The Pool and the Body Parts
Summer bared my one-and-a-half shoulders, showed my scars. I thought I’d hate it, planned to. But except for workdays with the hot prosthetic arm, I liked it.
I’d walk to an old public pool in my neighborhood. Flip-flops smacked the pavement. The sun scorched my neck. Other people’s eyes scorched too. I drew them to me.
The scars tingled when I tore off my shirt. A white, webbed tangle — it sparkled over my chest and back. It looked like hair that hadn’t been combed, or like lace, delicate and expensive.
But that was over my back and chest — cuts and scrapes from the accident, from being rolled and stretched beneath car tires.
The scars from the amputation were different — clinical, surgical. There were sharp lines and stitches that were counted, measured. They weren’t concealed or turned inward. Who sewed that way? What idiot? The flap wasn’t even smooth.
The bone end lumped beneath it all. A hard knob thrust outward, fought to puncture the membrane of stretched and knotted skin. It was a thing alive under there, vicious. When I moved slowly, it was a cat convulsing under a sheet. Quickly, and it was two animals — at least two — biting and clawing at each other. They brawled beneath a crust of ghost-white scars.
When I felt eyes on me, when I imagined what they saw, it was almost enough to swirl the juices in my stomach. To heave, to feel the ghost heave with me — I could almost make my body whole in that one way, in that revulsion.
Some part of me wanted to feel the scars, to trace the bumpy ropes with my fingers, work the hard knots that might be bone or something else. That might have worked. The ghost wouldn’t let me, blocked it with his clasp, tight and pinching. And if he wasn’t there, it was the plastic, grating against the bumps and snarls and gristle.
At the pool, the scar tissue reflected light like a halo. Or maybe it was the ghost.
But exposing it — the ugly — it burned. I craved it, relished the searing.
By the end of the summer, I was hardly self-conscious. I’d stand waist-deep, squared off at the lifeguard. The visible part of me was still, but the ghost made waterspouts in the blue beside me.
And then I’d leap, some days, feet first into the deep end. I pointed my toes, hailed the sky with my single arm. I crouched at the bottom of the pool. The surface was like a sheet. It was just me and my ghost down there, invisible and squirming.
They weren’t real. I was young when my dad told me that. They weren’t real, those floating specimens in the wavy glass jars at the medical museum. Not the pig parts — the fetal pig with its snout in the wrong place. Not the rats, fuzzy skin submerged, bellies split open like coin purses. I was young then. Those weren’t real babies, he said. In the clear fluid, curled off like tadpoles, skin rubbery and transparent. They didn’t float, after all. But hovered beneath the surface.
But they were real specimens, as real as I was. Weren’t they? Where had they gotten those parts?
I wanted to be normal. I thought so. But it grew hard to imagine.
Allison Wyss is obsessed with body modification, dismemberment, and fairy tales. Her work has appeared in Booth, Juked, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, The Southeast Review, PANK, and elsewhere. She teaches at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. And she tweets — mostly about toddlers, writing, and resistance — as @AllisonWyss.
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