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Bleed for Me

Epigraph

‘She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four-feet-ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.’

Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita)

‘Everybody lies - every day; every hour; awake; asleep; in his dreams; in his joy; in his mourning; if he keeps his tongue still, his hands, his toes, his eyes, his attitude, will convey deception.’

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Dedications

For Vivien

Acknowledgements

Writing might be regarded as a solitary profession, but publishing certainly is not. I am indebted to many people without whom I couldn’t have written this novel and would have been forced to find a proper job.

Firstly I must thank my agents Mark Lucas and Richard Pine whose thoughts and notes on the manuscript improved it immeasurably. The same can also be said of my publisher Ursula Mackenzie and editor David Shelley, who are among the true believers.

For their friendship and hospitality, I thank Mark and Sara Derry, Richard and Emma Honey and Martyn Forrester, who know how much I hate hotel rooms and how much I enjoy their company.

For their patience and love, I will always be indebted to my three daughters Alex, Charlotte and Bella, who put up with my highs and lows, laughing at my eccentricities. Thankfully, they take after their mother, who keeps my feet on the ground so I can live with my head in the clouds.

Finally I make special mention of Annie Robinson, whose name appears in Bleed for Me. Although Annie didn’t get the chance to read about her namesake, I know that she’s partying with the angels and living in our hearts.

Sienna’s Diary

i should start by telling you my name, although it’s not really important. names are just labels that we grow into. we might hate them, we might want to change them, but eventually we suit them.

when i was very young i used to hide in the dirty laundry basket because i liked the smell of my father’s work clothes and it made me feel closer to him. he used to call me his ‘little red riding hood’ and would chase me around my bedroom growling like a wolf until i collapsed into giggles. i loved him then.

when i was eleven or twelve i took a stanley knife from my father’s shed and pinched a roll of flesh on my inner arm before slicing it open. it wasn’t very deep, but enough to bleed for a while. i don’t know where the idea came from, but somehow it gave me something i needed. a pain on the outside to match the inside.

i don’t cut often. sometimes once a week, once a month, once i went for six months. in the winter i cut my wrists and forearms because my school blazer will cover the marks. in the summer i cut my stomach because a one-piece swimsuit will hide the evidence.

once or twice i’ve cut too deeply but each time i managed to fix myself, using a needle and thread. i bet that makes you shudder but it didn’t hurt so much and i boiled the needle first.

when i bleed i feel calm and clear-headed. it’s like the poison inside me is dripping out. even when i’ve stopped bleeding, i finger the cuts lovingly. i kiss them goodnight.

some are new cuts on virgin skin. others are old wounds reopened. razor blades and stanley knives are best. they’re clean and quick. knives are clumsy and needles don’t produce enough blood.

you want to know the reason? you want to know why someone would bleed in secret? it’s because i deserve it. i deserve to be punished. to punish myself. love is pain and pain is love and they will never leave me alone in the world.

every drop of blood that flows from my veins is proof that i’m alive. every drop is proof that i’m dying. every drop removes the poison inside me, running down my arms, dripping off my fingers.

you think i’m a masochist.

you think i’m suicidal.

you think you know me.

you think you remember what it’s like to be fourteen.

you think you understand me.

you don’t.

i bleed for you.

1

If I could tell you one thing about Liam Baker’s life it would be this: when he was eighteen years old he beat a girl half to death and left her paralysed from the waist down because she tipped a bucket of popcorn over his head.

As defining events go, nothing else comes close for Liam, not the death of his mother or his faith in God or the three years he has spent in a secure psychiatric hospital - all of which can be attributed, in one way or another, to that moment of madness in a cinema queue.

‘That moment of madness’ is the term his psychiatrist just used. Her name is Dr Victoria Naparstek and she’s giving evidence before a Mental Health Review Tribunal, listing Liam’s achievements as though he’s about to graduate from university.

Dr Naparstek is a good-looking woman, younger than I expected; mid-thirties with honey-blonde hair, brushed back and gathered in a tortoiseshell clasp. Strands have pulled loose and now frame her features, which otherwise would look quite elfin and sharp. Despite her surname, her accent is Glaswegian but not harsh or guttural, more a Scottish lilt, which makes her sound gay and carefree, even when a man’s freedom is being argued. I wonder if she’s aware that her eyes devour rather than register a person. Perhaps I’m being unfair.

Liam is sitting on a chair beside her. It has been four years since I saw him last, but the change is remarkable. No longer awkward and uncoordinated, Liam has put on weight and his glasses have gone, replaced by contact lenses that make his normally pale blue eyes appear darker.

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