I walk directly to my room, my bureau. There are papers and books on it which I push aside; some candles, a knife, and a small box of matches which I have trouble opening. I eventually give up trying to light one and go ask my dad to light the row of candles. He pulls a lighter from his pocket.
We sit, watching the smoke rise silently together for a minute.
"It's been quiet."
"The paper's quiet."
"No one's died lately."
"Not a single death. No accidents. Nothing."
"I think it's miracle."
"Hey, give me some of that credit!" I give him a mock-glare.
"But I really think it might be God," he says, and we both laugh until we tear up.
He gives me a kiss on the cheek before he goes.
In the mirror, the reflection of the smoke coils around my face, and for a moment I see it without scars.
The smoke shifts, and a mouth forms.
"How are you." A dull murmur.
"You seem troubled."
"I'm fine, I said."
"You need not do this alone."
"We already talked about this. I can handle it."
"There are others."
"No. Leave my brother alone, he's just a…" I pick up the knife, clumsily. "I agreed to do this by myself."
"Very well. On this day…"
I feel as if I am starting to shake. I suppress it.
"A man would lose control of his vehicle."
That could be serious. That could cost a lot. It's fine, so long as it's not the hands again. No one else has to be involved if I can just use my hands a little.
"Your nose. Ten lines." it hisses.
I relax; I've done my nose before. I recall the pain as I touch the knife to my face; cold, then hot.
Cold, then hot; pink then red. Ten times. I try to get away with five lines on either side.
I sit still, licking away the blood, while it judges. I tell myself it's not even that painful anymore, and the taste of iron almost convinces me.
"Very well. Your commitment is tested, and rewarded."
The easy part is done.
"On this night…"
I start shaking again. This will cost.
Not my hands.
I go to the bathroom to clean myself up. My mom walks in just as I finish wiping the knife dry. Her eyes are red, but she's smiling as she starts fussing over me.
"Oh, dear, let me get your nose for you."
"Mom, come on, I can do it-"
"Let your mother fuss over you, this is what I do." she says, opening the medicine closet and grabbing the bandages. "I used to be a nurse, you know."
"Yeah, years ago. You-ow-" I hiss as she dabs at my face with something.
"Sorry," she smiles. "But, darling. Your birthday is coming up."
I feel like I've been punched in the gut. How can she say that and smile? I try to say something, but I feel like I've drunk acid again.
"We want it to be special. You know."
She finishes with my face, and closes up the box of bandages.
"So, if there's something you want, tell us, okay? However you want it. We can have that chocolate cake you love, anything. Just let us know." She kisses me on the forehead and leaves. I shut the door behind her, and lean against it.
It makes sense; it should be special. Last things are important. Your last one should be special, because your last one is important. I try to bury myself in thought, but I can't think fast enough. My legs give and I drop to the floor.
I feel all my scars. There is an itch everywhere, one I can't scratch with what remains of my fingers. I feel pangs in the holes in my back. My throat is tight. The burns on my chest are on fire again, all my stitches burn.
I catch myself crying and wipe my eyes, straighten up, breathe deeply. I'm daddy's little savior. I can do it. For mom and my brother, safe in his crib. There is a pang in my chest, and I want to see him. I can do anything if I can just see his tiny smile again. Before tonight, I'll hold him while I still can.
I hear the low rumble of my dad's voice and my mom's sharp laughter echo up the stairs.
I remember the kids at the lunch table, and I ignore them.