Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.
It takes a certain type of carelessness to talk to a demon. Elise had that in spades.
She first noticed the scratches in the shower. That was the only place she could notice them, would ever notice them in winter. Her apartment was too cold for her razor-thin frame even on the sunniest September day. She wore long sleeves exclusively, trading over-sized wool sweaters for chiffon bell sleeves come summer.
Thick body hair, her constant bane, was bearable on her legs through daily shaving, but she couldn’t stomach stubble on her arms, stomach or mound, so it grew freely, and she kept covered. Shamefully. Quietly. Older women complimented her modesty, even when she wore short skirts with stockings. The 1960s were long enough ago that even such a show of legs seemed more nostalgic than sexual.
If the scratches were on her legs, she might have assumed she’d acquired them in a mundane manner — brushing against a sharp corner in the office, or on the subway. To have them on her arms was something altogether inexplicable. Her arms were only ever bare in the shower, and she hadn’t scratched herself. Her mind wandered through the steam and, in the way of meandering shower thoughts, hit upon a memory of some ghost hunting show from college. Men running from a tomb, displaying long red lines and stammering of demons. She’d laughed until she cried, gasping for breath in the arms of her college girlfriend.
She smiled, feeling whimsical. “If you’re here and want to talk, try the other arm tonight.”
The sound of her own voice thrilled her, echoing around the bathroom and tickling the back of her neck. When was the last time she’d spoken in her own home? During a call from her manager, probably. When was the last time someone had been in her space? Months, at least. The realization didn’t hurt as much as numb her, and her thoughts skittered away from that lack as she prepared for bed. Wrapped up in a ratty old sweatshirt, she promptly fell asleep.
She always showered in the morning, even when she showered at night. It was the only way to feel clean and warm at the same time. A sweatless, pretty thing. There were no new scratches on her arms, and she watched the water caress the already fading marks from the previous day with unexpected disappointment.
“I wish you’d been real,” she said idly, lips twitching slightly. “It would have been nice, having someone to talk to.”
She ate half a grapefruit dusted with pink salt to match her salmon cashmere sweater set, a work outfit she hated but wore for its powers of invisibility. Putting on her professional mask, she left.
In the dim shadows of the spotless white apartment, I waited, puzzling over her words.