of shells, she thinks of glass.