Isabella Valdez | Lakshmy Mathur
I heard you’ve been waiting tables in your underwear. That you’ve been flitting from customer to customer, balancing serving dishes on your forearms, cutlery dancing off your fingertips. When I went down to the diner where you work you weren’t there, even though it was your shift. I asked for the manager, and when he realized who I was asking for, he scooped me up by the collar, brought his sweaty nose down to mine, and asked where the fuck you were. I pushed him off and shrugged, and then I asked him what this no clothes business was about. He said you showed up like that one day, your lilac thighs exposed, and no amount of coaxing could get you to cover them up. I apologized, said you’d be in soon, I was sure, you were just running a little late. He watched me until the door swung shut.
On the walk home, it snowed. I wondered if you wanted people to see your bruises, if you were tired of the overcast glances. I remember you leaving before you’d left, pulling polka dot socks over the scars your father gave you after he’d tied your ice skates too tight, the laces burning through your ankles. And it’s at the thought of this childhood landmark that makes me wonder how much you’ve been stripped down. I have a hard time thinking about the you that came out of your mother’s womb, covered in blood and vernix, wrinkled but untouched.
When you’re late getting home, I sit in the dark and look through the photographs we keep under the bed. Through the thickness of the night, I try to find our faces. Sometimes I catch a smile or a wave, but never a face, never a hand. Eventually, I’ll fall asleep and eventually you’ll come back; but until then, I’ll keep searching.
In class, we just started expository essays, and I only ever think about you. You and your darkened hair growing past your glasses, your nervous nose twitches in the moonlit theater. The room shrinks at the thought of you as if you’re sitting behind me, scribbling the best notes you can in the time you’ve got. And before we’re dismissed, before I can turn around and look at you, you’re gone, and the room billows like it’s caught in a storm.
I’ve found you in the bathroom on your hands and knees, scouring for silverfish, centipedes, and spiders. Your eyes were focused and without looking at me, you said, “Just go back to sleep. I’ll be there soon.” The second you slid under the sheets you fell asleep. I couldn’t help but touch your palms; they’re calloused and cut from all your midnight endeavors. I angled my body toward your’s and inhaled the smell of bleach.
This time next week, you could be serving eggs naked, or pouring coffee without skin. And I wonder how much longer you can go before there’s nothing left to expose.