The Taste of Leaves
rating: +24+x

I did knock.

I don’t know why.

There was no reply so I slid the key into the lock and pushed the door open. I could hear my heart in my ears.

“End of life plans.” It rang in my head. Closing your Facebook, absent from work, posting me some of your jewellery… It was all summed up in one horrible phrase.

She couldn’t see me. I sat, perched on the windowsill, crouched. My body felt electric, humming, broken at the edges. What was I? A ghost? A ghoul? Alive, or dead? Why couldn’t I remember what I had done?

You weren’t in your small room. The bed was made. The bedroom was clean.

The animals were dead.

I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I couldn’t have done that. I wouldn’t have done that. I loved my guinea pigs. Maybe more than I loved myself. I stared at my trembling hands, saw that they seemed to be made of static. A broken TV. I hugged the duvet closer, though it offered me no warmth. My mum was judging me. She was so silent, staring down at them. My furbabies.

Salt and Pepper lay in their cage, a plastic sandwich bag neatly engulfing each of their heads. The food bowl and water bottle were full, which struck me as odd. The guinea pigs lay together on a pile of hay. When I touched them, the cold and stiffness chilled me. My next thought chilled me even more.

“I would have rather found her.”

I wonder where I am. My physical me; if my body is somewhere. What did I do to myself? In this static form, my scars had disappeared. The white lines scanning along my arms were just not there. When I touched myself, my hand went through arm. I wasn’t breathing, either. I was gone. In some form, I was gone. Would someone find me? Did I do this to myself?

I had prepared myself for that. I imagined my grief at seeing you hanging like a puppet on a string. I could see you lying in your bed, white foam on your lips, and the pill bottle in your pale, dead hand. I could prepare myself for that – for a death, then the funeral. I did that with dad; I did that with mum.

But seeing your animals dead sickened me more. It somehow felt more final, more distant.

More like an ‘end of life plan’.

My mum had already been through so much grief. Crawling off the windowsill, duvet around me, I went to stand at her side. She really couldn’t see me. She tensed, like maybe she felt me, but I realised from the look on her pale face that the dead animals disgusted her. I couldn’t have done this. I loved them. I loved my mum. This wasn’t me.

I turned away, feeling sick. You weren’t capable of this. You loved animals. I remember you rescuing baby birds, keeping them in shoe boxes, feeding them with pipettes. Not letting them die. You willingly killing your pets was alien to me.

Turning away from the ghastly scene, I nearly tripped over the rubbish bin in my haste to escape. It forced my eyes to it, but I smelt before I saw. Metallic; my mouth tasted like pennies. Then I saw the blood, stagnating at the bottom of the bin, drizzling down the sides, dark brown by now.

I never liked blood and instantly the room span. But I grit my teeth and steeled myself. I lowered down to the bin. There was a flash of metal amongst the blood – a knife. Then skin. Layers and layers of skin. Flashes of colour; ink. Tattoos.

Your tattoos.

I followed my mum. I prayed she would see me. I wasn’t invisible – not to myself, anyway. I was static, and the duvet around me was blue, dark blue, stained dark red in patches. Did I die in this? That was it. I was wrapped up somewhere in a forest. I remembered the taste of leaves in my mouth. As mum stared at my removed tattoos, I did too. I would never do that. I hated my body, but I loved my tattoos – the scars I chose on my body. Wildly different from the ones inflicted on me. I would never take them off. Such a thought never occurred to me.

My mind tried to piece it all together. There was enough blood for problems, but maybe not enough to die. You had carved your skin like the flesh of a pumpkin. Cut off your tattoos – cut off what could be used to identify you.

The thought was overwhelming. You, sitting on the bed, the bin in front of you, the kitchen knife slicing into vulnerable inked flesh.

I didn’t do it! I wanted to scream at her. She was making a mistake! I could see in her eyes, on her face. Tense lips. Grey skin. Imagining it. She thought because I could take a folding knife and make fine lines on my arms, that I could plunge it deep into my skin. I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to die. The taste of leaves was overwhelming; autumnal and brown and painful. I died in this duvet, I knew it now. I was hidden somewhere. I just needed to be found.

Why? Why would you do this to us? Scattering yourself like clues, maybe clues to your death. Maybe clues to where you are.

My daughter is missing.

My daughter is not dead.

Please find me, mum.

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