The Savages

by Bonnie Pockley

“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful we quiver before…”

– Donna Tartt

‘Perhaps all the dragons in our lives…are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless…’

-R.M. Rilke

The most beautiful woman I’ve ever met was a St Kilda living, dangerous-curves type. Teenage boys would stop her in the street, nervously declaring to her what she already knew: ‘You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,’ they’d tremble and she’d thank them but look away. I think it bored her. I wonder how many times she’d heard it before?

People stared at her. They traced her with their eyes until she was out of sight. What most people didn’t know was that half her body was covered in horrendous scars. I mean, you’d see them and think, ‘What on earth?’ Worse than burn scars and strange in the mangling of the flesh. Savage.

The story went – as I got to know her over time – that she was swimming at Bells Beach one summer when she was attacked by a shark. I don’t know how she escaped. I don’t know what happened next. All I know is that she never looked anyone directly in the eye and had developed a permanent, but barely noticeable tremor – shaking slightly before those who shook before her.