During the day I paint numbers on watch dials so they shine luminescent, but when the factory bell rings, I paint myself for you.
My teeth, my eyelids, my nails. The circle of my drugstore compact reflects the glowing pieces of me, the mirror a door I could slip through if I were just bright enough. I wield the same brush I use on the watch dials so soldiers can tell time in dark trenches, dipping it into the Undark paint. In the Radium Factory’s bathroom, I unbutton my smock, unlace my corset, paint my skin. Starbursts on my stomach, arabesques down my shoulders, spirals on my areolas. Your skin’s sensitive there, you say, your tongue on my nipple, licking off the paint so I don’t glow anymore; I’m just like the other girlfriends you’ve brought to your rented room. The girl from the milliner, the girl from the laundry. I come to you like those sea creatures I saw once on the shore at night, bioluminescence limning each wave. I bare my shining teeth, how I growl for you. My body moves against yours until the Undark fades away, absorbed into you. The girls at the Radium Factory whisper to me, Watch out for him, he’ll throw you out soon enough. At our workstations, we suck on the brush’s camel hair tips, to give it a sharp point. Our gums bleed, our teeth loosen. That night when you slipped rings on my fingers, stacking them so my hands were armored with shining gold and crimson embers and hot flashing white, I didn’t ask you the names of the women who wore the rings before me, didn’t ask if the gems were glass, didn’t resist when you took the rings back. I just let them slip from my fingers into your palms. The sound of my teeth falling into your cupped hands, my bones shattering under your touch. My brothers threaten to jump you in a dark alley, tell me rumors. But every night I paint myself into being for you, and every night you unmake me.
ILLUSTRATION BY BORJA CABADA
Borja Cabada is an illustrator and writer from Spain, winner of the 2016 Logroño Book Award for Emerging Authors and recent DePaul University alumnus, where he got his second MA in Writing and Publishing in 2014 as a Fulbright scholar. Over the years his artwork and writing have been featured in several publications, and he has also worked in script and visual development for some of the most successful studio execs in Los Angeles. Visit his website here and his tweets @BorjaCabada.
Lori Sambol Brody's short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, The Rumpus, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.