The Cartographer by Jennifer Todhunter

The Cartographer

He draws my scars on graph paper when I stay up late. He says the ridges remind him of the subway back home, the way the tunnels twist below the surface. He points to one on my shoulder, a fresh one that’s just crusted over, and asks me why.

Why did you hurt yourself, he asks.

I was bad. I deserved it.

He points to another, a two-inch slit on my thigh. A slit that’s almost six months old.

Why, he asks again.

I was bad. I didn’t listen.

This pleases him. He poaches me an egg. He shares his bottle of whiskey with me.

Sometimes he wants to feel my skin. He reaches out a nic-stained finger to run along my wounds. He calls me his tiger. Tells me to purr for him, to growl. To motherfucking roar. I shake my head, not wanting his attention, and he laughs. He asks if I consider myself untameable. If I can get by without a master.

I’ll tame you, he says. I will tame you.

He becomes my cartographer, checks my arms, my legs, my stomach when I shower at night. It becomes a game, the way he documents my self-harm. The way he colour codes the legend to match the quadrants of my body. I cut a small gash here, a thin slit there, to see if he’ll notice. He doesn’t miss a single slice. He scours me like a statue with only one imperfection. But I have many.

He hangs his sketches from clothes pegs in front of the bedroom window. Daylight makes the paper translucent, the interwoven lines a maze to the end of something, the edge of somewhere. One morning, when the whiskey finally knocks him out, I unclip his work and transpose it over a map of this tiny town he’s hidden me in. I look at the avenues, the green spaces, the rivers. I plot a path and pray it will lead me away from this shit hole. Pray it will take me away from this man forever. Then I cut.

One last time, I tell myself. One last time.


The Cartographer


Jennifer is a number nerd, backyard beekeeper, and writer based in Canada. Her stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, (b)OINK, and elsewhere. Find her at or @JenTod_.


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Image: Sidney Hall