This piece is a response to a wonderful selection of prompts, presented as a competition by Exhibit A. As I read through the prompts, so many delicious ideas came to mind. Characters formed, and situations I could only dream of began to form in my mind. However, the one I’ve chosen stuck a chord, and I returned to doing what I do- retelling the stories that have littered or become etched into my past. So here it is, slightly adapted for the purposes of the prompt.

It was in that space, somewhere between the ground and the sky, that she felt most at home now; floating, weightless yet somehow firmly planted where she stood. Or lay. Or crouched.

The fire which was burning so vivaciously inside her brain was, for that moment, moved to the sting at the back of her thighs. She’d passed the fire to someone else, and there was no need for concern as to how it would be controlled or if it could ever be extinguished. It left her mind empty, free from the demons which had recently plagued it so. There was one single word, yet she had never uttered it during one of their meets. The word was to transport her to a safer place, which she considered ironic as she had never felt anything but safe.

As time went on the sensations became deeper. Bruises became part of her, creating a deep patchwork of reminders across her pale skin. Specifics were lost on her however. She would barely be able to recall the implement used, even the day, yet it evoked the overwhelming sense of ethereal numbness she felt in his presence. It was unclear how long this could continue, but the unease and worry about being in another persons’ company was lifted in these moments, and that was something she wished to retain.

She relished in the routine of it, of knowing the steps like a well rehearsed dance. She would knock, he would answer and she would duck under his arm into their space. This was intentional; she did not want the lingering, the eye contact, the brushing her wild, windswept hair from her face. She wanted none of that. Instead she relished in his chill, knowing she was there for a single purpose.

By the time he closed the door she was already waiting. No words were exchanged. As she crouched on the rug in the centre of the room, her knees already felt raw from a time before. Vague flashes of grabbing the material underneath her as he struck her harder and harder ignited somewhere in her conscious. Try as she might, and try as he did, it was increasingly difficult to keep still. She wasn’t resentful, or anxious, these past sensations reminder her of her purpose, of their arrangement, and some of the fires in her mind flooded to the pain in her knees.

The first blow was the worst, but only physically. It was nothing compared to her mental pain. The second was better. As she settled in to his steady rhythm, the pain transformed into that familiar weightlessness and she transcended above it. He never used his hands, and nor did she want him to. This was their arrangement. It was hard, cold and she wasn’t there to be held.

In this safe space, free from her demons, she was aware of two things. The dull beatings, like a heartbeat, and her smell as she got wetter. This new heartbeat became more significant in that moment than her own internal contractions, it became an essential part of her being. She wished her escape could be forever, that her mind would continue to be silenced, yet she knew he would bring her back when it was needed. And bring her back he did.

He always stayed with her until she had landed. And moments after landing there was always a bowl of warm water, and a cloth beside her right shoulder. This was at her request- as perhaps spending a moment or two washing her face would hide the tears as she came back to Earth. He would leave, again at her request, and she would make her exit.

She opened her eyes, but to her surprise there he was. They had faltered in their practiced routine. Panic rose in her body, and she didn’t know where to look. Her gaze followed his hand, to the cloth which he wrung out and dabbed on her face. She knew their word could just as appropriately be used now as it could have been in the middle of what just occurred, but she didn’t want to say it. He wiped away the tears, and she curled into his lap, in the middle of their bare space with the rug. His hand caressed her hair, still wild and windswept, and tucked it behind her ear. The constant rhythm became like a new heartbeat, and again it felt more significant than her own. The fires calmed, and she didn’t hear the demons as they lay in silence. It could have been moments, it could have been hours. She was flying, above the clouds, in her ethereal numbness. His voice brought her back.

Maybe this strangeness only ever was to hide ourselves from some kind of happiness…

It wasn’t a question, it was a pondering. Or so she thought, as there never was an answer.

She, instead, made her final exit.

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