Slip the Collar

by Kelsey Ipsen

I start getting these headaches. The kind pills don’t solve. The source is my left shoulder, which often feels like a rock or stale bread—brittle, sharp and gone bad. I get an X-ray which ends up showing my spine all curved and bent. I hold it up to the light and try to see if I can understand myself from the inside. When I present it to the doctor he rips open the envelope as if it’s nothing special. After a glance, he tells me I need physiotherapy and then my X-ray is thrust back into its envelope and returned to my hands. I smooth the sticky closure of it, over and over, until it looks untouched again.

The physiotherapist is pulling and tugging at me. We hear a crack in my shoulder and see that a bone has popped out of my skin. We both stare, the bone is shiny-white and oddly sharp.

“It will get worse before it gets better,” the physiotherapist reminds me, and I nod before arranging my next appointment. On my way home, I purchase a lightweight and oversized jacket to cover up my protrusion. I don’t want to offend anyone.

I find that I enjoy looking after the bone. I polish it in the evenings before bed. I moisturize it three times daily, seeing as it is not used to being in a dry environment. When no one else is around, I give it sneak peeks of the outside world. I even start talking to it; I catch the bone up on everything that it has missed while hidden underneath my skin.

I stop getting headaches. I make up with my body and take it dancing. We meet a man who becomes my boyfriend. I am careful to only show him my body with the lights out. I want my bone to know it is safe, even while it’s on the outside of my body. On my birthday, my boyfriend takes me out to dinner. I have a burger and he eats chicken wings, consuming every last bit of meat. That evening, headlights flash across the bedroom and I freeze on top of him. My bone is shiny from all the polish, it was impossible for him not to notice. I see his eyes transfixed. He gasps and shudders inside of me.

“It’s beautiful,” he says.

After that, he stops touching any part of me except for my bone. He begs for pictures of it when we are unable to be together. I am happy that he loves this part of me until I realize that it is the only part he loves of me. I tell him I think we should break up and he says, to the bone, “No, I’ll do anything!” I cover up my shoulder and he cries.

My boyfriend is waiting outside my house. I zip my jacket all the way to the top and ask him what he wants. He is making a very concentrated effort to avoid looking at my shoulder. When he talks, he sounds like he used to, before the headlights, and I decide that the bone obsession was just a phase. He shows me his new light-blocking curtains and we compliment each other in the dark.

One night, I wake up at 3am and notice my boyfriend is not in bed with me. I find him in the living room with his hand moving furiously inside his pants. In the doorway, I stand invisible. I can see the photo of my bone on his screen, the light of it outlining his convulsions.

Kelsey Ipsen was born in New Zealand but now lives in France. She has not yet mastered the art of rolling her R’s. 
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