There was a rasping at the door. Or was it a tap quietly dripping somewhere? I cocked my head to listen. The house was opaque with not a sliver of light to penetrate the black. I stared into the darkness, listening. All I could hear was the sound of my breathing.
I put my head back on to the pillow to resume sleep.
Frapp a tap tap.
There it was again. This time I shot up from my pillow, sitting upright and trying to listen.
At first all I could hear was the pounding of my heart and then -
I heard my name faintly from outside my front door. I glanced at my phone to see that the time was 2.10am. I felt chilled and churned at the same time. It was a man’s voice. A familiar voice; one I had not heard in 5 years, except in my head. He began to bang on the door.
‘LAYLA!! You fool, it’s me.’
He was drunk. I could tell by his tone. The way the words he was tripping over sounded thick in his throat.
I sat glued to the bed. Frozen while I digested what was happening, and what to do.
‘Layla let me in.’
I got up slowly at first and then walked with purpose, concern, confusion. What was he doing here?
I hurriedly ran down the stairs. Suddenly the overriding emotion was concern. I was not surprised at myself.
I threw the door open. He stood side on to me, with one hand supporting his weight against the doorframe.
Something was wrong.
‘There she is. Can I come in?’ His eyes, smiling, darted all over my face.
‘Yes of course you can.’ I heard myself say.
I walked into the living room and he followed me inside. The moon’s beam illuminated a corner of the room but I couldn’t see him properly. I switched the light on to reveal him.
He had his back to me but I could see his sleeves were hanging low over his hands and they were blood soaked.
‘Gareth, what’s going on?’
‘What?’ He was giddy, light headed, and unable to answer me.
He walked away from me, lunging around the room, accidentally kicking things over.
My spine turned to ice as he finally turned to face me.
His face appeared to be mangled.
The bottom of his mouth was drawn down as if it had been tied in a bow at the corner, making the rest of his face droop with it. A huge gash lined his neck; his eye was a slit, welded shut against black dried blood and now the blood was dripping from his concealed hands.
I felt sick as I wondered what was underneath. I walked towards him, and he to me, in the same moment. He was still smiling like an idiot.
I stood in front of him as he raised his arms up out of his sleeves to cup my face and as he did so he revealed his hands.
At first I couldn’t comprehend what had happened to them. I think I was in shock. I saw a flash of red when he raised his hands to me. I thought this was his blood – perhaps where he had injured himself. But as they grazed me they felt soft like the flesh of peeled fruit. The blood was in a ring around his wrists. I could see sinew and muscle…
His hands had been skinned. On his left hand three fingers were missing. The muscles and tendons were fully exposed and pouring with blood at the wrist. They resembled watermelon flesh and I could see the tip of bone -I felt my stomach drop inside itself. I began to shake. He was still reaching for me, completely unaware of my reaction, fixing his eyes on me.
‘Gareth, what’s happened? We need to get you to a hospital now.’
I could barely speak as my throat had dried to a sandpaper finish. My heart felt as if it was trying to climb up my throat with every pounding beat. I tried to pour a glass of water but my fingers were shaking so much that I just tipped the glass over and then grabbed it back up and tried to suck down the drop of water that was left in there. I tried to string words together but choked on the horror and urgency of the situation.
And suddenly I was consumed by an overwhelming feeling of love and concern.
I didn’t love this man, not any more. Or so I kept telling myself. Maybe the love can come back on like the flick of a switch. Maybe it never really extinguished. I felt a hot burn of emotions.
It dawned on me that he didn’t realise what was going on, or that he couldn’t articulate it. But more importantly, this wasn’t a drunken accident that he’d had; someone had done this to him. Maybe several people. Why had someone done something so awful to him?
‘We need to call an ambulance.’
‘Hold me.’ He said, seeming lucid for one moment.
I looked into his cobalt eyes, one of them looking sad and closed and the other holding my eyes as if they were tethered to his by a thread. I remember this look. It used to break my heart because I knew in that moment that he loved me, but I also knew it was temporary. That he wouldn’t always look at me like that. While looking in his eyes my heart shattered to pieces.
I reached around his blood soaked white shirt and pulled him into my body. He rested his head against mine and gripped me gently round the waist. I felt terrible.
As I looked over his shoulder to the floor I could see the business card under my feet, squashing into the carpet. The faint telephone number, and a figure, were all that were still visible on the paper.