“Body Memories, Keening, Scars” by Erin Pushman
Once, when I was twenty, injured, and coveting a married man, I sat on the grass in a park that edged up to a lake. Kevin faced me, under a sky deepening to twilight. The beginning of summer. Purple shadows, the infrequent, semi-distant sound of mosquitos. Kevin’s khaki shorts bagged open under his legs, and from the way he was sitting—facing me, with his knees bent up and his arms draped over them—I could see inside his shorts to his thighs and the legs of his underwear, which I could tell were white boxer-briefs.
Kevin moved then, shifted toward me, put one finger on my right hand, just at the place where my skin puckered into a purple half-moon from a puncture wound. He rubbed his fingertip back and forth over the pucker of that scar—back and forth. My throat tightened like it did before crying. He touched the next scar and the next one. I watched his fingers, the way my skin moved beneath them. He touched each scar on my hand, then reached to my right leg and the swath of scars there; he paused at each mark—the one on the plane of my tibia, the two above my knee, the one with the piece of bark still inside.
Kevin moved to my left leg, ran his finger over the entirety of my long worm-scar, then touched the impression of each puncture.
When he stopped at the last one, small and half way up my thigh, our faces were close.
“There’s one more, isn’t there?” Kevin asked, moving one finger to the edge of my forehead. A short snatch of hair was growing back there. Kevin smoothed it. “Erin?”
I turned away.
Once, when I was twelve, barefooted and quiet, I passed by a crack in my parents’ bedroom door. Lamplight poured out with their voices. Something in them held me, stopped me, drew me right up to the opening in the cedar wall.
My mother sat on the bed, one leg folded before her, one dangling down, knee hooked over the mattress. She was naked, bald. Where her right breast should have been, her chest was concave, rib-shadows visible beneath the reddened skin and purple scars. In the lamplight the bruises around her arm veins softened. Her shoulders slumped. Her back curved. Her remaining breast fell toward her belly. The fingers of her right hand kneaded the quilt. But she was looking up at my father. I saw the moisture gathering beneath her eyelashes.
To avoid my mother’s tears, I looked at my father. His body faced hers, but he was not touching her. He was naked too. I looked away from him.
Low in my stomach, a squeamish tightening. I knew I should not watch. They were not having sex, and the not I understood, was a wrong thing.
“Come on, Bill,” my mother said. Her voice keening. I felt that pain beating from her like a pulse.
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Erin Pushman Artist Statement:
Erin Pushman’s work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Confrontation, Breastfeeding Today, Cold Mountain Review, and More New Monologues by Women for Women, among other journals and anthologies. Her first book is under submission and her second is underway. She is a professor of English at Limestone College, where she directs the Writing Center and teaches writing as a process of constant revision. She is a La Leche League Leader, a natural birth advocate and a mother of two.