Art by Melissa Mead
by Terra LeMay
He twitches when she sets the tip of her pen against his naked flesh, almost as if he knows what she's about to do to him. But of course that's impossible. She has never told anyone about this. About how she looks at a person, looks at him, and all she can see are words. Right there. Right under the skin. His skin, which she scratches with a long, slow line until her pen hooks the end of the word she's after. She writes it, one looping letter at a time, pulling it right out of him and onto his shoulder. Just the one word. It has been stuck in him for a long time, in a place where he had probably thought he could hide it.
She doesn't mean to go on. From the very start, when she first suggested she would like to write on him, it had always been about finding that one single word and showing it to him, proving she knew it had been there all along, like a secret self. One word that defined him completely, encompassing every aspect of his being. But the first word pulls a second behind it, a partner, no less meaningful than its companion, no less pertinent to who he is, so she writes it as well. Then the two bear a third. She can't ignore it. She adds it. She doesn't even have to lift the pen.
She traces each letter as they emerge and now that she's started she can't bear to stop. He lies quietly on his stomach while she moves her pen across his shoulder blades, down his spine, over his ribs, his buttocks, his thighs. One word leads to the next, each delicately connected to the one before it, like a chain of daisies.
She isn't sure what might happen if she tries to stop because this has never happened before. She has never pulled a man inside out by all the words inside him. She had not thought it could be like this, like he's bleeding out. A hemorrhage of ink.
She hasn't told him a single thing about what she's writing, but if he wonders about why that is, he keeps it to himself. He hasn't spoken since she started. Has hardly moved, for that matter. Just that twitch when she first touched him, then later a ticklish wriggle when she filled in the backs of his knees.
To be honest, she couldn't tell him what she was writing even if he asked. She stopped reading the words after a few lines, and now she's sure she couldn't read them if she tried. They aren't all in English, nor even all in the Latin alphabet. Some are alphabets she recognizes, but most are not. In any case, the words spill from him almost faster than she can mark them onto his skin. She doesn't have time to read.
When she has covered all the back of him, from the nape of his neck to tip of each toe (she must have fit a thousand words each on the soles of his feet, and was surprised at how well he tolerated it) she then encourages him to turn over. She needs more space. There's no question now; every last word will come, until she has emptied him entirely. She's not writing a synopsis here, or an abstract. This is his whole entire being, his soul, his self. And now that she's more than half-finished, she has begun to feel possessive, as if by writing the words, she has somehow become their creator. His author.
But what will he be when she has written all the words and he has none left to call his own? Will he be empty inside? Tabula rasa, for her to fill with marks of her own choosing? She doesn't know. She only writes. Up his shins, across his pelvis, his abdomen. Around his belly-button in a circle, and then a single character inside it. She thought he might twitch again for that one, but he doesn't. Perhaps he is in a trance from all the scratching across his skin. Or from the loss of his words. She can't imagine what it must feel like, to be pulled apart, one letter at a time. But she can't stop now. She must know what will happen, how his story will end.
Before long, she's running out of space and wondering if she was wrong, wondering if the words will ever stop or if she has tapped an endless well. She writes them everywhere, anywhere she can fit them. On his genitals. In his ears. Across his cheeks, his nose, his brow. Carefully, gently, upon his closed eyelids.
And then, abruptly, almost too soon, there is only one word left to write. She inks it quickly across the tip of his tongue--the only place left for a word--and sits back, feeling slightly shocked. A little stunned, the way the end came upon her all at once.