Beauty Marks
Polly Bresnick

It was backwards. Usually it was my dad who travelled for business or whatever grown-ups travelled for without their families. But this night mom was out of town. I was kind of little, kind of not a kid anymore, maybe ten or maybe eight. I was sad to see my mom go, cried a little, just because I was so used to her. She gave me a bright gold cuff bracelet that smelled like her to wear while she was away. My dad didn't really know how to entertain or feed me without my mom around. He cooked popcorn for dinner in the microwave. We flipped around on the TV for a movie, found one, and lay down to fall asleep while it played. I slept in my parents' bed when my dad was out of town, so it seemed normal to do it when my mom was out of town. I didn't stop to think about it. The movie turned out to be a little more grown-up than was appropriate for me, but that was normal. My parents treated me like an equal, didn't forbid certain movies like other parents. They thought nudity and sex in art was important to know about, to be comfortable with, I guess. My parents once dragged me to a film festival and the only one I remember was Italian. It had all kinds of bare breasts and hairy vaginas and girls kissing girls. I was too young for it, but it tickled me, and, now that I'm pretty much grown-up I can safely bet it tickled the grown-ups too. It made me feel precocious -- short, but wise.
Lying in the dark room, with this adult movie going, and my dad breathing next to me, I was aware of every wrinkling, shifting sound the bed made. I heard my lashes blink against the stiff cotton pillowcase. I heard sleep take over my dad's big breathing -- a small puh entered its rhythm as his exhales puffed through his loose mouth. There were hints at things on the screen, not girls kissing each other, but closer to something goth, with deeper blacks and brighter whites. In black and white everything seems dark and innocent. And sexy, perhaps because of the black bleeding into the white a bit, the white blasting out certain blacks into something more gray, because of the opposing parts pushing against each other, because of the inevitable attraction of opposites, compliments. And I got this feeling like paranoia or something that the movie was saying something about me in that bed in that dark room with that other body so close to me, like it was a body, like a sexual being, and not my dad, or something.
The movie kept pointing its finger at me, sexed beyond my years. And then it started to thicken every potential urge I had before, like a lie that gets out of hand, it grew. It said, "That is what you were thinking. Don't worry, it just means you're a person." My parts were getting warm and stirry and I was confused, because it was way over my head, inappropriate for a girl of my tender age. The movie was like permission to give myself permission to be curious in this awful way, but I didn't want permission, I wanted to be told no, I wanted to know better, to wise up and be happy, not damp and heavy with knowledge, not troubled. I tried not to move a muscle, but maybe my muscles moved me. Maybe I started it or gave some pheromonal OK sign. He was probably sleeping. Maybe he was snoring even. Right? It's hard to remember. Makes me sick to remember. I think that's right, though. I think that's what happened. I don't feel like one of those people, though. The ones who have black spots where their memories from childhood should be. The ones who wear shame on their faces like birth marks. The one's who speak like babies because they came from cigarette-stunk homes with storm-shredded and mildewed lawn furniture out front. The ones who never learn to see straight because the world around them has always been skewed. I'm not really like that. My thing was different. My black spots are beauty marks and that movie that night was just Frankenstein.