when i have you holed up in vienna
or wherever the airlines will take us for cheap
i'm going to kiss every last one of your scars
in small pale atonement for causing them

-April 2005, Vienna

"Come here."

She probably shouldn't, but the request is so soft, so undemanding, that she slips off her chair and walks over anyway. She stands in front of the chair and looks down at it. They both remain silent for a few long minutes.

"What is it?" She asks finally, afraid to raise her voice.

There's no verbal answer, but short, skinny fingers touch the bones of her wrist before curling around to the underside and turning it over. Automatically, she winces and tries to pull it away. The fingers hold loose but firm and gently draw her sleeve up over her arm. It is set down in a collection of folds just past her elbow.

The sleeve is black, and against it, the smooth underside of her arm looks bone-white and as delicate as china. Thin, spidery red lines thread over it in carefully spaced intervals. The lightest touch of a fingertip glides over one. She holds her breath. Tears have sprung to her eyes.

Pale strands of hair slip over the inside of her elbow, tickling her, as a head bends over it. She wants to laugh but her chest still feels as though a taut rubber band has been wrapped around it, so she holds still.

Slowly, carefully, a set of dry lips press to one of the marks. The fingers let go of her wrist and slip to hold her hand instead; another set raises and takes hold of the sleeve again.

The lips lifts away and the sleeve is brought back down, inch by painstaking inch. At last the skin, scars and all, is covered again. The figure stands up. The lips touch this time to her forehead, and then she listens to the sound of footsteps quietly leaving the room.