Prized Possession by Guem Hye

You consider me a prude. Yes, I do have a fear of contamination. You will insist that it is a fear of contact, intimacy, eruption, and I will insist that it is not. How well paired we are.

I rehearse what I am going to tell you, as I trip-skip across the road. I will have the whole course of conversation perfectly charted by the time I meet you at the café, as astrolabe courts the path of constellations across the heavenly dome. Am I romanticizing again? Put it down to the disquiet childhood I spent at my grandaunt’s house. Her house was choked to the brim with the resin, and I feel as trapped in that house as an ancient stinger in an ember. There, I am lying again. I promised not to lie to you. But I can never tell the difference between selective remembrance and blatant lying. Though, I tell you, my grandaunt’s house was really a monstrous thing. I thought it was a privilege to live there. I did not mind my parents not coming. I didn’t mind it at all.

Where was I? Yes, resin. Resin is what I remember the most. The varnished surface of the console, the layers of fingerprints morphing the grainy pattern of the wood into something obscure, the assortment of bric-a-brac desperately clinging to the overcrowded coffee table, the decorative antler above the fireplace, which my benevolent grandaunt named the health, and the stuffed beaver that leaked sawdust onto the floor. This was the place; this was where I fit in, like another treasured trophy in the room. I suppose my grandaunt, at the time completely unacquainted with a creature called human child, treated me like one of those exotic dolls tumbled into her house by chance.

I am sorry, I did it again. There was no stuffed beaver in her house. She couldn’t stand the sight of, I quote, “that blasted vermin.” But I strongly feel that a stuffed beaver is necessary element for the scenery, and I am inclined to trust my instinct, as, unlike my grandaunt, who is often proved “confused” at best, it is seldom proved wrong. I’d better leave out the bit about the beaver, though. You would twitch. Why would you twitch so often these days?

Why would you, while we are at this, object to a minor exaggeration like you do? But honestly. As you are aware, I wanted to be an actress. A little bit of, ah, flaunting, flaunting of finer points of – life, shall we say – is in my blood. An inspired omission of unnecessary realism. I would no less stop the circulation of blood than I would a flood of inspiration. The grandiosity is in my upbringing, and with the aid of this grandiosity, I could have brought Shakespearean touch to the broadcast, if it were not for a certain accident.

But I am trying, really. I will preserve our relationship if that is the end of me. Oh, you don’t like dramatisation in speech, I almost forgot. But I am trying, darling, trying. I did go to the couple’s mediator, as I promised. That’s what his job is called? Couple’s mediator? I thought you might be joking. Surely you meant a psychiatrist. But you did force me to promise. And I went. Disappointingly, he did not even mention father-figure, and he had no interest for my dream. I was so ready to cut open my subconscious for his scrutiny. I had prepared a juicy slice of memory to offer him.

Here is the thing. I already knew, before I knocked at his door, all about my problem. All of my personal problems arise from the unsolved knot of the past. Yes, my terrible accident. You are bored with it, I told you so often, but I will tell you again.

It began with my grandaunt asleep on the armchair. She was a heavy woman then, and it exhausted her to move about. I recall her head flung back against the armchair, her snoring, and her open mouth, which was like a chimney pot.

I was nestled between her legs. With a blanket thrown over my head, I prowled under her legs. I was the proud lioness surveying her domain. Grandaunt’s body provided the borders of my lair. I was in character, and the show was going good.

What was left of the TV screen blankly reflected me – oh yes, the screen was in shards, for reasons I am not going to discuss. It is a different story. Private business. Well, a family peccadillo. I could see myself dimly framed inside the TV. I studied it carefully. My eyes met with my reflection’s, and we were equally hooked. For once I was satisfied with the visual effect, and with grandaunt’s habit of indiscriminatingly hoarding curiosities. Those curiosities conjured up a vision of savannah wonderfully.

I must tell you an important detail about the TV, in order to explain what happened next. It was a regular box of a TV, with a V-shaped antenna perilously angled on the top. The antenna didn’t catch the signal well even if the day was fine, which was the reason why it sat in such a contorted position. The TV had a dimension for a puppet theatre. Grandaunt’s legs were a pair of curtains parted to either side. I was in the show. I was it.

The taste of limelight completely sold me over. There and then I realized my true destiny.  Imagine the effect. No wonder I have a troubled psyche. The reflection confirmed my life-long suspicion that I’ll be dashing onstage.

At that point, my suspicion confirmed, I felt compelled to take a bow. I did what was in my blood. I stretched my arms out, leaned back, and howled. Yes, howled. Lionesses howl.

Grandaunt started up. Nearly choking on a half-snore, jerking forward and kicking her legs against my sides as she did so, she startled me, so I started away, instinctively turning away from her, but the blanket was flung, her legs whipped it up, and it tripped my legs, and lost balance, thrown forward, I hit the TV.

Nearly headlong – nearly grazing my scalp severely. Fortunately I didn’t go bald from scraping my head. In fact I was curiously intact, as yet. But then, dazed, I sprang up, meaning to pounce. I fully intended to get up without breaking character. The sudden movement, the sudden quaver of the TV, caused the TV antenna to fall. That antenna was the peril itself. The next moment it sliced through the back of my neck.

Since then my fate was predetermined. The scar determined my life. While an ambulance shipped me off to the hospital, I thought through it all. I could not live. I must give up any hope of public appearance. I’d rather die.

Many nurses attended my case. They were very gentle, and kind. I remember the cotton. Cotton, cotton, cotton. Alcohol soaked cotton on skin. Cotton bud stopping the nosebleed. Cotton swatch they had me bite. I bet the white pillow case they had me wear was made of pure cotton, the supportive cushion was stuffed with cotton-wool, and even the mattress felt like cotton.

I still feel their hands around my neck. Without a word they began to cast a shell around me. By soaking a slip of gauze in glue, and sticking it under my chins. You can go on and say that’s not how they go about fixing up cut and bruised little girl. You can dispute all you want. That is how I remember it. A slow paper mâché spreading from the chin downward, as warm as a cocoon, and accompanied by intense stench of chemical.. I felt like a frame on which the skin is fitted around, like they were fitting a freshly gutted hide around me. Cold, cold hid, still with a trace of lead and blood. It was as if the comfortable old blanket of my lioness was gone, and now I permanently wear a borrowed fur. Colour red leaked out from the cuts and with it trickled away my ambition.

Afterward, they had me fixed on the spot. In that pristine environment, I sat and waited. In that clean, empty order, I thought about the old and rusty clutters of grandaunt’s house, and cried. The nurses collected their syringes and tools, and left me in full display, until my grandaunt came to collect me.

I find it a memory worth preserving. You should, too. This is a distorted memory, you will say. I will say that this reveals an emotional truth. So to this day I live with my fear of contamination. To this day I am afraid of commitment. But, you will say, what does this have to do with your fears? Because, I will say, what doesn’t?

Those kind nurses worked on me with intention of saving me. To salvage a trace of what I had been. Do you think it tad sentimental to state that they fought against my death? After all, I would have died a secret death at finding myself scarred, if it were not for their gentle caresses, or for this thin veil of protection they fit around me.

Now I am older and wiser, I sit high above the way they have left me on the spot, and think I will marry you if you swept me off my feet, but probably won’t.