A printing press.

by Jamie Sughroue Brown

Her left shoulder dips involuntarily, her body responsive to the harsh words barraging her vulnerable neck. It's as if her nervous system is trying to invoke gravity, forcing nouns, adjectives, verbs to tumble off of her askew shoulders. It's too late. Each letter, with its blunt, blocky shape, forces its way into her pores. 

"WHORE!" He whispers again behind her, his lips intimately brushing against her goose-pimpled skin. 

The W wedges itself into her susceptible skin, the force behind its delivery make it especially painful - like a cactus spine piercing the supple, ineffectual peel of an orange. As the thought weaves its way through her mind, the scent overwhelms her, a distraction until the H hurtles through the gap left by the W, rendering her breathless with pain.


They punch their way through, maliciously. One after another after another. 

She flinches. 

Every respective letter leaves an imprint, as though her soul is a printing press. This cacophony of letters, shifting, murmuring to her when she sleeps. 

There were nice words too, once. Soft, sweet, gentle whispers. They floated delicately, like snowflakes, melting into her skin, an artifice of a barrier. 

Her soul soaked them up, engorging, manifesting in a luminescent glow, through her skin, reflecting back into her environment. 

That was long ago. Now, she's raw, tender. Her fingertips are molten red, she can no longer walk barefoot. To be physically touched is unbearable. Mottled bruising surrounds the base of her neck, the cervical spine. 

They tried to escape. Forcibly attacking her nervous system, they've left an indelible mark. It's permanent, no hope of it ever disappearing. She's seen a specialist. He's declared her symptoms idiopathic and can see no reason for their cause. 

She says nothing. Her body bears witness. She's no martyr; there's just no way out.

Until now.

Her spine straight, she turns, faces him. He's the one to flinch this time, her direct stare unnerving him. She hasn't done this before. 

Her green irises palpate with repressed words. He can't look away.  She hasn't spoken in years. He can't even remember what her voice sounds like, let alone the last thing she said. 

What's this bitch doing? he wonders. I'd better show how to give me some respect. She ain't got no business looking at me in that tone of voice. 

She can see the shift -- he's about to hit her. He'd felt emasculated by the disgust and loathing he'd read in her eyes, but that is now fading. His eyes turn from copper to a dank, rusty brown when his temper flares. 

As his right hand fists, fingers curling, he pops the knuckle in his thumb and she uses that brief hesitation --

She steps directly in front of him, and he has no choice but to stare her in the eyes again. They are the exact same height. He'd forgotten that. She seems so much smaller, tucked away in her chair, scribbling in that damned notebook, or out in her garden tending to her rhubarb.

She's left a note. It's under the velvet cushion. The neighbor will know where to look. Just in case it all goes wrong.

He grabs her arm, and that's all the impetus she needs. 

She blinks once. Then, with a vigor she'd been been harvesting, she tells him he's leaving. She says it emphatically, with no hesitation, regret. No mercy. Get the FUCK out of this house, she delivers with vitriol. He's flummoxed. Can't believe what she's daring to say. She takes advantage of his consternation, again, and shoves him toward the door. One push, two. She stumbles, but has been conserving her energy. Her neck aches, but she shrugs it off, determined to follow through. 

Her brother is waiting outside. He grabs her husband by the arm, and forcibly removes him from the doorway. This seems to enliven her husband, the man-to-man bodily contact something he can register, something familiar. He begins struggling, but her brother, stronger than he, pushes him into the awaiting car and then follows him in. 

She walks toward his window and opens her mouth to speak --

And then walks away.