• Jaye Gaff

The Scent Of Us

Updated: Oct 14


I will always remember him by the scent of blood. I feign comfort on the hard surface they’ve dressed pretty and called a bed, cradling new pink life, while memories wash over me and he perfumes my mind. Blood. The terrible timing doesn’t escape me. I make a feeble attempt to swallow the bile rising and in an instant I’ve travelled back in time, DeLorean style, eighty-eight miles per hour, to him. The six year old me flinches and tries to ignore the coldness creeping its way under my clothing. I bury my face deeper inside my picture book and pretend. This is not happening. This is normal. This has to be. For weeks we dance this tango. A soft surface, books and his hands touching places meant only for me. His confidence grows as the dance enters its fourth week. Fingers creep inside places I never considered could be touched that way. He kisses my neck and earlobes until they’re warm, moist, and sticky. My body tightens and shudders in a continuous loop of revulsion. The lack of attraction spurs him on and his penis is inside my dry vagina, ripping it to pieces and hammering inside until my thighs and the sheets surrounding us are a warm bloody mess. “I love you”, he whispers as he leaves the room, taking the light with him as he goes. I retch until dizziness overwhelms me and fall into stilted sleep. This recollection fades to black and the rest follow in quick succession. They flood my mind until I drown under the weight of them. I could try gasping for breath but trying requires effort and I have none left. I doubt I had any to begin with. “Daddy, please stop. Please. It hurts”. This is my mantra, which I repeat over and over but he selects the words he hears carefully. “Daddy, please. Please. Daddy.” He likes being called daddy. He calls it our naughty, forbidden word and it’s one that makes him hard and throbbing at the thought. I’ve been given the label of daddy’s little girl because of our close relationship. Adorable, people say. How wonderful that a single father loves being a parent so much. You’re so lucky to have such a good dad, they tell me with a smile and a pat on the head. I smile back and climb on to his lap, an automatic response beaten into me. His stiffened penis is my reward. I pretend this is normal. Has your father not fucked you lately? I start to menstruate. He masturbates as I look on and forces, by menacing request, to leave what he calls his love for me in its resting place until morning. The thought turns him on and as the sun rises I’m often woken to spanking as he calls me his “naughty schoolgirl”. Sometimes he tastes the blood that trickles out of me. He likes it and has given it a name. Salty. The description makes me sick. I hate everything we’ve become. A nurse urging me to breastfeed by grabbing my bundle’s delicate neck shocks me back to reality. She refuses my breast. I fear becoming him. I pretend to try and am secretly relieved to fail. My girl, pink, blotchy and perfect, is seemingly already aware of her mother’s permanent scars. As if the only reason she refuses my nipple is because, at a few hours old, she’s already grasped just how fucked up I am. Slowly, droopingly, she closes her eyes and I lazily follow suit. Dreams come quickly. When he wasn’t touching me there he was one of two things: loving me as a father should or abusing me in other places with permanently callused hands. His favourite place? My neck. Anything could set him off and I’d find myself pinned against a wall with his hands around my throat, spit flying into my eyes while my mouth and lungs screamed for air. I play the part of the survivor well but in those moments my entire body ached for death. I have never known an ache like that. It pulsated inside me, perfectly sweet, and after a time I began to crave the constant throb so much that it stayed with me always. In those moments he seemed to sense what I craved most and, frustratingly, only kept his hands clamped until I fell into blackness. I’d wake caked in various fluids after some of the fight had returned in me. His substances of choice were, clichéd as it seems, semen and blood but sometimes his creativity would emerge and I’d discover food in places they didn’t belong, spending hours washing them away long after they’d gone. From the time I hit puberty I was forced to wax every part of my body that was covered in hair. My legs, arms and pubic curls that snaked front to back were to be constantly transformed into a state of hairlessness. I found myself picking dried wax from each area for days after every session. He, on the other hand, was smothered in hair and I, in friction burns. He loudly claimed to be repulsed by me and I was, silently, repulsed by him but somehow, despite everything, I needed the real love of a father and I knew that he craved the real love of a woman. For a time, we thought we could get each from the other. Soon after my eighteenth birthday he would leave me with scars that would never heal and some family money to ensure I’d never have to work again. When he said this I choked, somewhere between a laugh and a cry, because my father, the man I was too scared to leave was leaving me for a woman, someone older, with no scars to speak of. His sick love me for had dwindled into nothingness and his love for her had grown into everything. The money, the bribe, the comment of never having to work again, was unbearable. I could only soothe myself with the idea that one day soon, I would be dead. Of course, I was never brave enough to kill myself. The idea that he’d be back full of real apologies and real love kept me alive until something switched inside me. I met a boy, fell in love, got married and fell pregnant. The moving on portion of my life happened too quickly and I wasn’t aware that it was real until I felt the baby kick and by then it was too late and I was left in a permanent state of claustrophobia with no escape. I’m jolted back to reality with the distant cry of someone else’s baby and the memories are gone as quickly as they came. My Husband makes his signature casual entrance into the room smelling of soap and strong coffee. He brings gifts because this is his way. My mind shudders involuntarily. My father gave gifts too, bribes that would backfire moments, minutes or hours later when he’d rape me in any hole he craved. My Husband, on the other hand, brings gifts because this is the thing you do when your wife has just given birth. He sets the Daisies, my favourite, and cupcakes down and then gives us both a peck on the forehead. This is his thing. Each night before I retire he gives me a kiss on the forehead and wishes me happy dreams. Despite being forever plagued with nightmares of my past he continues without complaint as if he can’t wait to spend the rest of his life wishing happiness upon me. As if this is his sole purpose. He’s a frustratingly good man. Much better than I deserve. I’m not supposed to think these things but the self-pity leaps from my body without resistance. I bleed heavily, my body aches and it feels as if my father is violating me repeatedly without a break for breath. Nothing can make this feel worth it. I wonder, could I? No. You are married. You are free. He can’t hurt you anymore. It is in the past. It doesn’t need to be your present. I shake myself from these thoughts and steal a glance at my Husband who is now feeding our daughter with a bottle and wonder. Could he? Would he? Are our fates intertwined? I need to find solace alone. I slide gingerly off the hospital bed and waddle to the bathroom. Using the toilet, something I’ve always taken for granted, has become a terrifying chore. Blood. I feel dizzy and nauseous at the thought. It’s darker than menstruation and clots fall out of me with a repulsive regularity. I despise that my father has invaded this time. I should be overjoyed that I was able to carry and birth a little girl. Yet, I’m still the one he left all those years ago. Forever unloved. I sit on the toilet, wincing slightly, and close my eyes. I try to imagine a life free from him and I can’t. Another image comes rushing into my mind. I am standing by my daughter’s crib as she sleeps. I watch her little body rise and fall with breath. Is this what I look like? Is this me? Am I happy? I watch as I pick up a decorative pillow and begin to fluff. Is this my future? Am I a loving mother who takes pride in her home? I watch in horror as the pillow, still in my hands, is placed over her face. I’m not satisfied until her body is lifeless. The burning sensation of urine trickling near my newly stitched wound brings me back and I realise I’m crying when I taste the salty tears. I escape from the toilet and force myself to wash the thoughts away with burning water and scented soap. Water always helps. Except, I’m drowning her. Or myself. Or there I am, lifeless in the bath, with my wrists open and oozing blood. Or there she is, teenaged, and she’s repeating my bath time mistakes. A scream of horror and I’m bundled up in a towel, pressed into the man who loves me just as I am, as he squeezes the terror away. This is him. The man who holds my hand and never lets go. The man who I confessed my secrets to and who held me as I heaved, heart wrenching sobs. Cliché. It was all too cliché. He’s going to hurt you. You need to leave. The only question is: do I take her with me? I glance over at her, half loving and half distancing myself, as I’m dressed and helped back into bed. I despise this place. The nurses have given up on trying to get both of us to succeed with breastfeeding and they are now bringing us bottles of formula on the regular, with disapproving eyes, “tuts” and raised eyebrows. I try to be one of those mothers who care about the judgement, as if it’s the only thing that will make me a real mum, but I give up almost immediately. It’s too much effort and I am in awe of the little girl in my arms. The distance I vowed to keep from her, already forgotten. She is mine. She needn’t meet my fate. This is my purpose. At last. Somewhere, in the darkness, we both dozed together and I am brought, softly, back to the world of the awake with a kiss and the scent of my favourite tea. My Husband smiles, lifts our daughter out of my arms and into her bassinet, and hands me a little blue box. I take it from him, already missing her with an intense ache, and unwrap his gift, opening up to a silver infinity bracelet with two knots to join and a hand written note. I thought we could be the knots and she the infinity. I will love you both forever. My heart aches in a way I never thought possible, with love and being loved. I look up at him, tears in my eyes, finding tears in his. We fall into each other without a second thought and cry hot, happy tears onto any surface that will take them. A nurse we barely notice enters the room and then hurriedly leaves again. Our tears turn into laughter and soon my belly aches and I forget the pain, the scent and the memories. “She needs a name,” he whispers, gazing down at her. “What do you think?” When I was pregnant I’d failed at being overjoyed so my Husband had done everything while I sat on the rocker which he picked to perfectly match her linens, and cried for nine months. We never spoke of baby names and ignored the books as if they were diseased, as if he knew that I would buckle under the pressure. He knew. Always. Perhaps he’s perfect for me? For her? For us? “Summer,” I say, letting my head jerk a little to the bedside where my favourite book rests, the one that I read in bed until I could manage to leave it, and he smiles his perfect, comforting smile and nods. Our baby girl Summer who smells of talcum powder and newborn perfection. He doesn’t question or suggest, he just knows, as he’s always known. As he always will. We leave together the next day with the suddenly sublime scent of stale rain enveloping us. The leaves fall and crunch under foot. As I look down I’m surprised and relieved to find that we are holding hands as we push Summer, our brown-eyed polka-dotted girl, in her pram to our car. The intimacy of this I have always resisted, until today, where it feels as though it always was. His hand warms my own, giving me the strength to believe and move through the stitched pain. As we leave the grey parking structure I turn and look at the hospital as it grows smaller in the distance and smile because, with it, so do the scars within me. It was as if my father had followed me inside and haunted every inch of the cold and sterile place and now, finally, I was leaving him behind. I glance down at Summer, sleeping peacefully in the car seat lovingly selected just for her, and back up at the hospital once again. I see my father, standing, moodily, in the window and watch as his head turns with a smile. In shock, with the taste of vomit rising, I see my own figure join him, hand held with his and where the look of love, joy and contentment should be the uneasiness of gloom fill our entire beings and, slowly, creakily, we lift our hands in a farewell and step away carefully with almost funeral-like procession.

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