Listen: I don't want to have this argument again. I fully accept that Kevin may never have touched her. As far as I could tell she had clawed herself open without any help. It itched and she'd given in, and I dare say that finally scraping her fingernails into that hideous red crust must have felt delicious. I even sensed a trace of vengefulness in the extent of the damage, or perhaps a misguided medical conviction that with sufficiently surgical application she might exfoliate the scaly bane of her existence once and for all.
Still, I've never forgotten my glimpse of her face when we found her, for it bespoke not only plain enjoyment but a release that was wilder, more primitive, almost pagan. She knew it would hurt later and she knew she was only making her skin condition worse and she knew her mother would be beside herself, and it was this very apprehension with which her expression was suffused, and which gave it, even in a girl of five, a hint of obscenity. She would sacrifice herself to this one glorious gorging, consequences be damned. Why, it was the very grotesquerie of the consequences — the bleeding, the stinging, the hair-tear back home, the unsightly black scabs in the weeks to come — that seemed to lie at the heart of her pleasure.
That night you were furious.
"So a little girl scratched herself. What has that to do with my son?"
"He was there! This poor girl, flaying herself alive, and he did nothing."
"He's not her minder, Eva, he's one of the kids!"
"He could have called someone, couldn't he? Before it went so far?" "Maybe, but he's not even six until next month. You can't expect him to be that resourceful or even to recognize what's 'too far' when all she's doing is scratching. None of which remotely explains why you let Kevin squish around the house, all afternoon from the looks of him, plastered in shit!" A rare slip. You forgot to say poop.
"It's thanks to Kevin that Kevin's diapers stink because it's thanks to Kevin that he wears diapers at all." Bathed by his outraged father, Kevin was in his room, but I was aware of the fact that my voice carried. "Franklin, I'm at my wit's end! I bought all those there's-nothing-dirty-about-poo how-to books and now he thinks they're stupid because they're written for two-year-olds. We're supposed to wait until he's interested, but he's not, Franklin! Why should he be when Mother will always clean it up? How long are we going to let this go on, until he's in college?"
"Okay, I accept we're in a positive reinforcement loop. It gets him attention — "
"We're not in a loop but a war, Franklin. And our troops are decimated. We're short on ammunition. Our borders are overrun."
"Can we get something straight? Is this your new potty-training theory, let him slum around in his own crap and get it all over our white sofa? This is instructional? Or is it punishment? Because somehow this latest therapy of yours seems all mixed up with your lunatic indignation that some other kid got an itch."
"He enticed her."
"Oh, for Pete's sake."