He bought the tape measure during one of his trips to Amsterdam, and shown it her as soon as he back. She remember the look of foolish pride on his face while he demonstrated its proportion-altering qualities. All the prostitutes use them, he’d said. To beef up their clients’ satisfaction. After he fallen asleep that night, satiated by her rather than a pro this time, she lain awake for a long time, staring into the dark in the direction of the ceiling. It not so much not being able to sleep as not being able to let go of being awake. She wanted to lie there and remember everything very, very closely. Cram her head full of detail. Just in case one of these times he not come back. In the morning she not been able look him in the eye again, and he given her a slap. Just a gentle one. Almost a caress really. On the low side of her face, on the left, just where her jaw met her skull and her neck. It not left a bruise. He hated it when she couldn’t look into his face.
One time she tried explain that it was because she was scared of seeing him look at her with disappointment. She knew that one of these days she going to let him down. She feel it; curled, wet and slimy, in the pit of her stomach. Like she waiting to vomit. One day he shall look at her like that. Then he not look at her ever again. Shut your fucking mouth, he’d said. Stop talking crap. You know I hate it when you do that. Why the fuck do you want to go doing something if you already know it pisses me off. If he did, if he stopped looking at her, she thought she might just disappear. Not run away, just fade slowly into non-existence. It was like she only really alive when he looking at her, when she see herself through his eyes. And when she saw herself she felt only disgust, so she knew he would too, one day.
She stand in front of the mirror, with the cheap tape measure, all over painted silver by the moonlight. Plastic slipping against the sweat on her skin, she watch as her hips, thighs, waist and breasts increase in noted size. Short inches, he’d sounded pleased with himself. Pleased to be aware of the deception, but still to be able to revel in it. They make the inches shorter, so they can pretend you have a big dick. She been obliged to make the right noises. Admiration, reassurance. She watched him measure himself over and over again. Then he’d had enough of it, got bored. He had a mind like that, so quick to latch onto something, absorb it, play with it, and move on. She loved it. Loved it with every inch of her being. Loved how intense he could be. When he turned it onto her it was like she the queen of everything. Nothing else exist or matter apart from her, and apart from him, because she only really lived through him. And when he turn it off, she turn off like a lamp. One with a proper switch, not a dimmer. All gone, just in that moment.
It been so hot tonight. Same as all week. It make the air taste stale. She couldn’t find any sleep. It too hot in the bed with him; he kept push her away, with a wet slap of naked flesh against naked flesh and a grunting sigh that suggest he dreaming about something she wasn’t involved in. She’d had to get up, moving slowly as possible to stop the mattress from squeaking. He’d rolled into the space she left, into the dip in the springs closest to the door, and she’d felt a really painful, really sore stab somewhere inside that he hadn’t done that when she was still in the bed. Even though it so hot. He been so sweet earlier, been all: Oh baby, yeah, you know I love you. Why you keep doing this to yourself baby, why don’t you trust me baby, you know I’d never hurt you baby. Then when she gone to touch him it like he another person with his: Erhm, nah. I’ve got work early, you know that. Think these deals set themselves up? It’s too fucking hot anyway. I’m tired. And she felt that desperate tug as her heart drop back down below base level.
She mean to walk over and try to open the window further, see if it was cooler over there, but her feet catch in something. Reaching down, she found a tangle. She taken it over to the window and pulled back the curtain to encourage a breeze. The moonlight pile in and she heard the mattress springs complain as it hit his face and he flung back over to his side of the bed to sleep with closed eyes facing a blank wall. It late and she naked, but it too hot to care and she doubt anyone bother looking into the window. If they did and if they saw her they only turn away again, unimpressed, and get on with whatever it was they come out at night to do. She didn’t bother looking outside to see if anyone else there. Instead she turn round to check he not woken up, that she hadn’t done something wrong. That when she seen herself in his mirror, and seen she was holding the tape measure. It been months since he come back from that trip. She forgotten all about the existence of that tape. Out of sight, out of mind. Just like her.
The light from the moon strong enough to illuminate the black numbers clearly against the background that she knows from memory is luminous yellow, but her eyes now register as a sickly grey. She pull it in, cinch it like a belt round her waist, until it cut into her flesh and the numbers read what she sure should be the correct measurement, if this were a real tape measure. She can’t decide if it count as a toy since it isn’t real, or if it something more sinister. Like a warning. Be careful, it say. Be careful because you know what you’re like, you fat heifer. Given a half chance you’d balloon up pretty quick. Inch by inch. Think he want you if you really get this fat? So she let it drop back down on the floor with a soft, slithering noise. Then she pick it up and measure her breasts again. Then drop it, and kick it away a little, but it catch on her toe and she has to shake it off and it fly back over by the bed. The plastic hiss louder this time, but there is no corresponding creak or grunt from the bed, so she unfreeze and look back into the mirror. She cup her hands under her breasts and lift them a little, then them sag back down onto the top of her ribs, and she hold her cupped hands out a little way. If she gets the implants, like he wants, then they’d be this big. Not really, of course. It wouldn’t really be her. They’d be plastic, cheap feeling, like the tape measure. But he’d like the effect, even though he’d know they not real, just like with the tape measure.
There a scar on her knee. It long and quite thick. It were a bike accident when she were seven, or maybe eight. It had hurt like hell, and she had to have an injection. But when she touch that scar, she think about how life used be simple and how a simple injection could make it all better in the long run. It must been for tetanus. There are lots of little thin feathery scars, all different colours from red fading into white, on the front of her thighs, documenting the last five years of her life. They remind her of the times when she couldn’t even begin to explain where the pain was, and no amount of injections or sweeties or anything else could let it out. Times when she cut herself she can’t look him in the face. She know he hate it. He hits her on them, make his point about how stupid it is. When he undress her and find them she dread it, but love the way it pull his focus back round. Why he say, Why Why Why. What do you think I’ve done now? Stupid fucking bitch. She do it for him and in spite of him because, essentially, he all she have now. She grovel on the floor when he scream. Naked, splayed, hair everywhere, trying to shield her cuts because the bruising is ugly and the scars are sort of beautiful, in their own way. And it hurt when he hit her on them. It hurt when she cut too, but in good way. And she don’t waste it; she don’t do it often or deep. It like a really long, slow, satisfying scratching.
There another thick scar, on the right of her stomach, where she had her appendix out. He has a matching scar. It is something they share. If she get the operation, if she change in the only way she can think of that is left, then perhaps that be enough for him. No more trips away. No more telling her about them. No more of the details. No more measuring tapes. The scars could be a reminder of her sacrifice. Scar-i-fice. Scarr-y-face. But it cost so much and he hasn’t offered to pay for it. He hasn’t really said that what he want, either, but she can tell. She can see herself in his imagination, with big, cartoon breasts, and she can imagine him liking that. Like in the porno mags stacked in the corner of the room. Like the poster he has up in the bathroom. The appendix scar was purple for a long time. Vivid. Striking almost. Now it a soft red. In time it harden into the same chunky white strip as the scar on her knee. In the moonlight it show up a little dark against her skin. How long it take for the scars to heal? She thinks. How long to turn from dark to light? She hate the way she look, most of the time, but not ever really had anything personal against her breasts. Not until now, anyway. And she still don’t really feel it, don’t see what the appeal would be. The only appeal be him wanting it. He hasn’t said he don’t like them. He like to look at them. He like to touch them. He like to lick them, gently, and drive her wild. Will she be able to feel anything if she get the implants? Will she look down and be surprised to see his fingers on them, teasing her nipples to attention, because the nerves been cut through and her brain can’t reconcile what she see happening and what she feel happening?
It still hot, but she look at herself in the mirror and pretend to shiver, theatrically. The shiver make her breasts bob a little, like a little dance. Which is amusing, and make her turn up the corner of her mouth, like a smile. Her lips dark and thin in the mirror, like a slash across her face. Like another scar. Her breasts not really there for her pleasure only, are they? If it make him happy, then no harm. If he happy, she happy. She only happy if he happy, isn’t she? What happiness anyway but a big fuck up idea from childhood that leave scars when it taken away. Too many thoughts to let her sleep, really. Can’t clear her head. She turn away and go back to the window, and pull the curtain back across without looking out. She know the way to the bathroom in the dark without falling over anything or waking him up. She just want to clear everything out and get some sleep. Tomorrow she can try asking him what he want, to find out what she want to do.
*first published in Mobius in 2011
*contains adult language and themes