We were then young girls and our want was written on our skins. Between our legs and along our necks and wrists, our skin craved friction and more friction. We kissed calluses into the backs of our hands, murmuring comfort at the enflamed flesh, but still, our skin would not be satisfied. In the dark, we rubbed pillows against stinging nipples and curled knee to chin, hoping to keep the skin from flying from our bodies. Stay with me, we said. In the mornings, we woke to puddles of wet sugar in our beds and wrung moisture from our underwear.
We didn’t know then that the skin was unraveling already. By the time we realized, it hung loose and ethereal, trailing after us as a veil. Afraid our nails might tear the delicate tissue far worse, we pulled it back on as best we could, hiking it up our legs and over our torsos, clamping it beneath our armpits. Attempts to secure it with barrettes and ribbon failed. The skin would not come back together; it would not be mended. We covered new flesh, hiding steaming breast and sinew, though little wisps of want kept escaping from beneath the hems of our skirts. We could not stop it. On Sundays, we kept the moans behind our teeth and our tongues tasted bread. On our knees, we wondered how to accept His flesh, if not our own.
To our parents, we became like voracious animals, eager prey to Buntis, that fiendish possessor of young girls. Buntis takes them, our parents said, these girls. These eager girls. Taken and their legs parted, their bellies palpated. Paraded through streets, intricate letter B’s woven onto their chests. We would know the fallen by their linea nigra, a line that could be traced from their pelvises to their breasts, evidence of the shame Buntis brought them. And when it was time, our parents said, Buntis would unzip these would-be-monsters from the inside out. We accepted their stories without question, afraid inquiry might draw attention to what we could no longer hide—our skin was unzipping itself.
But even the fear of Buntis could not keep our want silent. We whispered behind closed doors and in our inventiveness repurposed everyday objects into talismans: douches, plastic wrap, party balloons, Coke bottles for shaking into makeshift spermicide. And inevitably, rollercoasters to churn our wombs, herbs to coax cramps from our sides. And then there were always rocks to sit on. Stairs to fall down. Hangers to swing from. On the nights we are at our most monstrous, we play at rape, the act we thought took choice and blame from us. We sit cross-legged on the floor taking turns kissing ruled paper, leaving signatures of our want on the lines, openmouthed kisses in gloss and matte lipsticks that yawn like empty pink circles just waiting to be filled. “I’m afraid I might like it,” she says between kisses. Her skin is almost entirely off now. She doesn’t bother hiding. “I’m afraid I would need to pretend to be scared.” And maybe we would. Like it. Being held down and filled. The friction sawing us apart.
I sit on the lid of the toilet listening to her bathe. The lights are off at her request, and like the thin shower curtain separating us, the darkness hides nothing. “Did you say no?” My tentative question lingers in the warm air when her light splashing stops. “Did I no him?” Her voice is soft, yet easy to hear in the echoing confines of our small confessional. “I knew him. If that’s what you mean. Or thought I did.” She lifts herself from the tub and pulling on her robe, hesitates, then sits back in the water. Taps on again, steam rises in great whorls away from her, the fabric of her robe clinging and tangling, almost translucent against her body. We always assumed our eagerness would be yes enough, and because we are wrong, any act of contrition on our part seems impossible. We should have held onto our skins more tightly. Should have stitched ourselves together with needle and thread. Instead, we wonder what was ever such the hurry.
Rumpus original art by Erech Overaker.