October 3, 2016 by The Citron Review
by Benito Vergara
Each one told a story, and she knew them all. But one day she ran out of tales to tell.
She was at the mirror, after her bath, her reflection a wet smear in the glass. He had entered and pointed to her back, his finger a question mark.
Right here, he said, tracing a line on her damp skin.
She frowned. Where? She looked back, straining to see, and could not.
He swiped across the bathroom mirror with his palm and gently turned her around. Now she could see: two to three inches long, to the right of her left shoulder blade. The scar’s tone was that of a dull, old anger. Alarmed, she reached back but could barely touch the upper edge of the scar. Her finger longed to rub it.
The scar was a thin strip of delicately raised flesh, warm under his fingertips.
She squirmed at his inspection.
Don’t move, he said. He pressed on her skin, feeling the scar spring back.
Enough, she said. She tried again to touch it herself but her hands could not reach.
She remembered, in a time that felt distant, the touch of his lips on her shoulder blades. She shivered happily.
Of course they knew each other’s geographies. Her body his and vice versa, twinned in what seemed the natural order of things, in the way of a marriage. When younger they had explored each other in silence, as amateur cartographers, committing each curve and freckle to memory. Then they started using words, and the topic again was their bodies.
A scar on her knee, from a fall off a playground swing. A scar on her upper arm, the shape of a raisin, to ward off smallpox. A scar on her right shin, the ghost of a dog bite. They were fascinated by how her skin could tell such stories.
Tell me about this one again, he would ask, and she would tell him. How the dog wagged its tail, before it snapped. How, on the swing, she wanted to go higher and higher. How she then let go to see what would happen.
But she had no stories to tell about this new scar.
The scar beckoned to him as she stood to brush her teeth. It peeked out from a nightgown as she sat at the edge of the bed. He kept succumbing to the urge to touch the scar, a stirring within him, his fingers drawn to the trespass on her skin. He was fascinated with the unexpected thickness on her smooth back, how it yielded to his hands, how the scar tapered to a soft point at its bottom edge, flesh disappearing into flesh. A new part of her, revealed only to him.
She would lie in bed, her back to him, and his touch would inevitably turn, and return, to the scar. She felt the probe of his fingers, insistent.
Enough, she said, twisting away, thinking, It’s mine.
She could not recall any wounds, no memory of injuries. She thought of seeing her doctor, but it neither itched nor stung. But she could sense it under her blouse, a present and worrying thing. The trace of some forgotten violence on her skin. It was hers, but she could not see it.
You worry too much, he said. He was always so rational.
So at first she thought of the ordinary. An allergic reaction, a bra strap too tight, a wire fence under which she ducked but could not remember.
But there were other possibilities, more fanciful than the next. Bushes and branches snagging at her. An accidental scratch in her sleep. A caterpillar dropping from a tree as she hung their clothes on a line to dry.
She ruled them all out. The more stories she told and discarded, the more her worries grew.
When the second scar appeared on the other shoulder, the stories were spun, but in secret. Its appearance, too, was a companion to the first: after her bath, at the mirror, his discovery of something she could not see.
Perhaps a scratch, he said, after a pause. What could have cut you like this? He almost said Who and thought better of it.
Perhaps a scratch, she said. It was all she could say, struck dumb by the testimonies on her skin.
They went to bed, wakeful in their mutual unknowing.
His mind wandered, pulled to different narratives. She running blind in the forest, trees grasping after her. Wild couplings in which he was not a participant. The same irrational stories over and over. He kept them to himself. He tried to forget.
But every night, opposite him in bed, he would see the scars again and remember. On summer days, there they were, the evidence of deeds he
When he held her, his fingertips would rest cautiously on the terra incognita of her back.
She stood at the kitchen sink, looking out the window to the trees beyond, thinking of the stories her scars told.
She had begun to understand that the scars, these curious symmetries on her body, were not unknown at all. They were hers, all hers, all along. She did not know that such an intimacy, such a warm thrill, could emerge from her unsettling. She shivered happily.
Who could say she did not run through the forest in moonlit abandon, the branches reaching out to her, the trees calling her name?
And who could say she did not feel the hot sprout of wings from her skin, the tickle of feathers unfurling from dark thicket, the sensation on her shoulders that was heft and lightness all at once, the tingle in the soles of her feet as she lifted herself, into the sky, away from everything.
She thought: Once, I flew.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Benito Vergara is the author of two academic monographs, Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th-Century Philippines, and Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City. His work has appeared in The Open Bar at Tin House, Entropy, and the anthology Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 7. His SmokeLong Quarterly story “Stone, Well, Girl” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has also received a fellowship from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and blogs occasionally at The Wily Filipino.