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  volume 1. issue one  
 
Feature
My Skin, My Sanity
by Kat Duff

When I turned fifty, the only scar on my body was the thin trace of an incision on my right thumb where a doctor removed a sliver when I was nine (more...)
POETRY
Jada Ach
Ana Arredondo
Kristy Bowen
Julie R. Enszer
Patricia Wellingham-Jones
Charlie Newman
Margo Roby
CREATIVE NONFICTION
Kat Duff
Peggy Duffy
Jackson Lassiter
REVIEW/INTERVIEW
Maureen Seaton's
Venus Examines Her Breast
PHOTOGRAPHY
Jacob Knabb
Fides J. Proctor
Anna Ressman
Shawn Sargent
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Painting Walls
by Peggy Duffy

Today my two daughters and I are painting the kitchen. I roll the walls and ceiling; they do the brushwork–the windows and floor moldings and all the corners where the roller won’t reach. Painting is soothing. There’s comfort in the clean fresh smell. How easily the new white coat covers the blemished wall below. The splattering of grease above the stove. The gray smudges which years of little hands have left behind. The numerous dents and chips of daily living. Each movement of the brush and roller changes the surface of the landscape, no longer marred but smooth and perfect.

* * *

A baby’s skin is smooth and perfect to the touch. Unblemished. Flawless. The first time my daughter hurt herself she was ten months old crawling up the three front steps to our house. She stood up and not two feet from me fell forward onto the cement. Time wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to catch her. Her forehead oozed blood through a jagged tear in her skin, a broken line of flesh. I held her close, full of wonderment and sadness and guilt at her new flawed self. She was no longer impervious to the outside.

* * *

My daughter, fifteen now, paints beside me. She has a raised white scar which stretches across the bottom of her chin, a remnant of the seventeen stitches she received when she fell off her bike ten years ago, visible only if she lifts her head. How difficult it was for me to sit in the emergency room determined to behave so as not to be asked to leave while the doctor spread the gaping wound even wider in order to remove pieces of the dirt and gravel driveway from inside her. Chins don’t bleed very much when cut. There was no blood to block the sight of fat globules beneath her skin, the raw white shell of her chin bone. Layer upon layer of tissue the doctor stitched as I held her hands between mine and listened to her cry.

* * *

You look at something long enough, you stop seeing it. My daughters and I hadn’t noticed how tired and dull the old kitchen walls had become until we started to paint them. I have a scar on my right knee from the time I was seven and accepted a dare to jump off six cement steps. I ran home to find no one there and in my childish mind I sobbed for hours on our back porch, until I’d cried the pain away. The wound scabbed over and slowly healed, leaving behind a round fleshy scar the size of my entire kneecap which seemed to shrink as I grew. It left behind another scar, one that never dwindled in size. Where had my mother been when I needed her to treat my wounds?

* * *

I vowed to be a mother who would always be there, one who would listen, and talk about anything, no subject barred. I’d never leave my children alone in their pain. But even as I extend my arms they push me away, hiding their pain behind closed doors. Perhaps my oldest feels I’ve already seen too much of her, the ugliness beneath the skin. Maybe there is only so many times you can be patched up from the outside.

* * *

My younger daughter has pale skin and light brown freckles which, like rings on a tree, increase in number with each year of her life. On days she hates those freckles she attempts to camouflage them with a layer of moistened face powder. “Why do I have so many freckles?” she asks in exasperation. “Because I have freckles, your father has freckles, your grandfather had freckles,” I tell her. I try not to adopt my mother’s tone, the one I remember from when I was thirteen, the one that says if this is the worst life throws at you then you have nothing to complain about. I project compassion into my voice. I give her a hug. In spite of my best efforts, I’ve once again said the wrong thing. She pulls away and gives me an ugly look. I’m the reservoir of her flaws.

* * *

It’s uneven, this relationship between three women in one household. We mar these walls and then we paint them. I stand back to assess the results of our efforts. Already the paint in the kitchen is drying and the old imperfections are coming through. A grease stain that paint will never adhere to. A seam where the wallboard has shifted. Yet painting is bonding. The three of us, brushes and rollers in hand, hair tied back and splattered with paint. Time can’t slow enough for me to savor this moment.



Peggy Duffy's short stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Brevity, Octavo, Drexel Online Journal, Three Candles, Pierian Springs, So To Speak, Literary Mama, Smokelong Quarterly and Gin Bender, where this essay first appeared. Her fiction was recognized by the Virginia Commission for the Arts as a finalist in the Individual Artist Fellowship program for literary artists. Her short story, "First Thing in the Morning," was selected by storySouth for the Million Writers Award, Notable Online Short Stories for 2004, and two of her stories were selected by storySouth for the Million Writers Award, Notable Online Short Stories for 2003. She maintains a website at http://www.authorsden.com/peggyduffy.
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