Lit From Within

Content Warning: domestic violence

I roll my eyes as I uncap the small tube of primer. The label reads – “Lit From Within.” Who names this stuff – as if giving it some uplifting moniker makes it so. My stomach roils, queasy, as I realize I’m almost out. It’s expensive and I’ll have to ask him for extra money when I do the weekly shopping. It would be easier if I had my own account.

I smooth the cream onto my skin. At first it feels greasy, but then it melts away like cotton candy does on the tongue. Next comes concealer. Dab and blend. Contour and highlight. Like armor, I don layers of foundation.

There’s something about the scent of pressed powder. Regardless of brand, it all smells the same, familiar and comforting. I inhale deeply. Mistake. A stab of pain makes me jerk. I wrap an arm around my ribs and stiffen my spine. Shallow breaths, controlled movements. I should know better.

I lie to myself when I say ‘never again.’ I hate myself for it.

Eyes narrowed, I survey my handiwork in the mirror. I can’t decide if the purple smudge is visible or not. I know it’s there, starting to turn green, edges fading to sickly yellow, and I cannot unsee it.

Final touch – I dust on a coat of bronzer. “Sun Kissed.” Another silly name, but the color helps. I can tell people I’ve been at the beach for the long weekend, instead of holed up in my room, pretending to sleep.

I lose myself in a pleasant fantasy, imagining myself alone on the seashore with the hot sun on my face. It’s been ages, but I can still feel the coarse sand between my toes. The phantom tang of salt and seaweed fills my nose. A rhythmic pulse echoes in my veins – surf and tide and heartbeat. Perfect serenity.

He hates the ocean, so we never go. I tell myself I don’t mind.

More lies.

A wave of nausea crashes over me. I barely make it to the toilet. My ribs scream in protest, but I heave until only bile is left. Tears and snot mingle on my face.

There’s a gentle knock on the door. “Are you ok?” His voice sounds tight. I can tell by his tone that his crystalline blue eyes are pinched with worry.

“Fine. Just a touch of morning sickness.”

The door handle jiggles. It’s locked. His voice comes again, softer. “Sweetheart, I’m sorry.” He’s not talking about the nausea. The subtext is deafening. “I have to go to work. Are you sure you’re ok?”

“I’m fine.” The words resound in my head like a mantra – I’m fine. I’m. Fine. FineFinefinefine. If I repeat it enough I can make it true.

He says something else but I flush the toilet, letting the gurgle drown him out. I don’t want to hear his concern; afraid it will fracture me. His shadow moves away from the crack at the base of the door and for a moment I’m tempted to call him back, beg him to hold me. The words stick in my throat.

Turning to the sink, I rinse my mouth and touch up the bronzer. All I see in the mirror is a figure of blown glass – a shell of graceful lines, swirling color. Pretty, but empty. Brittle. I stare at my reflection, minutes stretching, until I hear tires crunch outside in the gravel driveway. Still, I count one-hundred-Mississippi’s before unlocking the door.

In the kitchen, a vase sits on the table filled with irises. He knows they’re my favorite, and yet the bruised purple of the blossoms mocks me. Hand skims cheek of its own volition; my body’s not my own. Fingertips come away tipped in bronze powder, mimicking the pollen on the flowers.

There’s a gift-wrapped box on the table as well. There always is. I tear the paper because it’s expected, not because I care what bauble lies inside. I lift the lid and a sob rips from my throat.

Nestled in the tissue paper is a tiny, infant swimsuit. A note reads – for baby girl’s 1st trip to the beach. His familiar chicken scratch on the card wavers as tears blur my vision.

Between heartbeats the vase hits the floor. Broken pottery and crushed petals spread across the tiles, but it’s me that shatters.

I scrub my eyes with my sleeve. Numb, I return to the bathroom, to fix my face.

11 thoughts on “Lit From Within

  1. The color of the iris was a punch in the gut. You did a great job looking through the eyes of your MC. I was a little confused about the chronology in the story. Did the abuse occur a little before this story or the night before? He’s asking if she’s okay as if it’s the first time they’ve talked but there are irises on the table for her which points to some time passing for him to have left to get her flowers. It’s a small detail, but it’s what I was thinking about when I finished. There were a few awkward metaphors in the story: “I can tell by his tone that his crystalline blue eyes are pinched with worry.” I know what is meant, but the image I get is of his cornea pinching.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a few days – she mentions being holed up in her room for the long weekend, the bruise starting to turn green… He’s asking if she’s ok b/c he could hear her throwing up. 🙂

      Not sure if I have the emotional fortitude to revisit this in earnest any time soon, but if I do I’ll keep the thought in mind.


  2. This is beautiful writing. I am a little unclear about the guy: he is worried about her throwing up and he buys an infant swimsuit because she loves the beach? So, he has some goodness?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was gut-wrenching. Kudos for gritting your teeth and writing this. The content warning was well placed because this undid me. The cycle of abuse and apology was incredibly authentic, and you captured so well the way she’s trapped in the scenario. I hope you’re doing something nice for yourself after writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have NYCmidnight Short Story semi-finals this weekend. In my head I thought, I think I should write a fun story, because sometimes everyone needs a happy ending and I need a break from the heavy feels.

      Aaaaaaaaand, I pulled my SIXTH ghost story. I can't even.

      Liked by 1 person

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