Blemished by Stephen V. Ramey

December 15, 2011 Comments Off on Blemished by Stephen V. Ramey

There is no blemish on Carla’s cheek, no purple hand print, no red smear, not even a mottled bruise to mar her otherwise perfect skin. Still, she cannot stop herself. She looks twice into every reflection she passes, as if the first look has suppressed its reflective nature in order to shield her from herself. Out of empathy, she supposes.

In the morning, she moisturizes her face, applies a concealer, then one blush dusting after another until her husband bangs the door. It never fully works, but at least it lets her feel as if she has done her best.

This morning, Karl’s knock comes early. “Carla, I’m going to be late. I have to stop at the Post Office, remember?”

“Just a moment.” Carla dips the brush, scrapes, applies. The next stroke is to the opposite cheek to even her out.

“I’m serious, Carla. I have a big day ahead of me.”

“Just a moment,” Carla says. She turns her face. A reddish blotch glares. More concealer, she thinks, but that means stripping her skin bare and starting again.

“Carla!” The doorknob rattles.

Air leaks out of her. It will have to do. She unlocks the door.

“It’s about time,” Karl mutters as he slips past.

At breakfast, she eats with one palm pressed to her cheek, delicately placing her fork down in order to grasp her coffee mug and sip.

Karl looks up from his paper. Carla can’t take her eyes from the distorted index finger angling from his joint. Shrapnel from an IED nearly tore that finger off in the process of killing his friend. He still wakes at night, sweat dripping down his face, a scream frozen in his throat.

“Why don’t you eat like a normal human being?” Karl says.

“Okay,” she mouths. She pulls her hand away a millimeter at a time.

“There,” he says. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“No,” she lies. She feels exposed.

“Carla?”

She meets Karl’s hard eyes. Usually she looks away, but today she does not.

There’s a melting between them, a softening. An image comes into her, a muffled silence, the muddy, bloody body of a best friend twisted at her feet, a bubble pushing up from her stomach through her chest, emerging as a scream, the scream morphing into consuming light, a flame of agony up and down her skin, toes curling inside her boots, fists clenching into balls. Then it’s gone, replaced by her vanilla childhood.

Karl sets his coffee cup down. The mangled finger is red with ceramic heat.

“You’ll be late,” Carla says into her lap.

Paper rustles. The chair scuts. She feels Karl walk around the table. She glances up long enough to receive his morning kiss. Then he is gone and Carla’s palm returns to her cheek.

© 2011 Stephen V. Ramey

Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania, home to not one, but two pyrotechnics manufacturers. His work has appeared in various places, including The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Bartleby Snopes, and Caper Literary Journal. http://www.stephenvramey.wordpress.com

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