Her hand taps its ragged pink nails along her leg with fingers long and slender. She gazes down at it blankly, with murky, blue eyes framed by lashes drooping dolefully. Tangled, blonde hair the colour of the setting sun hangs over her face like a curtain, distorting it, marring her in a way that is not quite ugly.
Her hand continues tapping.
Up from her hand is her thin wrist, and then her arm, embellished lavishly with glaring, red scars, which weave along the entire limb like a morbid kind of spider’s web. The wounds are not yet healed, still obviously sore – there is a putrid, sticky fluid oozing slowly from one particularly large gash, seeping down her arm and onto the hospital bed she sits on.
She doesn’t seem to notice; if she notices, she doesn’t care. Her hand keeps steadily tapping, matching the firmly thudding beat in her heart and the wild, discordant tune her soul is singing to.
The door opens and the nurse strides in, her nose crinkling at the smell. The girl on the bed doesn’t look up, her only movement her fingers drumming quiet rhythms into her skin.
“Francesca?” The nurse’s voice is tentative, wary. Slowing, she edges closer to the unresponsive child before her, her footfalls silent, in an attempt not to startle the girl.
“Francesca?” the nurse says again, slightly louder, the syllables a little more pronounced. Her hand reaches out and touches the girl lightly on her shoulder – her bloodied, bruised shoulder – stroking it gently.
The girl shakes her off, and then continues tapping. The beat is twisting, growing faster, less steady, her fingers pounding down harder and harder. Her skin is stretched taut and white across her body, tiny red flowers blooming as her nails dig in and she taps, and she taps, and she keeps on tapping, not stopping, not worrying for her wellbeing, or the sickened looking nurse beside her. The nurse watches in shocked, dumbfounded horror, unable to move, not quite brave enough to tear her eyes away.
The girl throws her head backwards, and then she screams. It’s an unearthly, guttural sound, wrenched up from the pit of her stomach; her lips curl back to reveal sharp, yellowing teeth. This sound seems to shake the nurse to her senses, who, with a mousy, little shriek of “Francesca!” scuttles around the room, gabbling hurriedly into her handheld intercom.
On the bed, the girl stops screeching, and instead turns and looks at her nurse, her hand still tapping – albeit slower. A small, pink tongue flicks out of her mouth and licks at her cracked, dry lips. Once upon a time, these lips were well taken care of, coated in shimmery gloss and kept moist and plump. They were kissed often, by the people she loved and who loved her in return, and it was not rare for them to smile broadly, revealing her straight, white teeth, opened wide as she gifted her pealing, chiming laugh.
Those days are long gone.
Cautiously, curiously, she speaks with a voice rubbed raw as if with sandpaper. She doesn’t choose to use her voice much anymore, preferring to stay alone with her thoughts. She’s no longer bothered enough to communicate with the trivial, saccharine people who inhabit her everyday life.
“Stop.” She pauses, as if trying to remember the right words to use. “Please.”
It’s not a request; it’s an order. The nurse stops her sentence mid flow, muttering an apology into the intercom, before whirling to look at Francesca. She chews on her lip, distractedly. “You can’t be allowed to go on like this.” She waves her hand at the red streaks down the girl’s leg, beneath her fidgeting, constantly restless fingers. Francesca gazes down glassily, as if she forgot her leg was there. The nurse continues, sitting down gingerly on the bed, beside her. “You – I know it’s hard, but you have to move on.”
Francesca shakes her head, stubborn, determined. “I’m never going to forget her.”
The nurse jumps in, cutting her off. “No, no, don’t forget her – that’s not what I meant at all – but still, move on. She – she left us a whole year ago now, and there are so many other girls in the world.”
Francesca’s fingers stiffen on her leg, stop tapping, dig in tighter. “There are no other girls in the world. None so smart, none so brave, none so fiercely loyal…” Her voice breaks, but she catches herself. “June was my reason to live. My only reason. I don’t want another.”
“Yes, I do know you loved your girlfriend a lot, but… Look. Do you really think she’d want you hurting yourself like this if she were still here? Causing yourself pain, in her name? For her? Really, Francesca, I…”
She doesn’t continue any longer, for the girl she speaks to is writhing in apparent pain,
echoing, resounding screeches falling generously from her lips. Her hands don’t tap anymore – instead they are clamped over her ears, clawing and scratching at the skin. The nurse whips out her intercom, demanding backup, any help possible, immediately.
Francesca doesn’t hear the doctors bursting through the door in a tidal wave of frenzy, too preoccupied by screaming and screaming, on and on and on. Her hands have moved from her ears to her eyes. Scrabbling desperately, her slim fingers force themselves behind her eyeballs, where they wrench and pull, ignoring the searing, burning pain in her head. Her eyes are on fire, she can’t see anything but a strange, hollow blackness – she’s succeeding in wrestling them from her head.
One more pull, and that will be it. Goodbye to sight. Her hands close around the small, slimy spheres, and then she tugs…