betaed by nodbear
There are few things in the world more depressing than an old, abandoned playground. An area that should be, and probably once was, filled with children’s laughter, with youngsters running around, skinning their knees and testing their strength at the monkey bars; a place full of joy and carefreeness.
Spencer had found it by chance. ‘Go out to play! You know the rules, one hour per day.” Yeah, he knew. Everyday the same. It wasn’t worth arguing about, which didn’t meant that he had never tried. But it didn’t help any. Every day, unless he was sick, he was sent out to ‘get fresh air’. In Las Vegas. He knew the statistics. But his parents wouldn’t listen. Asthma, increased stress levels and resulting growth stunt, oh, and let’s not forget cancer. It was reckless to send a child outside in conditions like that, really.
So, regardless of his concerns, he was sent out to ‘play’, every day. And every day, as soon as he was out of the direct line of sight from their house, he changed directions away from the crowded playground in his street, to walk the courtyards of the apartment buildings nearby. Those places were almost always deserted, and the few groups of kids he would encounter there, he could avoid easily. He walked the same route every day, just adding new places at the end if he had to rush through his usual haunts. The routine was calming. Taking almost the same steps every day left his head free to think, to remember the books he had read, to process the information now permanently stored in his every growing catalogue of books in his mind.
This day he had been unlucky. Every one of his favourite places was infested with playing children, and he rushed through his course much too fast, and had still half an hour left before he could reasonably start turning back home. So, he turned another way, went into an area he had not yet visited, even though it was not that far away from home really. The houses were just a little darker, the ways a little dirtier, but, on the other side, a little more deserted, a little less likely to meet anyone there. Just perfect.
It was a really big courtyard. There were even some small gardens in on corner of the place, which really surprised Spencer. He simply hadn’t expected to find flowers there, or apple trees – but there they were. It was beautiful, but beautiful was not what he was looking for.
Anyway, just a few steps away from the small town idyll, he found it. The most perfect place in the world. There was a metal frame that must have held swings, and a slide that had seen better days. The sandbox was filled with empty cigarette packs, leaves and broken bottles.
Spencer sat down on the stone border of the sand box and grabbed one of the glass shards. It was clear glass, from a soda bottle. It reminded him of a family vacation, of the taste of raspberries and a bicycle tour to a bathing lake. Happy memories.
He removed his wristwatch and put it on his right wrist, and then dragged the shard over the soft skin of the inner wrist. Nothing. Not even one drop of blood. Spencer felt along the edges of the shard, until he found the sharpest part. Two more drags, but still, no blood. He threw the shard aside and studied the unbroken skin. A few red lines had shown, but it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.
He picked up a few more shards, until he found one that looked as if it could get the job done. People slit their wrists all the time, so it shouldn’t be that hard, right? His new weapon was brown, and smelled faintly of beer, and wet leaves. This time, he changed his approach. He pressed the sharpest corner of the glass down until he felt his skin break, and pushed it across his wrist. It hurt like hell, but all he got was one lousy drop of blood. Dammit, how hard could that be? Again and again he raked the shard over his skin, in a kind of meditative rage.
His wrist hurt. Spencer studied the abused skin. It was red and angry, but there were only five or six places where the shard had really broken the skin, and the few drops of blood had dried already. Just great. There was no way he could hide what he had done, and for all his efforts there was a distinct lack of results.
So, what could he tell his parents if they asked him what had happened to his arm? Spencer stood up and paced the playing ground, but couldn’t come up with a convincing lie.
He checked his watch. At least it had killed some time, and if he walked slowly, he could drag it out long enough that he wouldn’t be home too early. Sighing, he left the courtyard.
And there it was, the perfect explanation. The corner of the house he just passed was very rough and uneven, and he experimentally scraped his wrist over the jagged stone. A few more red lines appeared. They didn’t really look the same as the earlier cuts, but they were close enough.
‘No, mom, I just stumbled and hurt my wrist when I tried to catch myself on that rough wall. No, it doesn’t hurt at all, really.’ She would fall for it, Spencer was sure.
He sauntered home slowly, taking one of his usual routes, rehearsing his speech over and over again, trying to give it just the right touch of casual, so that his parents would buy it. He was a good liar. His parents had never caught him before.
Returning home, he went into the bathroom to wash the grime from the inflamed skin. His mother was in there hanging fresh towels. Spencer waited for her to ask him about the angry red stripes, once again reciting his lines in his mind.
The soap hurt like hell, and the fresh towel irritated his skin further. It was just his luck that his mother didn’t believe in fabric softener.
Spencer looked at his wrist, then at his mother, then again at his arm. “I scraped my wrist against a house corner.”
She nodded and left the room. Was she suspecting something? He shouldn’t have offered the information on his own, should have waited for her question.
But, would she even have asked? Maybe he wasn’t that good a liar as he thought after all.
Maybe his parents just didn’t give a damn.
- - -
When he got a pocket knife for his next birthday, he tested it’s sharpness on his wrist.