Human Palimpsest by Hannah E. Phinney

He wanted her to scrape off and write over the years of accumulated pain that tattooed his body in violent, lacy abstractions. She told him that that was not her job.

“That’s not my job,” said Alice Winterman. “I’m an acupuncturist; I stick you with needles. My penmanship is terrible, in any case.”

So he left her office, and went to a ghostwriter, figuring if a man could find inky traction on the nebulous skeins of wraith flesh, that man could certainly write over human skin. He asked the man to rub away the hoarded pain that glittered unseen across the length of his body, and compose new health atop it. But he was again refused.

“That’s not what I do,” said Herb Van Braughten. “I sacrifice name and recognition for others more politically highbrow.”

So he left and went to his youngest child, the sole surviving one, the one who hadn’t melted in a fiery crush of combusted engine, to see if she would at least draw pretty pictures over the wellsprings of pain that novelized his body surface. She said okay, and pulled out her markers.

Chloe drew beautiful, innocent images on her father’s limbs, on his torso and face. They covered the poems of guilty anger in his armpits…the epics of failure traversing his back…and down his legs, the spiraling, coagulated prose of his loss.

When she was done, he sighed hugely in relief.

“But dad,” Chloe said, as she snapped the caps back on her colors (and she said it gently, aware of the fragility of adults), “Dad, you know they’re washable, right?”

Hannah E. Phinney recently received her M.A. in linguistics. She is currently slinging booze and writing semi-surrealistic flash fiction while deciding whether to spend another decade in school. She is also teaching English at San Quentin State Prison through the Prison University Project. Hannah lives in San Francisco with her fiancé and their developmentally-challenged ball python Zoko.

Lead image“child paint with colored pens” (via Flickr user Markus Spiske)