Every Shade of Healing4 min read


Taryn Frazier
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Abuse, Self-harm and suicide

She perches on the edge of the tattoo chair, a study in black: floor-length skirt, long-sleeved turtleneck pulled down to her fingertips, dark curtain of hair.

“I’m Fiona,” I say, holding out a hand. When she shrinks away, I back off. Some people who come to me don’t want to be touched more than necessary.

A colorless voice filters through the curtain. “Charlie.”

“Nice to meet you, Charlie,” I say gently, pulling on nitrile gloves. “May I see your book?”

She roots around in her black crossbody bag and offers me a heavy, leather-bound tome.

I set it on the tray beside my rotary machine. “What can I do for you today?”

In answer, she turns away from me and lifts her shirt. A constellation of small round burns, puckered and shiny, stretches across her back.

I’m careful to keep my voice even. “I see.” I study the scars a moment, then open her book near the beginning and scan a page–thin paper covered with tiny black type.

My throat tightens, even though I’ve read stories like this a hundred times. Swallowing, I read to the end of the page, forcing myself to take in every word. When I look up, Charlie’s staring into the middle distance.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

She lifts a shoulder, and the terrible constellation on her back shifts. “She served time. I went to therapy. But the scars–”

“I can help with those.” My hand hovers over the rotary machine, but instead I choose a fountain pen lying next to it.

Charlie half-turns to watch as I screw on a new silver nib. “Will it hurt?”

I never lie to a client. “Yes. I’m afraid it’s the only way.”

She locks her jaw, and I begin. Positioning the pen over the book, I pull the little knob on the cartridge up, and a few letters on the page slide toward the nib and vanish into the tip. A nearby word disappears, then a sentence.

Charlie’s eyelids flutter shut, and her breath catches. “Mommy, why–” Her back arches, a parabola of pain. “You’re hurting me!”

Another sentence gone, then another. Charlie’s whimpering in a high, childish voice, and I’m breathing like I’ve run a race, and–

“Done,” I gasp.

Her book tumbles to the floor, the page empty. She and I are both pale and trembling.

I force my numb lips into a smile. “Now for the good part.”

Exhaustion drags on my arms, but I lift the pen and touch it to Charlie’s skin where a burn puckers the dermis. Ink flows out of the nib–not black anymore, but innocent pinks, then tender greens–and flows across her back, resolving into clusters of cherry blossoms around each burn.

When the last delicate flower is complete, I sag in my chair. “How do you feel?”

She holds a hand mirror high to see her double reflection in the parlor’s ornate, full-length mirror, and I see all three of her selves smile. “I feel . . . light.”

And I feel as though the force of gravity has doubled, but I smile for her. “I’m glad.” This is why I offer these scar sessions pro bono, but it takes so much energy. I can only afford to do it once a month.

Charlie cradles her book. “Can I come again?”

Over the roaring in my ears, I hear myself say, “Next week.” I’m an idiot for spreading myself so thin, but I want to see her smile again.

She’s back the next week, still wearing the long black skirt and wary expression, but today she’s rocking a white top cut low to show the blooms adorning her upper back.

She settles in the chair, and when she tucks her hair behind her right ear, I see my day’s work: a white seam across her cheekbone three inches long.

“Okay.” Paging through her book, I stop at a page three-quarters of the way through. My stomach sours as I read. “He did that to you?”

She presses her lips together and grips the armrests. “It’s over now,” is all she says. But scars don’t just go away, whether you can see them or not.

This time, as I pull lines of text into the pen, Charlie’s arms fly up to shield her face. “Stop!” she cries. “You said you loved me!”

On and on, down the page. She’s begging now, and even though it’s not me she’s begging, the pen shakes in my hand. When the paper is finally blank, the room spins around me, its colors bleached and blurred.

But the colors that flow from the pen to Charlie’s skin are saturated, alive. A sun dawns over the soft hill of her cheek–a gentle new day.

When she asks if she can come one more time, I can only nod.

She wears her hair in a braided crown to our next session, her face glorified by the sun on her cheek. Still, she hesitates before she lifts her skirt.

“I won’t judge,” I say, and she bares her legs to the hip.

Acid rises in my throat. Cuts climb up both Charlie’s thighs, raw and open and vicious. She avoids my eyes.

“Can you do it?”

“I can’t,” I say, very gently, pushing the book back toward her. Liber Vitae, reads the embossed title.

She caves in, face in her hands, shoulders hunched. “I– I was hoping–”

“I can’t work with open wounds,” I amend. “Look.”

I pull up my sleeve to reveal white feathers, each with a raised scar for a shaft, drifting down my forearm, soft as forgiveness. We lock eyes. Tears rain past the sun on her cheek, and answering drops slide hot down my face.

“Get help,” I say. “Heal. Then we’ll make something beautiful.”

A vivid smile shines through her tears– pain refracted into rainbow loveliness. She throws her arms around me, then catches up her book and is gone.


  • Taryn Frazier

    Taryn Rose Frazier is a writer and educator based in greater Philadelphia. Her short fiction has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, and Mysterion (forthcoming). Find her at tarynfrazier.com or @tarynrose.writes on Instagram.

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