Trace by Aimee Mepham
On Thursdays, you have art class after lunch. The teacher sends you, one by one, to a parent volunteer waiting in the hallway by the south wing doors. Rolls of paper are wheeled out on a metal contraption. You’ve seen something like it before, in department stores, at Christmas gift wrap stations. The paper catches air like crisp white sails along Grand Traverse Bay in June. The mother of the twins instructs you to lie down and traces with magic marker the outline of a girl.
“You’re very still,” she says. “The other kids fidget and fuss.”
A quiver of delight as the marker lingers around your head and shoulders, over and around each of your stubby fingers. The memory of playground games stirring.
Criss cross, applesauce, spiders crawling up your back.
On science afternoons, the teacher says in her half-shout, “The skin is a sense organ. It contains millions of nerve endings that detect many different sensations and carry them to the brain!” When your mother pretends to be the “tickle monster,” you always laugh before she even touches you.
The twins’ mother says, “Stand up now.” You look down and think of the chalk outlines behind flashing lights and yellow tape from the Saturday afternoon movies your dad lets you watch while your mother grocery shops.
“All set,” the woman says when she’s through cutting out the silhouette. A white shadow. A girl-shaped kite without a string. She sends you back to class.
Kids slop rubber cement on pictures cut from old magazines. Boys fight over issues of Sports Illustrated. They fill the cut-outs with overlapping photos of flowers and footballs and ring-tailed lemurs. The favorite things that make up boys and girls.
You take your blunt-edged scissors and cut off your white right hand. You throw it in the trash and take the paper girl to the teacher. “I messed mine up,” you say. “We can just glue that back,” she says. “Where’s the hand?” You shrug. She frowns, tells you that you should not waste paper, but sends you back down the hall.
You find the twins’ mother, show her your mistake and ask, “Can you do mine again?”
Eyes closed, you feel weightless. You imagine the marker tracing around and around until you are lifted off the ground, infinite and empty. When the twins’ mother, alarmed and tender, asks you why you are crying, you have no answer. You cannot remember ever having cried without a reason.
In your choir robes in the church basement, you line up in twos. Jill, standing behind you, leans over and whispers, “Pay attention during the Passing of the Peace. When he shakes your hand, if a man traces his middle finger down the center of your palm, it means he wants to fuck you.” She demonstrates when you ask what it will feel like. In confirmation class, you read the letters of St. Paul, about the greeting of “a holy kiss” before the distribution of communion.
The pastor says, “In the spirit of reconciliation and of unity in Christ, let us pass the peace among one another.”
You wipe your wet hands on your robe.
When you pledge they call you little sisters and tell you to lie on the carpet and close your eyes. With your lids shut tight, you can still see the room in your head. The grand piano in one corner and a glass display case full of polished, engraved silver in the other. The brocade couches and the white rose wallpaper border. The framed sorority photographs in which everyone wears the same borrowed pearls and black velvet stole.
In your psychology of human sexuality course, you learn that the DSM IV, where psychiatric illnesses are represented as numerals, classifies frotteurism as 302.89.
You can hear the whoosh of their footsteps in the carpet, though they are slight girls. There is something like joy, something that makes a tear slip through your pinched eyelids, in that moment before the slender fingers brush your shoulder, your neck, the back of your thigh.
In the city, you smoke too many cigarettes and eat Special K for every meal. You are always moving, always carrying something, and your sandals collect the dust of each neighborhood in between your toes.
The bicycle courier leans into the back corner of the elevator to look you up and down. You can feel his gaze, then the heat from his body, and you shiver as he leans a bit closer and, with the end of the envelope he’s carrying, lifts the hem of your skirt to your hip.
“You got nice, strong legs,” he says, moving out from his corner and closer to you, still not touching. “Can I kiss you?” he asks.
Your floor’s number lights up, a bell sounds, and you are away and into the hallway, the doors closing behind you. You don’t have time to explain that you might have been his, if only he had kept his mouth shut.
© Aimee Mepham, 2015
Aimee Mepham holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. She has taught writing workshops at Indiana University, Washington University in St. Louis, Salem College, and Wake Forest University. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Opium Magazine, and Pinball Magazine. Her story “The Strangers’ Graveyard” was performed by Liars' League NYC in 2012 for the Sex and Drugs event. She is currently the Program Coordinator for the Humanities Institute at Wake Forest University.
Trace was read by Kate Chadwick on 5th August 2015 for Short & Sweet Flash Fiction