“Do you want to go into the bedroom?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I said.
I had seen her twice, and on this second time, she invited me up to her one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a pretty nice walkup. The kitchen had a skylight and so did the bathroom, she said.
She was already topless and I followed her into the bedroom. I saw she had a long scar on her spine that began mid-back and disappeared below her skirt. It reminded me of a piece of medieval vellum I had seen in a museum once. The vellum had been doodled on all over by monks who probably did nothing but draw all day, trying to get to God by gradually perfecting their art. I remember that somehow, through the mysterious violence of history, the vellum had been slashed in half and then roughly fused back together in an attempt to connect the severed doodle lines. Somehow they didn’t really connect the way they used to.
It was dark in her room; I think it made her more comfortable. We both removed the rest of our clothes and got into her bed. We continued to kiss, and she grabbed me and tried to get me ready for her, which was difficult for her to do because her twice-seen newness intimidated me. She teased herself with the fearful part of me that she was trying to convince to trust her and told me we had to be safe. After less than a minute of trying to keep us safe, I lay down next to her and told her there was no way I’d be able to get that thing on.
“I’m not on the pill,” she mumbled.
I didn’t respond because I didn’t understand what she had said. Instead I focused on the rough patch of her skin at the place where she had a new snail in a purple lotus. The snail, she told me later, was whimsical and her friend’s idea; the lotus represented something special to her. She went on while I traced the rough skin on her thigh around to her back, and softly fingered the scar, as if it were a long line of braille that I might read if I could teach myself how.
“I was pregnant when I was 17. Then again at 19, by two different guys. Both guys were terrible but at least the second guy protected me from the first when I broke up with him to be with the second.” She laughed at the memory.
She told me the story of the first boyfriend, then the second. I had meant, what happened to the two pregnancies, although I guess I didn’t need to ask.
“I went on the pill after the second one. Then one day I wasn’t feeling right and went to the hospital. It turns out I had a blood clot because of the pill, and it was wrecking my insides. So I haven’t been on anything for about ten years.”
“You must be very fertile,” I joked. Then seriously: “But you don’t have anything to worry about with me.”
She looked up at me. Her face seemed to say, “I want to believe you, but I don’t quite.”
“Didn’t I tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
I showed her the faint wound on my wrinkled skin that had become difficult to see over the years. She poked it, like Thomas the Apostle might have done all those years ago, although I think that even after that, she still doubted.
“I asked my ex-husband to have that done. He wouldn’t do it.”
“You were married a long time.”
“For 14 years.”
“How long since you’ve been divorced?”
“I got this place two months ago. We divorced officially in the spring but we’d known it was coming for a long time.” She put her hand on my belly. “When did you get it done?”
“Almost 10 years ago. I always knew what I wanted. Or didn’t want, I should say. Anyway I don’t think it’s fair for women to always have to be responsible for it, and that’s another reason I got it. I’m sorry about how things turned out with your husband, but I’m glad I can be here with you now.”
I kissed her and played with her thick black hair, a silver streak in the front like a beautiful, mohawked Bride of Frankenstein, and followed all the doodles on her skin. It was fun, like I was coloring. My hand always wandered to her back, to the scar that spanned almost a fifth of her height.
“You keep touching my back. Do you think it’s weird?”
“Of course not. I keep touching it because—” I wanted to say because it meant something, it was perfect. But I didn’t know what I meant by that. “Because it feels good to me.”
“It feels good to me, too.”
“How’d you get this, anyway?”
“It’s not really that interesting, but I’ll tell you if you want.” She told me how her condition was “idiopathic,” how she first had surgery when she was in middle school, and how she had to have two more surgeries since then. She said she probably was used to the pain of the ink needle before she had ever felt it.
She cut her story short and was quiet for a long time; I don’t know why. Rolling onto her back, she let me touch her wherever I wanted, and I did. I was hoping she would try me again, and she did. She eventually stopped because my body was still afraid.
She said with quiet exasperation, “What’s wrong? It’s me, isn’t it—am I too aggressive? I shouldn’t have invited you up like this. I’m too aggressive.”
“No, you did just what I wanted but was afraid to ask. So far, you’re just right; you’re just who I hoped you’d be.”
Her eyes almost closed so that I thought maybe she was falling asleep. “It’s getting late, and you’ve got a long drive. You can stay here of course, if you want.”
“I’ll only leave if I can come back,” I said and smiled. I thought that maybe she didn’t want me to stay.
“Oh, so if I won’t let you come back you won’t leave?” That made her laugh.
I touched her back again gently and then got up, got dressed, kissed her, and left.
Walking down the three flights of stairs, I reflected on the things she had talked to me about. We only had a couple of hours together; there were 36 years of her life that I missed and wanted to catch up on. If I had to catch up on 36 years of television, I couldn’t do it. But I seemed to think I could do it with a person.
I started my car and let it idle. I had a feeling I wouldn’t see her again.
“That’s just a feeling. You’re going to have to wait and see what happens, and that takes a long time,” I said aloud to myself.
Before I drove away, I sent her a text message that said, “Thanks for letting me see your scar.”
Late the next day I got a response. It said, “Thanks for letting me see yours.
Henry Grace is a writer and artist that comes from nowhere in particular, which is also to say he comes from everywhere. His current home is on Oʻahu, and he will probably stay there forever because he likes the land and the people. This is the second time his work has been included in an 1888 publication. He also keeps a fiction blog at www.henrygrace.com called Stories of Hawai‘i.