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Mary Rossi

Facing It

A warrior walks home alone at night; thirty, wrinkled clothes, worn-out face. She carries a gym bag on her shoulder.

Sunday night. Midnight; it’s a horrible time, her mind all wound up with thoughts that she can’t push aside. She has one more stop to make. As she reaches her destination, she pauses a moment by the door, stares up at the bright “Open” flashing purple and green above her; hypnotizing. It soothes her some, shifting her focus to the present for just a moment. There are no customers inside, the lone worker seated in one of the chairs as he thumbs through a magazine. She heads inside.

“What kind do you want?” the guy asks, pushing a book of designs at her to look through; she pushes it back.

She’d had an idea earlier that morning, as well as where on her body she had wanted it, but both had changed at the last minute. It was why she’d made the appointment in the first place; she had grown tired of looking at her arm. Had grown tired of people staring at it whenever they too caught sight of it, had grown tired of having to always wear long sleeves because she had grown tired of people staring at it. They reached all the way up to her shoulder, the scars, all crowded together with barely any skin left in between or around. Deep and long and red-black, she’d done them all herself. In a way, she was proud of them; they showed that she wasn’t afraid of pain, that she was strong.

It had been this pride that had convinced her not to go with her original idea, right as she was taking her last lap earlier that evening in the pool. She would wear them like badges of honor; she didn’t need to hide behind a couple of pricey ink drawings. But she’d made the appointment already, and as she climbed out of the pool, she had wondered what she might get now instead.

In the chair, her leg jiggles nervously as the guy preps his tools. Her gym bag sits on the floor next to the chair, her wet swimsuit and towel stuffed inside. Tangled up with both is a battered old book; Macbeth. She likes to read during breaks while she rests.

The snap of latex stings her ears as the guy pulls on a pair of gloves, then reaches for the metal needle, the tip hovering just above the back of her sterilized left hand. Her right hand white-knuckles the armrest.

But screw your courage to the sticking-place.

The needle hums across her skin, drawing blood. She can’t look away fast enough; it’s like a trigger being pulled, thoughts erupting in her mind, the sudden glint of red like the flash of a shot being taken.

All my pretty ones? Did you say all?

At night, she has nightmares of dusty wedding rings and empty swing sets, of blood and bullets. Mother/father/sister/brother/son/daughter/friend. In these nightmares, she can feel the painful kick of a gun against her shoulder, and wakes with a phantom pain throbbing there. Shakespeare is her favorite writer because of how she must use every bit of her focus to understand, and on bad nights she’ll spend until dawn beneath the covers, slowly working her way down page after page until her mind is relatively quiet.

Come to my woman’s breasts, and take my milk for gall.

Lady Macbeth. Broken mind/broken spirit/broken morals; killer/sinner. Who could love a woman like that? wonders the warrior, fretfully.

A little water clears us of this deed.

Not water (chlorine/sweat/blood/tears); not words (whispered names/whispered apologies/prayers for forgiveness, for peace). Not anything.

What’s done cannot be undone.

Four years of fighting; you are what you now, forever.

The guy pulls back the needle at last, and she looks down to see.

She’d decided on the design just as she was leaving the gym that evening, the idea coming to her so suddenly, so clearly. It was so simple, so perfect. No chance of forgetting what you are, so why try?

What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

Pale red splotches, on the backs of her hands and along her fingers, the skin swollen and pink around and beneath the ink.

Out, damned spot.

Bloodstains; faded-looking, almost gone, but still there nonetheless. Always there.

Out, I say.

Her hands ache as she picks up her bag from the floor and pushes open the parlor door, stepping out onto the sidewalk. She walks home quickly, the cold air whipping painfully against her hands. In bed, she sleeps on her back with her arms on top of her covers, fingers spread slightly out. The pain is enough to keep her mind off her usual thoughts, allowing her to slip easily into sleep. Just as her usual dreams are beginning to take shape, the clock down the street strikes one, and as it does, the fog rolls into the city.

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