You are the house she enters.
Your frame is strong, but your walls are weak and cracked in places paint cannot hide. Your hinges moan when she opens your doors too, but she enters anyway. You watch her from all angles as she walks through your hallways and into your rooms, and your splintered, wooden floors tickle underneath her socked feet. She’s warm and human—the only breathing, living piece of this house. It’s been too long since anyone has stroked the bannister as they climb the stairs or hummed gently through the hallways, renewing sound to your interior. It’s such a pure, organic sound that you can’t help but join her, your frame breathing.
She makes her way to your kitchen to brew herself a pot of tea. She sets the kettle on your stove and fiddles with the controls. You’re aged and tired and it takes a few clicks before the blue flame ignites.
As she waits for the water to boil, she walks through the hallways again. This time her fingers trace the cracks on your walls as she passes. At first, you’re startled by the touch. Her skin is soft and plump. You can feel the crevices in the pads of her fingertips and the blood pulsing underneath. You don’t mind. She’s acknowledging your scars, your history.
And then, she stops. Her index finger settles on a chip in your plaster. It’s a minimal blemish in the wall, but against the skin of her finger, it’s a crater. Her finger hooks, her nail digging a space in between the paint and the plaster. And slowly, a piece the size of a dime is scraped off, revealing the grainy, white insides. If your walls could bleed you know they would. If you could have winced, crying from the quick pinch of pain, you would. Instead, you remain silent as she regards the damage with nothing more than pursed lips.
The kettle cries for you. It screams from the kitchen, tearing her attention away from the blemish. For a moment, you’re safe.
In the kitchen, she pours the boiling water into a pot. The bag of chamomile rises in the water. It steeps, rendering the water a diluted honey-color, and fills the room with its warm scent. She plucks a lemon from the basket and places it on the counter, balancing it between her left index finger and thumb. With her right hand, she reaches into a drawer to grab a knife and begins to cut on your surface. The cuts are slow and forge small parallel marks into the counterspace. It’s nothing more than a couple scratches sure to dull over time, but in this moment, they’re still fresh and the citrus juice stings as it seeps. She continues to cut, her motions gaining momentum as she nears the juicy center, but her thumb slips forward in the lemon’s juice and the knife catches, slicing into the pad of her skin. She yelps, flinching from the blade and the lemon, and brings her thumb to her lips. Once she finishes sucking the blood from the cut, the layers of her skin are a dead, white flap against pulsing red muscle.
She abandons the pot of tea and lemon on the counter in favor of going to the bathroom to run water over her cut. It’s still bleeding, though not by much, and the blood dissolves in the stream even before it hits the porcelain bowl. Once she’s satisfied, she turns off the water and wraps her thumb in the hand towel hanging beside your sink.
Her gaze catches her reflection in the mirror— she’s staring at herself, though you look back at her in the reflection. You wonder if you’re looking at the same person she’s seeing. You see unplucked eyebrows over brown eyes. She sees a small red fleck on her skin.
You watch her brow furrow as she leans closer to your mirror. With the same nail she used to tear your plaster walls, she digs into the wall of her cheek, pinching the red bump until a white lump oozes from the center. But she’s not satisfied. The inflamed crevice remains and she wants it gone. Her nail is a shovel and she digs a grave in the contour. The pus has been scraped under her nail and now blood pulses through the blemish’s center.
She draws back to admire her handiwork but now, in the mirror, she sees that the blemish is hollow against her skin. She bites her lip, her eyes fixated on the red spot. She uses the pad of her finger to wipe away bits of blood as if rubbing the wound will erase the color from her skin. But now, it’s inflamed and the irritation has expanded into a pink smear along her cheekbone.
She’ll never be satisfied.
She leans forward again, using her nail to clutch onto a shallow flap of skin raised from the damage. It catches and pulls, opening the wound like a curtain. She winces through the pain but continues to peel until the sliver grows into a sheet, bringing more layers with it the farther it peels. She’ll tear her skin off completely if she can, until her face is raw muscle and bone. And her walls will be painted red.
Kyrié Eleison (she/her) is an experimental writer and MFA student in the nonfiction cohort at UC Riverside. Her work has been published in Flights and On Loan from the Cosmos. She is the editor-in-chief of the Santa Ana River Review. Kyrié is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation.