Summer, 2004 / No. 12
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Carolyn cuts herself with kitchen knives. She started with one of the carving knives, thinking it was the sharpest, but was wrong. With the carving knife she had to apply a lot of pressure. After working her way through a few of the knives in the house, she settled on the bread knife—the serrated edge like little crescent moons or tiny half-smiles. When she took it to her arm, she could feel the skin break immediately, but it didn’t hurt as much as the carving knife. The blood pops up like little polka dots along her skin, and Carolyn thinks it’s the most beautiful colour she’s ever seen.

She began by cutting the inside of her upper arms. Her T-shirts were long enough to cover the marks she carved. After awhile, she moved down her arm and found no one noticed. Besides, she could always say they were cat scratches.

“I was saying let me out of here before I was even born!” Carolyn screams. She bounces on the seat of the truck. If they go fast enough, and Carolyn isn’t wearing a seatbelt, her behind hovers over the seat when they take the hills.

“It’s such a gamble when you get a face.” Sebastian’s glance returns to the dark road in front of him. “I belong to the blank generation!” they shout. “And I can take it or leave it each time.” Carolyn writhes in her seat and screams.

“You, my friend, are a freak,” he says.

They take the back roads on the way home from the stable because they’re so hilly. Sebastian pushes the truck over one hundred kilometres per hour, and the front wheels leave the ground. He holds his hands as far above his head as he can without hitting the roof of the truck and yells, “Wheeee!” What’s left of the ice at the edge of the road crunches under the tires as the truck swerves.

“Who’s the freak now? ” she asks. Outside the truck windows, only a farmhouse or two lights the path home. The dark hovers beyond and makes her feel secure. She stares at the bare, spidery branches and thinks that in little more than a month, tiny buds will be breaking through.

In her room, Carolyn is looking at pictures of Richard Hell on an album sleeve. She’s picking her favourite photo of him and decides on the head shot from the liner notes, his lips dark enough to be covered in lipstick, his penetrating eyes belying a heroin haze. She recalls hearing that he had made a T-shirt that read, “Please Kill Me,” which he never wore. She wishes she’d been old enough to be part of the seventies punk scene, so she could have run away to New York. She imagines buying Richard Hell heroin to get his attention, and him falling in love with her quiet beauty. She’d help him kick and then serve as his muse. He’d put out a romantic record about her. She’d sit at the back of the bar waiting for his set to finish, and he’d leave with her instead of finding a place to shoot. His friends would hate her, but Richard wouldn’t care. He’d even let her call him Rich.

In Horst’s stall, Carolyn brushes his sides, using the bristles to smooth out the matted hair clumped together by sweat. It’s almost the end of winter, but she’s in her T-shirt, still hot from the ride. Her nose is filled with a thin layer of arena dust, the smell of her own sweat, and the comforting smell of Horst—sweat, manure, mixed with urine that smells lightly of apple juice. While she picks out Horst’s hooves, he nuzzles her behind with his nose. She slaps it lightly away with her fingertips. His whiskers are moist from his breath. Glancing over her shoulder, she can see Sebastian standing in the doorway looking at her, but he doesn’t catch her eye. She moves to Horst’s back hoof, scraping out clumps of dirt. She stands to face Sebastian, but as she looks, he’s turning and walking away.

The sun is setting when they leave, and they drive west, chasing after it. In the truck, Carolyn thinks of the night Sebastian kissed her, and she wants to go back. She was scared as hell at first, being assaulted by slobber and teeth, but now she decides she wants that again. She looks over at him as he drives. From the side he’s a bit ugly, and there’s a pimple resting on his cheek that she suddenly wants to reach over and pop.

“What happened to your arm? ” he asks.

His fingers burn. She pulls her arm away quickly. “They’re cat scratches.”

“Doesn’t look like cat scratches to me.”

She pulls on her sweatshirt and smells the scent of Horst. She breathes in and breathes in, until she is filled with his smell and her lungs feel bigger than any part of her body. She’ll let them float away without her. She waits for Sebastian to tell her he loves her.

“I hate Television,” she says, pointing to the car stereo. “You’re doing this just to bug me.”

“I know this is hard to understand, but the entire world doesn’t revolve around you.” He turns up the stereo.

“You are such a shit,” she says, but at the same time, she wishes he would pull the car over and kiss her and tell her the truth about other things.

Carolyn marches into homeroom, sits down, and waits for someone to say something. Her classmates look at her shirt but are too afraid to say anything. She looks down and tries to read “Please Kill Me,” but the paint is too wobbly.

Before lunch she’s called to the principal’s office.

“Carolyn, we’re all concerned about you,” says Mr. Healy, leaning over his desk toward her. “Your grades have dropped this year and, well, the T-shirt you’re wearing is inexplicable.”

“It’s a nod to the history of punk music.”

“I’m concerned someone will take it” —he points at her T-shirt—“seriously.”

Carolyn snorts.

“I’m giving you a week’s detention.”

Pulling Horst around in a small circle, Carolyn feels him curve snugly around her leg. As he stumbles quickly over a stray hoof, her hip dips down with his shoulder, and her heart leaps seeing the ground move closer to her eyes.

When she recovers, she moves him along the straight wall of the arena, letting his body lengthen by dropping the reins to the buckle. Conscious of her tailbone grinding into the seat of the saddle, she feels her pelvis slowly rocking back and forth. With a crash, one of the remaining skids of ice slides off the roof and crashes down along the arena wall. Bucking, Horst takes off. Carolyn slides from to side to side. Horst spins, bucks again, throws her. As she falls toward the ground, Carolyn can see flecks of dust suspended in air. As she lands, a cloud of dust puffs up to surround her.

The arena door opens, creaking and swinging back and forth, and Sebastian’s head pokes in. It takes him a moment to notice Carolyn lying, struggling to get to her feet. She hears his voice. He’s laughing. She finds Horst, grabs the reins, and already feels the particles of dust hardening in the corners of her mouth. Licking them away with the pink tip of her tongue, she says, “I’m O.K.”

Sebastian moves back from the door, giving her room to take Horst back to his stall. “Hey, how did you get here tonight? Do you need a ride? ”

She laughs. “My dad bought me a car for my birthday.”

Caroline thinks of last summer when she showed Sebastian the new horse trailer her parents bought her. It sat in their driveway for days, the silver paint reflecting the sun. Even so, the trailer was filled with stale, humid air. Sebastian stepped into the front of the trailer, closed the door behind him, and shuffled by Carolyn. Padded crossbars blocked them from the two long rows where the horses stood while being pulled along the road. Carolyn unhooked one to show Sebastian how it worked, but it swung toward them, trapping them in a small triangle of space. She can still feel the weight of the hot summer air pressed against her bare arms. It was so heavy and thick, as though she was looking at him through a mist. He grasped her upper arm when he moved to kiss her, his fingertips resting on the newest scars. She hooked her finger through his belt loop.

Carolyn’s just finished riding, and takes Horst back to his stall, leaving him with a few pieces of carrot. The rain hasn’t stopped for days, and the rivers are flooded with chunks of snow. Sebastian’s standing just outside the barn door in the small back paddock. He’s sucking on a joint, holding everything inside him. Carolyn takes a puff and tries to hold the smoke in, but coughs it out with spatters of spit.

“Hey, you’re getting it wet,” Sebastian says. He flicks at the ground with the heel of his boot, his silver spur dipping into mud.

“I’m not doing it on purpose.”

He moves quickly, his hand on her shoulders, pushing her back against the wall with a thud. He puts his left forearm across her throat, and pulls at her shirt with his right hand. Carolyn keeps her arms by her sides. He pushes his tongue into her mouth and bites her lip.

“I know you,” she says, holding his face in her hands. She kisses him, tastes his bad breath, the residue of smoke. He pushes her and walks away. Carolyn stands looking at the rain falling off the eaves and splashing into the mud. She brings her fingers to her nose and tries to smell him, then searches her mouth for his taste, but finds only slivers of the carrot she bit apart for Horst.

In the hayloft, Carolyn moves close to Sebastian and kisses him lightly on the lips. He slaps her hands away, stands up, and says, “I don’t want you.” She moves to him quickly, putting her hands on his shoulders, and shoves as hard as she can. Caught off guard, Sebastian trips and falls through the open trap door. Carolyn looks down and sees him on the floor of the barn. She holds her body suspended in the opening and drops to the asphalt floor. Sebastian’s body twitches slightly. She brings her head down close to his. It’s flopped to one side, and blood runs from his ear and his nose. Carolyn touches her finger at the edge of his earlobe, lets drops of blood collect on her fingertip. She touches his blood against her mouth, a slick lip gloss.

Carolyn pulls out onto the highway. Her hands are cold, and they shake against the steering wheel. She realizes that she’s following the headlights from her car. The asphalt snaking through the swamp looks alive. The water has gotten so high that the marsh looks like it’s floating alongside the road. The rain looks like huge drops jumping on the pavement. Carolyn tries to hold in the tears, but they’re collecting behind her eyes. She looks at the drops and realizes they’re too big to be rain. Carolyn slows the car and sees the pavement is covered in frogs. The highway is littered with frogs trying to escape the swelling swamp. Hundreds of them are already dead, flattened into the texture of the road, and Carolyn cries.