He carved. By profession. By character. Everything he did had an element of cleaving to it; a sense of tearing in two.
And he fascinated her. Interesting people always had an uncanny ability to lure her in and she knew she was caving, but she did so anyway. Not exactly a moth to a flame – although these people tended to be dangerous. She was more like a phoenix, reveling in the fire that simultaneously destroyed her and gave her new birth.
She sat in front of him, cross-legged like a child, and watched as he carved a small block of wood, carefully curling back and peeling away layers of solid as if it were clay. She wondered at the delicacy of the process, the detail, the care. Transfixed by the sight, she could almost feel the knife on her. Painless cuts whittling away confusions of the past, creating new wounds that she could not yet feel the sting of. But she would. She knew she would. She was waiting for it.
She picked up the shavings and breathed in the smell of fresh cut wood. The scent disoriented her. It was so out of place there, so natural. She felt as if she should be in the woods somewhere. Isolated. She was surprised by a sudden urge to want to sink her bare hands and feet into dark, cool soil.
He looked back at her but continued carving – sure and unhurried. A shape was beginning to emerge but she couldn’t tell what it was. She could feel his half-smiling gaze as he watched her squint at his work in progress, trying to guess what it would turn out to be.
“It’s you”, he said, snatching the surprise away from her. “I’m carving you”.
Everything he did, everything he said had a sense of doubles to it. Double sided. Double edged. She could feel herself wince involuntarily.
I’m carving you.
And he was. In a thousand ways.
She watched herself emerge from the lifeless block of wood – the curve of her back, the angle of her shoulders, the smooth lines of her cheeks – and wondered at the parallel, the play on words in that deceptively simple phrase.
She was the wood. He was the blade. Molding her the way he wanted. Stripping her down until he reached her essence, slicing all her secrets from her, sandpapering away her flaws until she could not see them anymore. Comfort. Excitement. Relief. Fear. She looked at him and felt all those things.
He hadn’t made her but he’d somehow improved upon her. Although ‘improvement’ was a subjective word. But he would break her. It was just a matter of time. He would cut too deep, tear away too much. The stinging would start, the superficial wounds would deepen, she would bleed out.
She couldn’t risk it.
She takes a breath and blows out the air. When she stands up, for the first time, his deft movements show signs of hesitating. When she walks towards the door, he stops carving altogether.
“Was it something I said?” he asks. She smiles, a little apologetically, but says nothing.
Walks up to him and bends to kiss him. He tilts his head to find her mouth but she kisses his forehead instead.
Gently wrests the knife from his hands and walks out the door, onto the street.
Cold. Alone. But safe.