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art by Liz Clarke

Underneath

"Thank God," my anger says to me. I had just found her, buried in a closet, and I took her outside into the yard to look at her in the sunlight. I was excited to realize that I owned her. She took the form of a dark cloak, the kind I'd seen on other women.
I hung her over a low branch. She was covered in heavy dust. So I beat her with a stick. I thought of all the times I had gone out in the cold, shoulders naked, while she had hung forgotten in the closet. All of the times I'd seen my friends wearing their cloaks, and how jealous I'd been that they felt confident enough to cover their nice outfits in such selfish, shapeless darkness.
Dust rose, making me cough. The Chinese say that lung problems are caused by grief.
I waited for her to say something. I beat her until my arms were tired. Then I stopped to catch my breath.
"See?" she whispered. "See how thick I am? See how solidly I was constructed? You cannot hurt me. That's why I can protect you."
"Protect me from what?" I said.
"Everything you do not want them to see," she said. "You go out in your whore outfits or your 'I can't be bothered' pants with the holes in them, and in that way you tell the others how you want to be treated. You protect yourself from their judgments by judging yourself first, but it doesn't work, does it? You're shit scared of them seeing you, and you're even more scared of them not noticing you exist. But I can keep you safe."
I liked the way she talked. I wrapped her around my shoulders, just to see what she felt like. The sun beat down on us.
She whispered into my ear. "Now that you have found me, we need never be separated. You can wear me up and down the high street, every day, and I will protect you from caring about the way they look at you. In your heels. In your holes. They will not see you any more. Only me. And I will never go out of fashion."
I began to sweat under her weight. My skin grew prickly. I liked the power I felt from her, but something wasn't right.
I looked down at myself. All I could see was her, brown material spilling from my shoulders to the ground. I couldn't remember what I had on underneath, but I knew I hated it.
The heat of her built around me. I tried to think of where she had come from in the first place. Maybe my mother had bought her during one of the many times she had taken me shopping at the department stores, piling up acres of scratchy, resentful clothes for me to try on. Maybe she had been a secret gift from a boy in middle school whom I thought had a crush on me but didn't. Maybe I bought her while out shopping with my first boyfriend, the guy with the leather jacket that I liked so much. Or maybe it was as simple as my grandmother ordering her from one of her catalogs and giving her to me when she didn't suit the old woman.
I blamed all of them. Then I blamed the women I always saw on the street in their cloaks. I blamed especially the women who walked around with their shoulders bare and a smile on their faces, the ones who knew they were beautiful and had stopped seeing it as a liability. I wanted to beat them. I wanted to beat the men who looked at them, and the men who looked at me, and the men who didn't look at me. I wanted to beat myself for caring what they thought.
I felt nauseated from the heat. I reached for my neck, where she had tightened her grip. I couldn't think straight: why had I put her on in the first place?
"Do you really think you can live without me?" she asked gently. "You can put me away, but you will always know that I am in your closet. You cannot pretend you didn't like the feel of me, even just a little. Sure, it's hot outside now, but what about when the sun sets? What about when you have to leave the house and you can't take the cold night air?"
I peeled her from my back and threw her onto the ground. "I won't go out, then!" I shouted. "I'll cut off my pretty hair, and I'll never shave my legs again, or my armpits, and don't even get me started on the condition of my pubes! I'll throw away my makeup and my heels and my slutty dresses, and I'll stop wearing deodorant! I'll never go out, and no one will hit on me or look at me ever again, and I'll be safe!"
I sat down hard on the dirt, glaring at the cloak. I waited for her to say something. When she didn't I took out my knife. I would show her. I would cut her into ribbons. That way I couldn't wear her if I wanted to.
But the fabric was too tough to cut. I took my blade in both hands and raised it over my head. I stabbed her, over and over. I cut through her and into the dirt. I put my blade into the holes, and I tore the fabric until it lay in dirty strips. I wiped my sweaty face with my shirttail, hating the glimpse I caught of my stomach poking out over my hip. I let out a deep breath.
And then my T-shirt spoke. "That was pretty badass," she said. "But I'm curious. What happens next? You gonna cut me out of this T-shirt now? You got a whole closet full of clothes. Outfits for every occasion. It could take you weeks. And then what? How will you hide from me when you are truly naked?"
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

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