Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Lure of Cold Metal (DEFIANT excerpt)

Defiant is available from Autonomous Press in both paperback and ebook editions.

The Lure of Cold Metal

Clay watched himself in the mirror. He did not think that he looked unstable, just sad. Slick channels of tears cut through the foamy beard made by his shaving gel, but otherwise he was just a person. Anyone who watched his bathroom habits would think so.

Why, then, did he have such a hard time? Why was it that looking at his own face made him tremble and his fingers twitch, leaving him with the urge to slip the razor free of his Merkur 27?
It had only been a day since he felt good. Since he felt in control. He tried to force his mind back there, to that place it had been when he walked away from Dr. Williams. It would not go, though. That place was as far from the bathroom and the mirror as his childhood was from his marriage to Noahleen.

Why did he feel like carving hatch marks into his arms and legs? It had been years since he had done it. Hell, it had even been years since he had the urge to do it. The events of the last few days had unlocked those urges, though. That bright certainty that came to him when he provoked the wound in his hand also made him remember how easy it had been to smile, to look at people, and to get along in their world whenever he opened himself up with a boxcutter.

He knew that part of his impulsiveness was from the way that the constant pain would smother the chaos of his everyday environment like a wet blanket, muffling everything that might make him itch or that might distract him. That made it attractive.

It being secret made it more attractive. Not just because the pain worked—if it was just that, then his broken hand would be the end of his troubles. It would likely continue to hurt for months, and if tendinitis or arthritis developed, then he might find himself with a permanent focal point for his sensory environment. No, if the only problem was that Clay needed pain, then the urge to slip into that space where only the razor and his skin existed would never have risen, because he had other, better ways to make himself feel pain.

Instead, the razor was attractive precisely because it was transgressive. It was a way of marking up the difference between himself and everyone else. Even if he had to hide the razor marks, he knew they were there. Being marked in that way let Clay know that his rejection of the values, the ideas about what was right and wrong, and the assumptions about how people must feel about things like touch and sound and agony was real, and it was permanent. The scabs and scars reminded him that his commitment to himself was not like the paranoia and the imaginary problems that made him fearful. It was real.

He set the Merkur down on the bathroom counter. There was no way that he was going to use his broken hand to shave his face, not today. Not with the trembling he was having. Definitely not with the awful temptation that kept snaking its way back to the front of his mind whenever he suppressed it.

Clay watched himself in the mirror, imagining that his shaving foam beard was gone. He imagined rivers of bright red blood flowing down his cheeks like tears instead, and scars after those rivers dried. The mirror faded out of his perception, and instead he saw himself at work, having to explain these strange, oddly curving cuts that ran the length of his face. No one would believe they were accidental.

Could he claim he’d been assaulted? The slashes would be too narrow and too shallow to be from a fight. People would never believe that they were from a fight. Especially not when they took his size and his build into account.

No. Anyone who wanted to fight Clay would stab him in a way that disabled his will to fight back. Shallow slashes at his face would only make him angry. Everyone would see that; they would see right through whatever weak excuses he made.

He looked back down at the razor on the counter. No, he told himself, today was not a day that he should be worried about his five o’clock shadow. He knew that. He knew that when ghosts of other times and places came into the mirror, he needed to retreat.

The question was where could he retreat to? Being alone was obviously not good for him right now. If he clung to Noahleen, though, she would want to know why. She would think that he needed to talk through things. Noahleen was like that. She believed that you could only process feelings by speaking them out loud. That was why she did not understand about the mirror or the razor.

Would she be understanding about his falling out with Dr. Williams?

It had been an entire day and Clay had still not told Noahleen about that. Waiting had seemed like the right thing. It was supposed to give him the chance to calm down, to figure out how to tell her. Instead, the time begat more time. The longer he waited, the longer he found himself thinking he needed to wait. The awful truth of the situation was that Noahleen would be less understanding with each passing day, and he knew that. At the same time, though, he was worried about her not being understanding right away. How much worse could it get if he just waited—or if he said nothing at all?

Well, in that case he knew it could get pretty bad. The question was really how to tell her.

Ever since his diagnosis, their conversations had been about his coping strategies, his adaptations, his skills, and his ability to hold a job. She was only a couple years out from a major hospitalization and brain surgery of her own, but because he was the one who would ultimately be paying their bills, she had focused on making sure she was there to support him. It was no wonder that she was cracking up now, and it was unfair that he still was.

If she was going to hate him for walking away from therapy, then she might have a very good reason to do so. He had to admit that to himself, but admitting it just made him feel more anxious, more undeserving…

More in need of the cold release that came when open wounds felt the sting of air. The Merkur in front of him beckoned.

Clay turned his back on the mirror. He walked out of the bathroom and into the bedroom without wiping his face, lying down on the bed with his shaving foam beard still dripping off his cheek.

Noahleen was outside, taking her walk. He would have to find the energy to rise and to wash himself up before she got back. That, or he would have to come clean with her.

Clay forced himself to get back up out of the bed. He needed to find a towel.

Defiant is available from Autonomous Press in both paperback and ebook editions.