Long before she bought her first pair of fishnets and rolled down the waistband on her skirts to raise the hemline, there was a nakedness in her eyes like swollen blackberries on a leaf-barren vine.
She looked for it in other people, touching strangers’ arms in passing to lure a glance and thumbing the brows over young eyes, soggy with whiskey, until one night there was a wicked dance between the conversationalists in her head that lasted well into morning.
Her ugliness was unique.
She wore it in embarrassment, like stained panties, discreetly, always glimpsing behind to ensure invisibility. She tried to calm the pain by holding in her stomach. Jutted hipbones, concave stomach, fleshless between her thighs, she fumbled around like a skeleton, a skeleton with bulging ugly eyes.
It comes on so slowly, this change in routine. Yet every season I find myself fighting to hang onto habitual tasks. I need another summer morning to pin clothes to the line while still in my nightgown. I need another autumn afternoon to sit on the porch and listen to dry leaves skitter down the road. I need another winter morning with shoes overturned and toasting on the heat vents.
When it’s a couple of weeks into spring before I notice they’re gone, I know something has happened to me. On Monday morning I go to the back door to put on my shoes, and they aren’t there. One morning, I’ve forgotten exactly which one, I woke up with the sun warming the bed and a foot hanging out from under the covers to cool, and left it bare.
Spring came while I was sleeping, without a fight, without an upset in routine, without a yearning for twenty more minutes under an old warm quilt. Spring came, and I changed with its first dewy breath.
It’s the subtlety, the unobserved abrupt change, that inspires me; always controlled, conforming to nonconformity, and now a foot finding its way out of the bed sheets, willing to step on a piece of glass or a rusty nail if it means freedom from restraint, seems to have changed it all.
She withdraws from her name, wondering why, as a child, she wrote it on everything she owned – black magic marker on a backpack, silver paint pen on a leather jacket, the image etched into her flesh by a man named Shaker. There aren’t statues of cats, at least, posed and lined up on wooden shelves hanging on the wall. She never would have gone that far.
She forgot how it started. Maybe a joke or a boyfriend’s observation about the shape of her eyes? It wasn’t long after she heard the name in the hallways that she began painting her eyes thick and black, and started wearing stockings that left red crisscross patterns on her knees.
Then the nights came when her mother was gone, and her stepfather played solitaire next to a row of beer cans at the kitchen table, and she sat behind the locked door of her walk-in closest, taping pictures to the wall that had been drawn by boys with steady hands. Sometimes she would stand under the bare bulb, lick her finger, and smudge the lines until fine bits of gray paper peeled up, just to ease the time away.
She liked the name mixed with liquor in the mouths of sweaty boys, but even more so when they screamed it through thin gaping lips. Naked, except for their tight black jeans and studded belts, they cursed her name until they forgot it, all of them.
It seemed fitting, she thought one day, while painting her eyes beneath the glow of a bare bulb in the dressing room, that the DJ should call out the name whispered in love so many times but soon forgotten.