When they were both twenty, Bea realized that her girlfriend was a blank page. Bea and Cathy were art students; between them, they had accumulated a collection of expensive art pens, elegant and fluting in shape, with nibs that looked vaguely obscene. Each pen cost as much as a good meal. Art eats money. All that long spring, they drew each other obsessively, trying to capture the complexities of first love in a few spare lines.
The months rolled by, and they started to draw on each other instead. Cathy populated her lover’s skin with tiny, smudged faces, all monotone. Bea preferred bolder designs and shades. She marked Cathy’s skin in velvety sky-blue and purple. Staining her with elaborate spirals and twining vines. It would take two or three showers to wash off the ink. Bea would soap Cathy all over, watching as her designs blurred under the beating water, thankful for the squirming girl beneath her fingers. Deep down, Bea knew that drawing on Cathy was not a creative act; it was a possessive one.
As the year wore on, Bea’s patterns became simpler. Geometric shapes replaced circles. The vines disappeared. Sometimes she just drew their entwined initials, over and over again. Cathy refused to reciprocate. She claimed that she couldn’t spare the ink. One night they fought about some trivial matter, money or family, and Cathy ran out of the apartment crying. She didn’t return until the sky turned pink.
Their reconciliation was all raised voices and tears and the hot, brief spasm when they finally came together in their unmade bed. Bea thought she tasted someone else on Cathy’s skin but said nothing. Afterwards she watched Cathy sleep, marvelling at the economy of her body, her perfect skin. Its blankness. Knowing that from now on, she had to leave it unmarked. Ready for whoever came next.
LJ Phillips is a former art lecturer whose work has appeared in 4 solo exhibitions. She has published work under her own name and under a male pseudonym. Her short fiction and articles have appeared in a number of collections, including Into The Comics-verse, Spark and Down In The Dirt. In 2020, her comic work was selected for a Shortbox grant and she was thrice named an Ambassador of Words by the César Egido Serrano Foundation. Her former occupations include toy salesman, bartender, bouncer and bodyguard. She lives in South Africa with her artist husband.