Updated on May 24, 2015
Skin – Part Five
Skin – Part Five
It was three o’clock when Liela finally returned to her cubicle – she had been absent for half an hour, but when she came back to the office the flowers on her arms were restored to sharp clarity. She looked around furtively as she walked back to her desk, but Aletheia did not appear. With a deep breath Liela picked up the telephone and finally dialled the number.
Her father answered and asked her what was wrong. Her voice cracked as she told him she was in trouble, and she heard her mother in the background gasping and interjecting as her father repeated everything she told him. At first they were angry: they wanted to know how much her debt was with Stephen, and why she had gone back to him again without them. They’d thought she had enough. She tried to tell them how desperately scared she had been – there had been an evening when she was caught outside in a rainstorm and sprinted home, grateful that it was dark – and he said they understood, but wished she had talked to them about it at the time. Liela bit her lip and said she thought she could cope.
“I don’t have the money, Liela.”
“Dad. Help me. Please.”
She heard something like a sob on the other end of the phone. When he spoke again his voice was thick. He told her he would see what he could do, but she needed to get him more time. She said she would try.
“Don’t thank me yet.”
“No, for everything. Both of you. You’ve always kept me safe.”
“Stop it Liela. Get us more time.”
He hung up.
Liela was born suddenly in her home three weeks before she was due. Her father was out at work when it happened, and when he arrived home he found his wife sitting on the kitchen floor with a bundle of blankets in her arms and blood on her dress. Her face was drawn and ghastly, and her legs were lanced with sharp, jagged lines of abstract pain. When she saw him she cried.
“Is she dead?”
She shook her head and he reached for the phone. He was flooded with relief, but both mother and child could still be in danger. It was too soon.
“Don’t!” Her voice was shrill and edged with panic.
She pulled back the blanket. He put down the phone. He sat down on the kitchen floor and put his head in his hands.
The baby was Naked.
Her parents had helped her, the first few times. Her father was the one who went down the alley for her, who made contact with Stephen, went with her to the parlour and whose hand she squeezed against the pain. Stephen put the circles on her arms and the whorls on her legs. She embellished them herself with ink. It was vital that they change every day, otherwise people would notice. At night, when she was most frightened that she would be found out, her mother comforted her and promised they would both do everything possible to keep her hidden. The tattoos made life easier; they did not run in the rain.
The steps were hard beneath her feet and they felt good. Her heart beat fast beneath her ribs, the muscles in her legs ached. She ran up the stairs, pushing and pushing, feeling the control she had over her body, one last time. She reached out and ran her hands along the walls; her fingertips hurt and then went numb as they ran over lumps and sharp flecks of uneven paintwork. At the top floor she kicked open the door with such force that she winced from the pain. She wanted to stop and kick it again, but she kept running. There were footsteps behind her on the stairs. And there was no more time.
“I’ve phoned them.” It seemed that the stench of his breath carried down the phone line; she could almost see his rotting teeth.
“Please. Just a little longer. My Dad…”
“It’s too late. The police will be there soon. You knew what I could do.”
“But he’s getting the money! Call them back! Tell them you made a mistake!”
“It isn’t all about money, Liela.”
She went cold.
“You’re enjoying this.”
“Just doing my duty.”
Read Part Six.