Before, people had asked her about her short-sleeved shirt at work. Why, in the middle of the summer, she insisted on wearing the long-sleeved version of her uniform, reserved for the winter months. For different people, at different times, she fumbled through versions of:
“I ripped it.”
“The drier ate it.”
The anxiety of constructing a new lie for each individual co-worker, and wondering if they would talk to one another and figure out she kept making shit up, was nerve-racking. That anxiety was dulled only by the inability to admit to herself that the short-sleeved shirt was actually neatly folded at the bottom of a drawer. But she couldn’t wear it until the bruises healed. Until her skin turned its standard, pasty, white-pink color again, and the grey-violet and green-yellow heaving - almost breathing - raised places faded away. Again. Untraceable. Again.
She thought of grade school. There was a vivid memory of sitting in the swing on the playground. While grasping the chain links of the swing, she would catch whiffs of that dirty iron scent, so specific to holding onto metal in warm weather with the grubby, sweaty hands of a child. She couldn’t bear it, but didn’t want to leave, because there were some cool girls nearby, talking about cool, mature things. She wouldn't miss a moment of their conversation. They were talking about hickeys. How when a boy kisses you on the neck, you'll get pretty rosy marks where his lips were, and then everyone will know you were special enough to be kissed. She stopped swinging. Her thighs were uncomfortably stuck together and to the plastic seat, so she shifted her weight but remained sitting. She stopped listening and started trying to imagine what that would feel like. Not the kisses, or the hickeys, but the ‘special enough.’ The idea of being chosen.
Years later, in college, she would give it up to the first boy that tried to get it from her, purely out of enthusiasm to be desired. She had lain there, unconfident, longing for him to place his lips on her neck and give her a hickey. Instead, his kiss had been an awkward puckering around her mouth, like a fish suffocating out of water. After he left, she remembered going to the mirror to admire her neck, and feeling disappointed that her skin remained unchanged. There were no hickeys. There was no proof that she had been chosen.
Years later, after college, she would meet him. His kisses were, at first, gentle and passionate, and made her feel exclusive; deserving. The marks they would leave on her were soft and admirable. Over time, those marks distorted from pretty rosy patches into misshapen, painful welts. They were no longer created with his mouth, but by his hands, gnarled up into fists.
Now, after he leaves, she goes to the mirror, and she can see the blood rise up to the surface of her flesh and begin to discolor it. She has conditioned herself to be fascinated by the process, rather than horrified. They are hers, and he gave them to her. He marked her as special enough.
She remembered the first time her friends noticed, and asked her what happened. She has been unable to come up with an excuse. Flushed with embarrassment, she had remained silent. But that was years ago, before she knew better than to have friends who ask questions, or to leave the house in a short-sleeved shirt. Now, the denial comes easily. The excuses are second nature. So when her co-workers ask where her uniform is, she can look them in the eye and say, "The dog chewed it to shit."
She didn’t even own a dog.