Most days, Miss August wanted to set herself on fire. She could imagine the pain, probably not as much as she would be able to if she actually did it, but she could easily guess at it. She could feel the flames bubble at her skin and sizzle her hair to dust, heating up her teeth and melting her tongue. She could imagine it all, but she couldnt actually do it. At most she would light the large candle that sat on her desk and run her finger through the flame. Depending on how she felt that day, she would hold her finger within the flame for longer than she really should have, and would end up with a large blister on the tip of her finger, which she took pleasure in dealing with later on.
During her dinner break she liked to go to the bathroom and stare at herself in the mirror. She always stood up from her desk, smiled casually at Julia, Mr. Ross secretary, and would knock on Mrs Hargreaves door to let her know that she was taking her break, always receiving a stern look. Stepping demurely out of the office, she would walk slowly to the bathroom; always a bit too slowly, prolonging her excitement. Once there, Miss August would close and lock the door behind herself, lean against it for a moment, and then walk to the mirror. She invariably undid the top button of her shirt and slipped out of it slowly, letting the fabric slide silently over her arms and wrists and fingers. Her skin looked like popped bubble wrap.
Countless burns, all healed over, dappled her skin. Created by cigarettes, matches, candles, and her favourite; one from a heated spoon. The thin oval line that it had etched into her ivory skin was beautiful, and he thought so too. He liked the candle burn the best. There, on her right breast, just peaking over her bra. A drippy line of wax had been poured onto the delicate skin there, but it hadnt been normal wax. No, she had boiled it first. Boiled it in the pan and had then dripped it over herself. He had enjoyed it a lot. He had given her his congratulatory smile then, and made love to her right there on the kitchen floor.
Her scars were stories and all of them told her how much he loved her. She was his silent angel, as he liked to remind her. She was his to touch, his to play with. And she eagerly allowed him anything, even if it meant her pain, because he was giving it to her.
On a day seeming like every other, Miss Augusts routine was disrupted. She was mechanically filing paperwork when Mrs Hargreaves came back from a meeting. Smiling, she had with her a tall young gentleman with brown hair, muscularly built. Not that she looked. Richard didnt like it when she looked at other men. An encounter with a heated belt buckle, whipped across her back repeatedly, had taught her that it was better to avert her eyes whenever another man happened to cross her path. So she blotted out the mans presence, but then Mrs Hargreaves cleared her throat loudly. Miss August looked up obediently and waited.
This is Samuel Crawford; he will be taking on some of the workload as I plan to allow myself more time for my family, she announced to both Julie and Miss August. Turning back to Samuel she added, Now, Samuel, if you need anything just ask her, she waved a hand in Miss Augusts general direction. Now, excuse me, I need to get back to work. As she marched off Miss August returned to filing but was interrupted by Samuel.
Im sorry, I didnt catch your name, he said. Miss August looked up, startled, and immediately looked down again.
Miss August, she replied, addressing the tabletop. Samuel laughed.
Dont you have a first name? He came to sit on the edge of her desk. She could feel his eyes on her. Without realising she was doing it she clutched her shirt collar closed, feeling exposed under his gaze.
Rebecca, she answered quietly, cheeks flushed.
Rebecca, he repeated slowly before standing up and walking off to the desk behind her where he sat down. Slightly unnerved she picked up the letters to continue filing. While reading over them she heard him open one of his desk drawers and then close it. He did this with all four of his drawers, obviously searching for something. Eventually he stopped. For a half an hour silence reigned, and then a loud click broke through the room.
Miss August contemplated the sound and was about to presume that she had imagined the noise when she heard it again. It was coming from the desk behind her. She ignored the sound three more times before turning in her seat, pure curiosity getting the better of her. Samuel sat there, leant back in his chair casually and in his hands a box cutter. The sound occurred again and Miss August realised that he was flicking the thumb lever on the cutter, making the blade pop up and then down again. She glanced up towards his face and noticed he was looking right at her. She blushed. He winked.
Fancy helping me for a while, Rebecca? he asked. She paused, remembering the belt, but figured Samuel must have needed assistance. So she stood and went over to his desk.
Samuel requested her to gather him pens, pencils, a stapler, everything he would need at his desk. Then he asked her to explain the computer system. As she sat in his chair he leant over her, periodically making hmm sounds and asking the odd question. Her speech was halting, her breathing quick. He was close enough to be too close. Conditioned to always obey, she felt she could do nothing. As soon as midday rolled around Miss August practically fled to the bathroom, unbuttoning her shirt almost before the door was locked, and she stood for an extra fifteen minutes in front of the mirror going over her scars, needing to remind herself of Richard.
As the weeks passed Samuel seemed to force himself into her working life in every way possible. He was suddenly unable to perform simple tasks on the computer, requesting her to sit at his desk as she went over his work, correcting mistakes she knew he was too intelligent for. Julie often glanced loathingly at the handsome Samuel lavishing unwanted attention over strange and plain little Rebecca August. He asked numerous personal questions was she single? No. Who was he then? Richard. Did she love him? Yes. She answered him stoically, ignoring him mostly, but then one day he asked, in a shrewd voice, What do you do in the bathroom during your lunch break? She dropped the stapler she was refilling for him, sending errant staples all over the floor. When he repeated the question she simply shook her head, unable to think of an excuse as no one had ever questioned her actions before. The topic was never broached again. That Friday, while she was extinguishing cigarettes on the tender flesh of her inner arm, Richard asked if there was anything she wanted to tell him. He usually asked the question when her brain was foggy with the pain, when she found herself unable to lie, and so Samuels name was panted out. Then Richard knew. She went unpunished for two days, making her believe that she was safe. Then when she awoke on the second day, the belt was waiting in his hands.
The next day, twenty minutes before Miss August was due to go for her lunch break, Samuel left his desk early. She watched him go without explanation. She was so eagerly focused on the new burns etched onto her back that she neglected to contemplate his actions. She busied herself for the next twenty minutes and then wandered to the bathroom, savouring her time. Once inside she followed the routine of sliding her shirt off and ran her fingertips along her bumpy arm. She smiled at the scars there. When she looked up to stare at the rest of her body she saw Samuels eyes reflected back at her.
He stood in the stall directly behind her, sympathetic eyes fixed on her body. Miss Augusts mouth formed a little O and she grabbed her shirt from the bathroom counter and covered herself with it. She allowed herself one guttural moan before running from the bathroom, shifting into her shirt as she dashed. Back at her desk, visibly shaken, Julie asked if she was alright. Miss August didnt even look up from her work, remaining focused on it even when Samuel walked into the room. That night Richard had to pull the hot knife from her hands to stop her from burning through to the bone, but he still had allowed her to do it again on a different patch of skin.
The week crept by just as Miss August did on her way to the bathroom every day. She kept up her routine, resolutely overlooking Samuels stares as she stood from her desk and left the office for her lunch break. However, he was just as determined. Every day he sat by her as she worked, asking questions.
Why are you with him? he would ask.
He loves me, she would reply without hesitation.
How can he, when he makes you do this to yourself? he asked exasperatedly, laying a hand on her wrist where he knew a particularly large scar sat. It was then that Miss August looked into his eyes for the first time in nearly a week.
His love is written all over my body.
As the week drew to a close Miss August arrived home after work to find the house devoid of Richard. When he eventually returned home he ignored her entirely. Sunday he acknowledged when she made him dinner. She watched as he ate it and then burnt herself for him. Afterwards he sighed.
My Rebecca, he said, kissing her. She smiled. I dont want you anymore. Her smile shattered. Im bored of you. There isnt anything new. I want you to go. Ive packed your bag already, its upstairs. Get it and go. He pulled her up from her seat and pushed her out of the room. She stood for a moment, just before the tears fell, and felt her heart beat painfully fast. He ordered her to leave again.
But, Richard, she gibbered. Im your silent angel, you told me so. He simply laughed at her and shooed her out of the house as if she were a cat. He fetched her bag himself, tossing it out the door.
Even though she felt as if her heart had been cleaved right out of her chest, she still made her way in to work the next day. She had spent the night sat outside their house, his house, in the hopes that he would open the door and allow her back inside, but he didnt. She went about her work listlessly, blinking back tears every now and then and, when midday appeared she almost stood to go to the bathroom, but then stopped herself. Why examine his love if it no longer existed? She sat back down. Samuel noticed. Coming over to her desk he leant down, eyebrows drawn together in worry and asked what was wrong. All Miss August had to do was say Richards name and she dissolved into an ocean of tears. Samuel understood.
Would you like to go to lunch, maybe I can cheer you up? he asked. She nodded without thinking, and he had her up and out the door in a second. He bundled her into his car, soothed her with words as he drove them to a restaurant. He eased her mind and forced Richard out of view. In less then an hour Samuel had taken over her reigns.
Already past due, they were on route back to the office when he offered, and she accepted, his proposal of returning to his house for a glass of wine. Once there he took her coat and bag and led her into the living room. He sat her down on the sofa there and kissed her. She gave in easily, totally overcome. He ran a hand down her thigh and over her knee, on to her calf.
Rebecca, he said slowly. Would you do me a favour?
Anything, she sighed, eyes wide in anticipation. Reaching deep into his pocket he withdrew a box cutter. The fingers on her calf twitched. He handed the cutter to her.
Do it right here, he whispered, leaning into her.
She extended the blade to its fullest and touched the sharp edge with her finger. She glanced at his handsome eyes and felt her heart mending. She would show him just how much she loved him. She would cover Richards scars with Samuels.
She placed the blade to her skin and pressed down.