Rumpus Original Fiction: Scale


With my first blood, a scale appears, hard and iridescent in the soft skin below my arm. In bathroom mirror light, elbow raised, I press and prod, fingertips rusted from menstrual discovery. They trace red, which soaks into the skin and blossoms more scales, reflecting blue and green. I wash my hands.

And the scales spread.

One tucks behind my ear. A colony stars from the pivot of each knee. I ask my mother to buy me jeans for school. Childhood skirts will not hide the scales. At school, the boys yell to each other across the halls, smack hello, and sweat. We girls compare our summer discoveries.

And we say, “I’m a B-cup now.”

“My acne’s horrendous.”

“My mother won’t let me use tampons.”

I’ve got a sleeve of scales. I imagine pulling back the fabric at my wrist, the girls gasping at my jagged dark cuff of blue.

The scales do not hurt, not as they grow onto my new breasts, not as they wrap from my heels to the soles of my feet. They are slick beneath my clothes, gliding against them as I move. It tickles a bit. With my sixth blood, I notice the heat. I do not think the scales are meant to be covered. Still, I cover them. Gym class becomes a problem.

“Why do you change in the stalls?”

“You must be hot in those sweatpants.”

“Just put your hair up.”

Come see, I want to say. Come slide your fingers across my shoulder. Feel the cool. Slip a fingernail between scales. See them shift in your touch. It doesn’t hurt.

And the boys call out to girls in shorts.

With my fifteenth blood, I notice my eyes. Glancing, their color blends from gray to gold. The scales crest my jawbone, crawl up onto my cheek, scattered green among freckles.

“Did you get contacts?” the girls ask. Scales grow onto my lips, small and interlocking, flexible. They meet my hairline, round the creases in my ear, creep downward from my belly button.

And my blood no longer pauses, flowing hot through the month.

And I am all scales, deep blue and green reflecting.

And the girls whisper, “He likes you.” They point to a boy with golden hair. He smiles and looks away, but I buy a ticket for the dance anyway.

My mother sews a dress. “Red,” she says, “to go with your new green.” We buff my scales to a shine and heat creeps between them.

The school cafeteria bursts crepe and taffeta. The girls pull me into their throng. We dance, close and laughing. They hold my arm, put their cheek to mine, grinning for photos, for boys watching from walls. Flashing lights bounce off my scales.

And the boy grasps my hand. He pulls me from the press of girls.

In the place where his hand meets mine, my scales fade to soft pale skin. He asks me to dance. The girls murmur but I cannot hear their words. Heat rolls in my chest. We dance slow, and every place his arm brushes mine, scales become flesh. I guide his hand to my back, low so there is dress fabric between us. I am hot. We go outside and he brushes my cheek, a line of freckles returning beneath his palm.

“Better?” he asks and pulls me to him. Scales blend into my skin. My hands are patchwork scale and skin and the spot on my back where he brushed his hand is moist with sweat and it is not right.

And he kisses me.

And my lips turn pink.

And I run. He calls after me, but I do not stop until I reach the bathroom. In cold mirror light I prod my cheek, newly soft. Unscaled, squishy and warm.

The girls peek in the door. They file into the bathroom.

“What’s wrong?”

“Why are you crying?”

“Where are your scales?”

And then one breaks from the group, taller than me and slender, her dark hair smelling of her mother’s perfume. She takes my hand, warmly, and traces fingers across my new skin. There, along the path of her touch, the scales return. Up my arms and to my back, she strokes and green flecks reappear. She trails up my neck to my cheekbone. And it is right. The pad of her finger drops to my lip.

And a scale blooms on her palm.



Rumpus original art by Isis Davis Marks

McKenzie Watterson is a Montana-born writer and educator. An MFA recipient from Stony Brook University, she now teaches writing and literature to incarcerated teens through the nonprofit Free Verse Writing Project. Her essay "Running Through Us" can be found in The Southampton Review. She is on Instagram @mckenzie.watterson.writes. More from this author →