What was forgiveness?
I did not know if I had the capacity for it. I did not help him for his sake. It was for my own self. Somehow it assuaged the guilt I felt for my own part in this. Now that it was done, now that my revenge had been exacted, I worried about the remorse I felt.
Through the coming days and weeks, his hands healed well. They had not been exposed to the acid as long; he had wiped them on the towel first. He was able to move them with a fair amount of dexterity. He would not loose his profession.
Elsewhere was a different story. I was instructed to obtain carbolic acid and apply that to the dressings. When that started to irritate the tissues, we diluted it. He instructed me to wash my hands before and after, telling me that he believed infection was not in the air, the miasma, but was rather spread by contact with infected tissues. Infection was all around us. He waited anxiously with each dressing change…would the purulence manifest itself this time?
His pain was great. As it should be. He did not ask for laudanum, and I did not offer it.
Madge and everyone in the place seemed deeply interested in what was going between us. Certainly, assumptions were made. Other women stopped speaking to me. Men gave me brazen looks that bordered on the offensive. Some took liberties, cornering me and touching me in unpleasant ways. But how could I tell them what I had done?
Eventually, he was able to move about. I made him start do his own dressings. He practiced movements with his fingers to keep them supple as the scar tissue formed: shaving, sewing, writing. Without the ability to feel, he had to relearn many things.
“I want you to leave,” I told him as I supervised him applying a new dressing to his genitals. The area, after many weeks, was almost completely healed. The scarring was extensive. And gratifying on some level.
He looked up, surprised.
“I would think that would be obvious.”
He grew silent.
“I have no where to go.”
“Why are you here, exactly?”
More silence. He did not look away, but I could tell he was uncomfortable. I knew the answer. His desires had burned bridges, chased him here to a war.
I had to tell him. “I hate you.”
“I know.” He offered no further apology. Only more silence.
I stood and took my leave. The next day, he was gone.