The Tea Ceremony (Indigo Perry)

Once, after he’d confessed to another indiscretion, she got up and ran from the riverbank. When she reached the highway, she slowed down and walked, heartbeat steady by the time she entered the hardware shop, and, in a voice she made clearly rung, asked the man at the counter where to find replacement blades for utility knives. He led her up an aisle and advised her on the best quality blades. Few blades kicking around in drawers at home were sharp enough. Freshly broken glass and shards of fine crockery

could work. But these new, tensile blades were good. Propping herself against a pillow on the red-brick floor in the tiny house with the tall, steepled roof, she scored the first lines along each arm, wrist to elbow, on the turned-in tenderness of the undersides. Where the flesh was younger and purer. She started on her legs, just above the knees, up to the groin, again finding the softer flesh, in the little pools above the very tops of the thighs. It was quick work, so quick that she thought she was making scratches. Only scratches,

similar to a cat’s. But all at once the scratches opened like narrow vulvas and bled. She was all openings. All weeping eyes. Spilling mouths. Her limbs red. All red. He came, late at night. He brought a teapot and a canister of chamomile tea, and a folded length of soft muslin. A heavy pair of sharp scissors. Even through the pain of the cuts, she marvelled that he possessed this particular set of accoutrements and that he knew just what to do. The sound of the kettle boiling comforted. He’d made a fire. Always capable with

fire. She was wrapped in one of his old wool blankets. Warm, next to his percussively snapping and cracking fire. He started with her left arm, unwrapping it from across her heart. Moving her sleeve away, gently, slowly, unsticking the fabric from the dried blood, meeting her gaze, then looking at the lines crossing over her. She could smell the florals in the tea he was steeping in the pot, and she watched him make a crisp snip in the muslin and then tear it into a long, straight strip. He took the lid from the pot, put

the strip inside and soaked it. And he drew it out and squeezed out the excess and then he cleaned the blood from her arm, not dabbing, not wiping, just putting the hot fabric over the wounds and laying his hands over the top. Then he moved it away. He kept going, making new, clean strips, soaking them, cleaning her and soothing the hurt. Her skin shone dark orange in the firelight. He did the other arm. Moved on to her thighs, where the bleeding had been thicker and the pain deeper. The sight of these long, wide lips and all

the blood painted between made him pause a moment and blink. He continued. The tea. The muslin. Steeping. Soaking. Cleaning. Soothing. The old blanket fell from her shoulders and she was naked and still warm. When the wounds were clean, he rubbed a cool, antiseptic ointment all over them. He wrapped the blanket back around her and then wrapped his arms around her. After a while, he packed up all the accoutrements and put them away. He brewed new tea. English Breakfast. Brought it to her to sip from a cup missing its saucer.


photograph ©Kate Baker

Indigo Perry lives in the Yarra Valley, outside Melbourne. She teaches creative writing in the School of Communication & Creative Arts at Deakin University. Her book, Midnight Water: A Memoir, was shortlisted for the National Biography Award.