“Oww, those ants bit really hard. It hurts,” she said as she brought her hand just a bit higher than her ankles to feel for marks. Three bumps. She knew they were red; they felt red. “Why do we have to feel pain?” she asked rhetorically, rubbing the bumps as if that would make them go away like erasers rubbed on pencil marks—mistakes.
“Because without it, I imagine, we’d constantly be far more wounded than we already are.”
He moved to her side and knelt on the ground to inspect the bites. “Here, let me see—“ He stopped. She had already rolled up the bottom of her pants, having heard him approach her as she leaned on a tree for support—the crunching sound of the dried leaves signaled his coming and gave her sight. He lifted the flashlight from her feet to her face quickly, to her eyes that were at a fixed daze, as if gazing at something captivating, far away, distant. Sometimes, he could have sworn that she could see. Directing the light back to her leg, he saw three, red ant bites, large on her small frame.
“Why?” she asked.
“Why what? And don’t touch the bites. They will get worse if you scratch them.”
She unrolled the bottom of her pants. “What you said a while ago. Why will we be wounded more without pain?”
“Ah, I see. Well…” he trailed off, wondering how he was to explain to her the usefulness and self-defense mechanism of pain without complicating it for her; her never-ending questions were enough. He pinched her lightly, playfully.
“Oww!” She instinctively hit his hand and moved away. “Hey, what was that for?”
“That was pain saving you from further bruising. You see, you hit me and retreated—moved away—so as to not feel more pain. If we did not feel pain, we wouldn’t realize the damage being done to our own bodies, wouldn’t realize our tongues were burning because the hot chocolate we were drinking was too hot.”
“Ohhh,” she said slowly, understanding setting in. “So pain makes us not want it because it wants to save us? Poor pain…if I were pain, I’d be hurt.”
He laughed, unsure of whether or not she realized the irony of what she had just said.
“Right you are. Some things in this world are taken for granted. Why, if we did not feel pain, oven mitts wouldn’t exist and we’d all have ugly, burned hands.” He considered this for a moment, imagining a world where everyone was ugly, where he would fit in, where no one would give him a second glance. “Thimbles, shoes, houses, roads, and even doctors wouldn’t exist. We ought to thank pain, shouldn’t we, Robin?”
“Yup. Thank you pain,” she said quietly.
“Pain sure is a life-saver.” He stood up, realizing they were still at the same level with each other, she standing and he kneeling. “Let’s go?”
“Wait.” She didn’t move.
“What?” He had heard her, but the unpredictability of her statement had caught him off guard.
“How can it save and kill at the same time?”
“Tell me first why you say pain kills.”
“Bess. She was dying and hurt-ed so much before, so they had to kill her so she wouldn’t feel it.”
“Bess? Who’s Bess?” He was surprised at the ease with which she had used the word “kill”. Euthanasia and a merciful death came to mind, as well as an old woman on a hospital bed.
He couldn’t help but smile. “You mean, they put her to sleep?”
“No, no. ‘Slaughter’. That’s what they said. The word sounds nice but it’s an ugly, ugly word. Ugliest. They said putting her to sleep was going to be expensive. They killed her,” she said simply. “How does putting one to sleep help? When I have a toothache, sleeping doesn’t help because when I wake up, it still hurts. I’ have to sleep forever and ever and ever for it not to hurt so bad. So it won’t be painful-er. But how can you sleep forever?”
“There are highly intelligent people, scientists, who make such things possible. These guys—the same guys who make medicines for you to take in when you’re sick—they come up with something to make you sleep forever.” He kept hesitating. Things were getting harder to explain.
“So it helps you and cures you and makes you more better?”
“How come? Why would people make something that will make you sleep for a long, long time if it won’t make you get any better?”
He thought of an answer, but nothing presented itself to him. “Actually,” he finally said, “I don’t know.”
“Oh well. The scientists are more smarter than you anyway, so they have an answer, maybe.” She moved away from the tree and he led her through the woods, back to her home, with a single flashlight guiding them. They steered clear of the ants this time, having learned their lesson.
*All you need to know as of now:
1) Robin’s blind but has synesthesia, which should explain why the bite marks “felt red”.
2) The man who leads her through the forest is a killer who murders out of anger from being shunned by society due to his grotesque appearance. Maybe he was born that way; maybe he developed some sickness that made his skin look like it had pus everywhere. I don’t know yet.
3) He does not kill her because of 1 and 2.