The Bruise on Your Chest
by a contributor
You bruise easy and always have. I dress you in long pants, shirts with sleeves, socks to your knees, even when it’s ninety-five degrees and humid. I prefer the disapproving looks caused by your sweaty brow and labored breathing to the ones I receive when your skin is exposed, purple patterns on your pale limbs, weaving their way around your ankles and elbows.
I take you to the doctor at least once a month, hoping for a cure, though I’d settle for a reason. The doctor can’t find either, but assures me that the bruises are not life threatening, and do not hurt. “Cosmetic,” he says. “Just wait for them to fade.” You sit in the corner while we talk, playing with your doll, and I can’t help but notice her plastic limbs, smooth and unmarred.
When you come home from school with a darkening swath of skin that stretches from your ribs to your right hip, I ask if you remember banging your body against anything at school. No, you say. You don’t. I ask if there is, perhaps, a different route you can take, a path from the chalkboard to your desk that is more direct. Safer. No, you say. There isn’t.
And so I go through the house and wrap the corners of the bookcases, the chairs, the coffee table in bubble wrap, in rubber strips, in soft batting that I take from your favorite quilt. You cry when you find the blanket gutted in the trash, bury your face in the soiled fabric. I try to explain that it’s for your own good, but you won’t listen. You won’t stop crying and I send you to bed, then sit on the couch, chewing my fingernails down to the quick, tearing the skin with my teeth, while I wait for the sound of your sobs to subside. When it’s finally quiet, I come into your room, sit next to your bed, watch you breathing, your arms flung over your head.
And then I see the dark spot on your chest, the edge of it rising from under the collar of your shirt, and I know that it’s my fault. I look away, notice your doll on the floor next to the bed, and then I am holding it, cradling it in my arms. The empty eyes, the cotton hair, the smooth arms and unmarred legs. I sing to the doll, softly so as not to wake you, and in the darkness you slumber on.
Christine Hennessey is a teaching assistant at UNCW and her fiction has appeared in LIT, Forge, and The Molotov Cocktail.