The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 17, No. 3

Uses for This Body

by Zinzi Clemmons

Description of This Body:
Young, twenty-five years. Never damaged mightily or cut into surgically. Average build: 127 pounds, five foot six; average proportions: 36D bust, 32-inch waist, dress size 6; average attractiveness. Gender: female. Light prescription drug regimen. Tretinoin (acne), ethinyl estradiol (contraception), albuterol (asthma), alprazolam (anxiety).
     Skin is olive, a shade darker around the elbows and knees, knuckles and toes, darker still in patches between the legs. I thought this was irregular until I was in college, and saw an even darker-skinned friend coming out of the shower at the gym. Oily on the forehead and chin, especially at the end of the day. Some concealer when needed, a mask on Sundays when I have time alone, horizontal on my bed.
     Nails clipped short. Some calcium spots, mostly when experiencing malnutrition, usually brought on by stress. When I still had my job and rode the subway during the summer, sometimes I’d look down at my feet and realize the paint was chipped and cover them with my handbag in shame. I’d glance at the nails of the other women, painted perfectly to each corner, and wait anxiously until I could rush out of the car, into the relative dark of the station. I was taught that a woman should always keep her toes polished.
     Bottom round, enough cellulite at cheek and thigh area to necessitate a full-coverage bathing suit, so no stylish, high-cut bikinis. Certain denim brands are off-limits, as well—the more expensive ones too tight across the top, which I take as personal proof that designer clothes are, in fact, not made for black women’s bodies.
     Feet, size 9, with what my mother called “sausage toes,” hammers forming at the big ones. I favor my left foot, so my right drags at an unnatural angle, especially in the blocky high heels I wore to work, warping my toes even more. The older ladies on the train with their gnarled feet. That’ll be me one day.

Uses for This Body:
I have not used this body in the ways you wanted me to, in the forms you imagined and gently coaxed it into, persuaded me to try. I have chosen other shapes, other positions. I have come up with my own names.
     This body is a palimpsest, and you were one of its authors. You were not the first, but your script took up the most pages, was written in the boldest ink. I have tried to erase you, I have tried to write over you, but the curls and dips of your letters are still visible through the other layers.
     When you left, I realized that a broken heart is a physical thing. Something had broken inside me, and nothing would work right. My mind circled constantly. There was no thought of food, of friends, only of the big hole in myself that I had no idea how to fill. This body was yours, until it wasn’t.

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