Open Wounds

“Let’s see what we’ve got,” said the triage nurse in Emergency.

Jack presented his left forearm and unwrapped the bloody tea towel.

“That’s a nasty cut. Come on through.” The nurse pressed the door button and Jack heard a buzz and a click to his left. Leaning over his wife kissed his cheek.

“I’ll take the boys to the cafeteria. Keep them out from underfoot.”

Making his way through the heavy doors, Jack followed the nurse to a small room and sat in the seat he was directed to.

“The doctor will be with you shortly.”

Jack stared at his arm resting on the arm of the chair, the towel loosely reapplied. He thought back to his eldest son’s bicycle accident two years ago and the chunked up mess of his knee. It required eight stitches and the extraction of five pieces of gravel.

His son was chuffed knowing there would be a cool scar, once the tears had subsided and jellybeans were offered.

Where the skin had grazed, shredded by the coarse gravel to form scabs, fascinated Jack. It reminded him of his youth and his own grazes, scratches and stitches. As a boy he imagined scabs were rough foundations of igneous rock, blood like lava pouring through the wound, cooling and hardening in the dry atmosphere outside the skin.

He would wait a few days to pick at the edges, exposing the new pink, puckered flesh beneath. Pick too early and it simply bled again. Sometimes he did it to prolong the healing process and give him more scabs to pick at.

Playing “volcanoes” he squeezed the scabs and watched the blood rise through new cracks. It was a bonus when pus splurted out. Dabbing with a tissue he squeezed again until the wound rinsed itself with blood.

If caught picking, his mother insisted on applying a Band Aid to stop him. Later in the bath, Jack soaked the Band Aid off, his downy hair providing little resistance. Later in life, he grimaced as he pulled at the edges, lifting the hairs with the intensity of tiny pinpricks, before ripping it off hastily.

“If you keep picking at it,’ his mother scolded, “It won’t get better.”

He always picked and it always healed.

“What do we have here?” said the doctor, the snap of rubber gloves sharp in Jack’s ears.

“I was cutting some of the low branches down the backyard with the bush saw. I had my hands above my head, cutting through the branch. Thought I had the weight but it was heavier than I thought. Don’t know if it was the edge of the branch or the blade or both that hit me.”

“Let’s take a look.”

Peeling away the tea towel the doctor examined the gash on Jack’s arm, prodding gently with his fingers. “Let’s get that cleaned up. About five or six stitches as it’s pretty deep and jagged.”

As the doctor prepped to suture his arm, Jack watched mentally from a distance and remembered the nicks, scrapes, grazes and cuts of childhood and adolescence. All healed with time, as the skin rejuvenated leaving no trace of the injury.

His father’s sharp words of disappointment and criticism directed towards seven-year-old Jack, echoed in his mind, “Look what you’ve done to yourself. And ruined your good trousers.” Thirty years since the event and five years after his passing the words retained their sharpness.

The playground mantra “stick and stones will break my bones…” formed on his lips but he wavered and did not complete the line, knowing the ironic absurdity of its meaning. Unseen wounds that never healed despite not picking at them.

Jack winced as the needle was pushed into his flesh beneath the surface. He felt the push of the anaesthetic and tensed in anticipation of the second injection.

It was always with words. Some grazed and stung, others struck deeper, lacerating and eviscerating. Even when words were withheld they struck with the biting sting of hot bath water on a fresh graze until the wound acclimatised.

“Can you feel anything?” asked the doctor.

Jack looked down to see the point of a needle pressing against the wound and shook his head.

“Won’t take much longer.”

The needle entered the skin and Jack sensed rather than felt the slight tug of the black thread as it trailed behind the needle. The beginning of the healing process, drawing the sides of the open wound together, forcing two old friends who became enemies to reconcile their differences and embrace, forgiving the hurt and the pain. With time the rift would close leaving a faint raised line of hardened tissue.

He made every effort to choose his words carefully with his boys, to avoid careless words. Silence was another danger he recognised, not in the words withheld to manipulate, but words not spoken lest he cause damage.

From time to time his wife interjected, “You sound like your father,” when he failed in his best intentions and the wound tore open. It was said at his request to help him, not to criticise.

“There you are, all done,” said the doctor as he peeled off the surgical gloves.

Six black knots tied the edges of his skin. It reminded him of spider webs in the tensile strength of something so light holding together the strength of his skin.

“I’ll put a water-proof bandage on it so you can shower. When was the last time you had a tetanus booster?”

Jack shrugged.

“I’ll give you another because of the saw blade.”

“Bloody tetanus shot hurts worse than getting stitches,” said Jack.

“True. I’ll send the nurse in for the shot. See your local doctor in about a week to have the stitches removed.”

Waiting for the nurse, Jack was left with the silence of the room as the bustle of the hospital moved passed the door in pedestrian fashion, desperate to see his wife and sons.

He spotted his wife and boys in the cafeteria, the detritus of a small feast laid out: an empty chip packet, crumpled muffin wrapper and two empty juice bottles. Kissing his wife on the cheek, he trailed his hand across her back as he crouched down between his boys, an arm on the back of each chair.

“How many stitches, Dad?”

“Six.”

“Can we see?”

“Not today. When I change the dressing I’ll let you look. Hey boys, I love you.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

Two heads buried themselves into Jack’s shoulders before returning to vacuuming the leftover crumbs from the table.

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23 responses to “Open Wounds

  1. Aww, that was a nice little (ahem) slice of life, the gash an analogy for the cutting words of supposed loved ones.

  2. Whoa, that was a staggering intro, going from gore to tending kids so quickly. Did not expect such a mash-up, but you played it out sweetly.

  3. That was indeed a nice piece of life – I must admit I was ewwwing at the descriptive writing about how he’d picked his scabs ewww again!

  4. Well written, descriptive slice-of-life — though I probably should have waited til after I’d eaten to read the descriptions of picking scabs! 🙂

  5. Nice parallel between physical injuries and emotional scars.

  6. Wonderful parallels and nice, quiet writing. I like that. There’s so much churning underneath. Jack could have more stories.

  7. Really enjoyed this, Adam. Really funny you should include a ‘sticks and stones’ line, too…

  8. I really enjoyed this! Some great descriptions and subtle parallels. I’ve always thought that sticks and stones saying was a load of rubbish! I’m glad he (and his wife) have managed to break the destructive cycle so many emotionally-hurt people find themselves in. Nice one!

  9. Michael A Tate

    To somebody who is still a “volcano picker” I loved that part. It felt like it was talking about me. But the rest too was beautiful and had a wonderful subtextual story woven perfectly into the outer ER visit frame.

  10. Very nice Adam! Kind of gross in parts, but scabs and wounds always are, and the analogy was fabulous.

  11. Don’t tell anyone, but I also had fun picking at my scabs. Shredded my elbow once, still quite the scar. Very descriptive writing and emotional too.

  12. Wonderfully clever tale here. I like the way the way you weave physical wounds with the wounds of the soul. (The physical wounds are quite gross, even though I was one of those who enjoyed picking at my scabs).

  13. Great flash. Scars – a subject very close to my heart :-)) I was a tomboy and I love my scars – I remember each and every event which caused them. As a Mom, I was VERY careful to watch my words, and yet one innocuous comment I made hurt my son’s feelings and he has remembered it for 22 years.

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  15. Other than a couple of gender shifts, you could be writing my life. I loved this, and got it on so many levels.

    And on a difficult Mother’s Day, this was a gift i needed.

    Thank you profoundly!

  16. I love how he started and ended with an affinity for children. He was feeling sympathy for his son’s wounds, and that moved so easily into showing sympathy to his children, who had doubtless been frustrated and bored in the cafeteria. More than that, of course, he was showing how he could be different from his father.

  17. Hey Adam.. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get here.. I’m having a f***er of a week! I love the physicality of this short. You descriptions of the wound and procedure are fantastic. And I love too the way you connect the sensations to memories and the family relationships.. There’s a lot more going on here than a visit to ER.. Great stuff!

  18. Hey Adam..This resonates with me strongly. I have a V scar on my left knee where I gashed it on stones and grit in the road as a kid playing soccer in wellies. My Dad sat me on the kitchen counter-top and literally dug grit out of the wound with a small fork before taking me to hospital for the ensuing stitch up! It’s a badge of childhood and a reminder of my Dad who died last year. Quite a lot of mirrored feelings in your story..I love it. Thanks for igniting the memory. Nicely portrayed. Cheers

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  20. Nice family portrayal and thankful for the end – a world of hurt can dissolve in one’s kid’s hugs.

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  22. my type of writing… 🙂 Excellent job following the contours and crudescences of the skin and human emotion

  23. Hi Adam — strangely, I seem to have plenty of fond reminiscences of picking at scabs. An unusual thing to reminisce about — I guess I got a bit more careful as I grew up. Playing volcano and cafe food in the hospital are nice, vivid details. Good emotional parallels. St.

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