photo of cookie cutter display

Gingerbread Man by Craig Anderson

He starts with the snowman.

A good starter, he says. Simple, rounded edges, but still a recognizable shape. Recognizable is important. You can’t get away with just ovals and hearts, not anymore.

He holds the snowman, three connected stainless steel circles, in his left hand. With his right, he kneads my bare chest, looking for just the right spot, examining how my skin reacts to his fingertips. I admit that I didn’t shave, but he says that I don’t have enough hair on my chest to be a problem. It’s one of the reasons gingers make such good canvases, he says. That, and the freckles add texture.

I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, my shirt folded next to me. He sits on a stool, adjusted so that he is eye-level with my chest. The other cookie cutters are near his feet in a white plastic tote. It’s impossible to identify individual shapes in the jumble of metal, to tell the santas from the shamrocks. 

He says I shouldn’t look down. It tightens the chest muscles. 

His laptop is on the desk behind him, and the tiny cube-shaped camera with the red light sits above the screen. He used to use the computer’s built in cam, he explains, but it didn’t have a good enough zoom function and he had to keep his laptop too close to the canvas to capture the right area. At first, I don’t recognize the square of skin on the screen as my own flesh. Even with the three freckles in the center, and the dark, bumpy edge of a nipple in the bottom corner. I want to flex my chest, just to prove that the skin on the computer is mine, but I don’t dare. He’s already explained the importance of keeping still.  

I gasp a little when he presses the snowman shape against my chest.

It works better if it’s cold, he explains. He holds the metal against my skin, looking back over his shoulder at the laptop. 

It’s ok to breathe, he says.

I watch the little screen as he pulls the cookie cutter away from my chest, moving his hand out of the frame as quickly as possible.

There it is, he says.

The pale outline of a snowman remains on the skin of my chest, three faint circles in the center of the screen. The money shot, he calls it.  Something to do with pressure and blood flow to the skin. A tiny coin flashes in the corner of the screen and the laptop dings. He says that it’s a good sign that I’m getting tips my first time as a canvas. The white outline is already fading. I’m holding my breath and focusing on my chest, like I can make the image stay, like I can will the color from returning to my skin. But the snowman is gone now, and the computer is silent again.

We have to move fast now, he says. We don’t want them to lose interest. He’s already holding a new metal shape. The gingerbread man. 

I appreciate that he’s sticking to a theme, that he’s intentional about his choices. I smile at him, but he’s focused on the laptop again. This cookie cutter is bigger than the last one. He has to angle it on my chest to make sure the whole shape can be seen on the screen. The little coin is already flashing. The viewers like his choice too. He holds the metal against my flesh a little longer this time, like he’s nervous to remove it. Sure, my skin can handle a few circles, but arms and legs? 

When he does pull the metal away, he exhales, smiling. The pale outline is perfect. It fills the screen, with the circular head near the top corner and the rounded legs near my nipple. My freckles are almost lined up in the center like little brown buttons. The coin symbol flashes, and the computer lets out a rapid-fire string of chimes. The sound continues even as the pink starts to creep back into the outline. 

They like you, he says.

It isn’t me, though. It’s the gingerbread man on my chest. On his canvas. With his oversized head and his freckle-buttons, his body cocked to the side like he’s dancing. I’m watching him on the screen, viewing him like the others, like he isn’t just a disappearing impression on my skin. It’s hard to tell now if it’s even my chest that I’m seeing. 

His arms disappear first. Then his legs. The yellow coin flashes again and again on the bottom of the screen, and the red light shines from the top. And the dinging has taken on a manic rhythm. And then only the top of his head is left, and his buttons. But those aren’t his buttons, they’re mine. Not buttons. And the dinging slows, but I swear it’s louder now. They’re freckles. And then only the canvas is left on the screen, but it’s moving, slipping sideways. And the red light is in my eyes.

Are you alright, he says.

I’ve fallen onto my side on the bed. The computer is quiet now.

I’m sorry, I tell him. I just got a little dizzy. He says it’s no problem, but he isn’t smiling. 

We can try again, I say. I just need a second. 

That’s OK, he says. Maybe another time. This work, it isn’t for everybody.

I nod. But, when he turns to shut off the computer, I slip the gingerbread man into my pocket.

Craig Anderson is a writer, training facilitator, and part-time Chiromancer in St. Petersburg, Florida (but he’ll always consider himself a Detroiter). He lives with his husband and the cat that is slowly stealing their souls. Craig holds an MFA from Arcadia Univeristy, and his work has appeared in The Eckerd Review, Glitterwolf Magazine, formercactus, and Coffin Bell. You can find him on twitter @wildcraigdom.

Lead image: “Cookie Cutter” *with edits* (via Flickr user Vincent Albanese)