To My Left, On My Bed

Posted on June 8, 2007


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IN THE CENTRE OF HER BACK, between two knobby outgrowths of spine, there’s a mole. It rises slightly from the skin, a tiny hillock of dull red, shaped like a strawberry with its top chewed off.

It’s not a mole, she concluded one afternoon, when I told her about my discovery. She tried to feel it first, her fingers running across the ridge of her back, trying to find out where it was. I put my index finger on it, she brought hers to meet it. I have to see it, she said. I brought out the mirrors, the small one that I use in front of the bathroom mirror to check how much worse my bald spots have gotten, and the bigger one she keeps in her drawer. We went back and forth, moving the mirrors here and there, then she squealed. That’s a boil. She pointed at a brown bump, yet another reason she hated the sun and the humidity.

Not that… that, I showed her. That’s not a mole, she said, that’s a naevus. What’s that, I asked. That’s what it is, a naevus. When I looked it up in the dictionary after she fell asleep, it said: “a congenital pigmented area on the skin.” Naevus.

I didn’t see what difference it made what we called it, it was a birthmark. All this time… and I never knew it existed – but then, it was only recently that she began to turn the other way and sleep, her back to me.

Now her back is all I see. The mo… naevus is what caught my attention, but then, over the many nights, my eyes got around to the rest of the cocoa skin, from her newly visible neck (thank you, slick haircut) to the patches of skin my banian exposed. The heat had driven her to my underwear. A minute with a pair of scissors later, she had a makeshift athletic bra.

From the ragged edges of the banian I can no longer wear to the top of her shorts is the best part. It’s got the naevus, and I like seeing how the skin from both extremes of her torso seems to converge in the centre. It’s as if the skin is being pulled together by a zipper made of little, protruding bones. When she sleeps on her side, I sometimes switch on the lamp on my side, and her smooth darkness gleams quietly. Then she rolls over, onto her stomach, and the light catches the naevus. It’s not dull anymore; it’s an angry creature from inside her spine burrowing its way out.

Occasionally, I reach out and touch her lightly. In the early years, before the pills, when her face would be inches away from mine, this would awaken her instantly. She’d know what was running through my mind. If we hadn’t fought, she’d smile sleepily and plop onto my chest.

Now, she hardly feels my touches. Her arm goes around the pillow on the other side. I miss her face in bed. I sometimes imagine the smart mop of hair at the back of her head is really her face, and that these curls have covered the eyes, the nose, the mouth. Then I see the naevus and I know. It’s not the face.

It’s only for a month more, the doctor says. That’s not so bad.

Copyright ©2007 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Fiction