BY GHINWA JAWHARI
“It won’t come back,” lies the Technician to my face. “But if it does, it’ll be thinner. Sparse.”
She holds the laser over her shoulder like a bazooka, aims its tip at my naked body. She’s sectioned me into manageable squares with a short, white eye pencil so that my thighs and stomach resemble a chalked up butcher’s guide. Each zap clears a section the size of a coin. Without pause, she clears the entire left underarm and moves quickly to the right. My skin burns, scorching, and I quiver but I don’t scream. I don’t ask for a break.
“Smooth!” reacts my White Boyfriend, who is paying for it. He pets my thigh as if it is the soft head of an obedient animal. Some remnant eye pencil — a line straight down my leg, a ghostly blueprint of the treatment — disturbs him, and he runs his tongue along it frantically before scrubbing it off with the sheet.
I wear a red dress to dinner. He tugs the zipper up, moves my long curls to one side. His grip on my shoulders is buoyant but firm, a boxing coach handling the prize fighter in the corner of the ring. In the mirror, his reflection grins at what it sees.
A fresh wave of hairs pokes out like quills in five weeks. I return to the Technician as directed. They’ve renovated the waiting room with a fresh coat of sky blue paint and velvet chairs adorned like thrones. All the greenery has been removed: the eucalyptus on the sill, the jasmine in glass bottles, the sapling pines in pots.
“What happened to the trees?” I ask the Secretary. She shrugs without looking up from her phone.
“We bulldozed them,” jokes the Technician from the doorway. I am ushered in with her flippant wrist. She doesn’t leave the room when I remove my clothes, and when I step out of my underwear her face puckers as if insulted. “No real change yet,” she says. She divides me up before maneuvering the machine through the sectors. “Yet.” She zaps with a single eye closed. When she finishes, she douses me in a fragrant oil, her slick fingers attuned to any missed patches.
The Technician follows me to the desk, her gaze at my back. I pay the Secretary. My hair is a black flag scrunchied at half mast.
“Where are you from?” Buried in my purse, I am not sure which of them asks.
My thighs and stomach blister over after, red as plucked chicken. The Technician warned me about this in passing but still I did not expect it. “Collateral damage,” she’d said. “The skin is in the way of our enemy.” Burns are not like bruises or cuts; the burn sears and sears on, touched or left alone, completely deaf to impending relief. It is a pain that calls for action — ice water, cold air, peace — as rest infuriates it into gyres. I fill the tub with cold water, shiver until my toes numb.
In bed, my White Boyfriend touches the new braille of my skin before pulling away as if pricked, irritated with the damage. But the fragrant oil draws his face to me, and when he says “Delicious,” it is dark enough to assume he smiles.
The bumps stay flared for two days. Some pus over into microscopic scars. Still the hairs grow. My friends ask me why I am doing this. “We are just as hairy as you,” they console me. “Actually probably worse!” They lift their shirts to prove it, pull down their jeans, point to the black border of coils around their belly buttons.
“Cradle of civilization, baby,” says one.
“It’s violent,” says another. “Cutting off blood to the root. That isn’t removal. It’s extinction. What if you change your mind?”
But I have no mind in the matter to change. I rub the itching new hairs with an open palm, a slow wave goodbye. They ask me if I am doing this for my White Boyfriend, which makes the venture seem like a gift or errand. In truth I could not answer this. I did not remember ever agreeing to it, just knowing that eventually, because we were together, I would have to go.
The seven recommended visits pass, but hair still crops up in isolated patches along my knees, the insides of my thighs, the center of my underarms, my belly. The Technician modifies the machine’s calibration and chalks me into even smaller squares for accuracy. “Don’t worry,” she says, more to herself, more determined this time to rid me of me.
Several extra visits appear on my White Boyfriend’s credit card statement, but he does not know where his money goes or what it pays for. In general, with the results, I feel he is silently thrilled. He buys me dresses, lingerie, skirts, thongs. When he returns home to find me twisting my red body in an ice bath, he whistles a bright tune, elated, and makes the bed for us.
Months later, the Technician finds the last remaining plot of hair particularly vexing: a smear that runs beneath my belly button, where I imagine my womb to be. Its tenacity enrages her. It is as thick and as black as day one. “Stubborn.” She takes aim and fires repeatedly, forgoing the white eye pencil and the oil. “The roots just won’t die.”
BY GHINWA JAWHARI
My first girlfriend teaches me how to insert a tampon. Where to hit a man so it hurts. My mother teaches me X. My aunt, widow at 23, outlines her bruises in kohl. Bleaches the evidence until the frustrated detective sleeps with her. Conflict of interest. My mother continues to repeat X every day. It is astounding I don’t have it yet by heart, because she knew it already when she was my age. My cousin, half American, explains that boys who come too fast like you too much. She tugs a condom over a banana, holds it against her hips and laughs with her entire mouth. My mother shouts, “X!” and I agree in frantic nods, ashamed. My first boyfriend loves me so much he breaks two knuckles. Loses the security deposit. The man I leave him for never checks if I wear my seatbelt. Doesn’t know how I taste. My aunt, not the widow but another one, wishes she were a widow. He outlives her.
My mother’s mother marries at 14. All she knows is that his eyes are blue, that his name means ‘content.’ My first girlfriend can open my mouth without touching it. A gift. My mother, disgusted, maintains X, even when I beg her. I cry for an explanation. My father pretends to be sleeping. My other grandma runs away to be with my father’s father. He opens her on a deserted path beyond the hillside. He can’t wait. Anyone could have seen them, but didn’t. Another boyfriend takes me to a shooting range, holds my frame firm like I am a weapon. We aim. The vibrations fill my hands with static. Against the car, outside, I let him.
X, accuses my mother rightfully, and I shout. Cover my ears. Even with the music loud in my headphones, I hear X in my head over and over until I leave.
I stay with my girlfriend until her girlfriend comes back from vacation, and after that I find myself debating X’s pronunciation. I can’t remember it exactly. I call home, but my mother refuses to disclose X over the phone. She is still upset, possibly livid. She throws the phone to my father, but when I ask him about X he has no clue what I am talking about.
Years pass and X becomes a footnote from my teens, my 20s. I don’t forget it entirely but I choose not to remember. The cousin buys a boat and stays adrift in the sea. My aunts and both my grandmothers die. The girlfriend moves to Oregon with her wife, and from time to time she sends me letters. In the hand that used to touch me. She remembers my body differently than I do. Her descriptions are arresting, beautiful enough to be imagined.
“I don’t remember it that way,” I confess over the phone. My son waddles up to me and stretches his arms to be held. I have named him for a grandfather that beat his wife. “It was a hard time back then. Full of pain.”
“You were distracted,” she ventures. “Warned. How could you exist like that? Neck always turned behind you.” In the background, her wife calls her into another room. She says goodbye. In a moment I am twenty-two, leg on the edge of the tub, and she is in front of me teaching me where it goes and what to do. I am falling in love with her, not knowing she will leave, not knowing anything.
Ghinwa Jawhari is a Lebanese-American writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her debut chapbook BINT was selected by Aria Aber for the Own Voices Chapbook Prize, and is available for pre-order from Radix Media. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Catapult, Narrative, Mizna, and elsewhere. Find her @bbghanouj and www.ghinwajawhari.com.
Next (Ethan Chatagnier) >
< Previous (Nomi Stone)