On childhood and sun.
You would give me a bruise and it would remind me of Wednesdays. It usually came from a swinging punch from the left, quickly following a carefully coordinated feint to the right. It was in those summer days, afterschool, when we would fight – when the monkey bars seared to the touch and the sun was unbearably pressed on our foreheads. And while the others found themselves basking in the cool shelters of the classrooms, we would rule the whole playground for ourselves. We loved the way the sun glinted, unforgiving, on the painted sheen of the slide and we screeched with delight when the heat pulsated in our palms, burning like charcoal. It was our game: when the heat waves rose from the pavement, we saw it as an opportunity. The first to climb to the top of the bars wins, you’d say. It was game on from then. I knew it would hurt – but we would burst through the doors, our shoes scrabbling at the bars, determined to climb to the very top. I saw your silhouette framed against the sun and I recall how I found myself always looking upwards at you. I would hold my hands to your face, in defeat. It’s your fault that they’re all swollen now, I exclaimed. And you would hold yours up in reply, in all our matching reds.
We became tired of our playground antics after a while, of climbing onto various objects, battling the heat of the summer. It was a Wednesday of ’98 when your hand crept over to pinch me on the wrist, hard. I almost swore, pinching you back with as much ferocity as I could. The hell did you do that for? I yelled, flicking him again with my fingernail. You only laughed and pushed me to the side.
Let’s fight! I’m bored of climbing things! You said this with an odd triumphant smile on your face, as if it were only natural that you should. I vehemently objected and said that fighting was bad – that I didn’t fight – that my dad wouldn’t like that and nor-would-you-okay-please – only to be interrupted by a series of further pinches on my arm. I remember cursing and launching myself at you, telling you to stop, my hands pinching you right back, nails digging into the flesh between your fingers. And I remember, five glorious minutes later of constant bone and flesh meeting bone and flesh, finally standing up with scratch marks down my arm, angrily rubbing away an irritating patch of your sweat on my face. I pretended to be angry, I really did. I told you I didn’t want to be friends. You shrugged and said that you found that fun, didn’t you? And I told you that I don’t fight, not at all, how-could-you, and that it really hurt. Right, you said, even if slightly sardonically, see you after school. I screamed back and told you only in hell would I see you, you crazy. I almost did. But on the dot, 3:15 in the afternoon, I trailed towards you in indignant reservation. You never noticed – you were there with your school bag, and you had forgotten about my outburst earlier. You told me that you wanted to go somewhere else. I have an idea, you said, with hushed fervour, let’s go to the rooftop place.
The rooftop, prominently placed on the 17th floor of my apartment block, was a place that smelled of laundry and looked like the sails of a ship. There were pieces of thin rope stretched across the patio, white linen strung along them, gently billowing in the wind. We used to enjoy running through the linen until we got told off by the caretaker, but for me it was a never endless cascade of bright white against white. I would press myself against the sheets and almost willed myself to fall into them, but I was afraid they would fall to the ground – I wasn’t tall enough to put them back over the ropes.
When we got there that Wednesday, you told me you wanted to fight again. I said that the sheets would get dirty, but you only shrugged. They can wash it again, you told me. You asked if I was afraid. I retorted that I wasn’t – it just seemed like the wrong place to be fighting. We would have mooncakes here and play with lanterns, I explained to you, wouldn’t it be weird to fight here? It seemed almost like sacrilege, but I couldn’t tell you this. I remember you laughing at me, telling me how you knew I couldn’t go through with it. I became riled up and I gave you a cursory shove. It cut through your laughter like a cold knife. Then – as if unlocked – my reluctance to fight was no longer there. I suspect a small part of me was hooked. I was more voracious this time – I punched you, on the arm, and you retaliated by clocking me near the waist. The pain would make me stumble, but I would lash out again to cork the angry outcry of my nerves. It followed that we edged closer and closer to the crisped sheets, until we found ourselves fighting against the bleached white, our fists curled up against the cotton, a clashing of jarring movements that sometimes met an opposing force, others into thin air. Punch after punch, returned and thrown, blinded by the linen veils, feeble – but excited – flailing of the two of us, our laughter breathless when we both realized we had never felt this free. I remember telling you how much fun I was having, because I had never been in this kind of fight before. We were giggling, slowly losing control as we hit harder, pinched rougher. Your punches were getting more aggressive in those minutes, and – for a split moment – there was that tinge of uncertainty as I stepped back for that brief second. You sensed it, I think, that quiet pause of mine: your fist suddenly impacted on my mouth, and with all the force of an uncontrolled swing, it caught me off-balance. I gave a panicked cry and recoiled away from you. I remember stumbling across the rooftop, wrapped in a sheet and falling clumsily onto the cemented floor. I lay there, clutching my face. The laughter was brutally torn short, and you attempted to unravel me from the cloth. I was holding my hand to my mouth, my lip swollen, my teeth feeling oddly out of place – and something that looked like the juice of a dark cherry flowing from my fingers. It dripped onto the sheets, that stark red darkening against the white. You asked if I was okay, if I was okay, Rebecca, Rebecca, if you should call someone, I’m-so-sorry, are you okay, talk to me- I just lay there, squeezing my eyes shut, as I tasted metallic and pebbles in my mouth.
It was about two days later when I saw you next. You were sheepishly standing near the gates, and I had a large, angry scratch across my lips and gums: it was like someone had taken my bottom lip and inflated it. I remember you telling me how sorry you were, and that we wouldn’t need to play that game any more. I looked at you haughtily and told you not to be silly. Next time, we’ll go somewhere else. How about the beach?
From then on, we would mark our territory like carefree animals. The first time was in the playground, and then it was the linen rooftop. The beach had us fighting along the shore, gritting our teeth against the sand, pushing one another into the water in a satisfying splash. You gave me my first bruise on my left arm, and I nearly cut your skin with my scratch. I think a part of us derived joy in imagining the old caretaker slowly reaching his aching, shaking arms to the linen and folding them with careful, slow precision – the very same place where we were fighting each other, rolling against the sheets, impacting against the floor. We would laugh about the couples who would go to the beach in a romantic hand-in-hand walk, languidly strolling over the very same space I landed my palm on your shoulder, the thick red hand print still blotchy on your skin. Then it was the car park, the park, in the stream, the garden. From my window, I could see that particular patch of grass I pulled from the soil, trapped underneath my fingers, which I had flung at your face on one Friday evening. We’d grin like conspirators when we saw it.
Our skin would heal over time. It formed tender flesh rivers on our arms, only to be reddened again in a later escapade. Our parents would never know how I got that odd red scruff on my elbow, that scratch on your knee. We treated them as marks of our freedom – in some strange and pseudo-liberating way – but I always recall the way we would walk back home after our fights: arm in arm, like quiet champions. We would look at our reflections against the stream. We liked the way the magenta streaks blushed our faces, the spaghettified version of us. It was the perfect parody of us.
1ish hour quick writing. Fictional.