Docile Bodies

I always had to help Ruby with the straps anyway, but the meds had made her gain even more weight in recent months, and now the hooks barely reached their little silken loops. I didn’t want to cut off her circulation. I didn’t want to hurt her at all. She’d been through so much.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I can feel it.”

The black straps cut deep into the meat of her pink legs and hips. I thought of a tied-up pork loin, and a bubble of nausea swelled in my throat. Then the familiar acid tang of guilt settled on my tongue.

Last week, the doctor had lifted one of her enormous rolls of belly fat. The smell that rose from her was like the fumes of hot dumpster garbage, a cloud of something long dead. The doctor clenched his teeth, rose from his stool, and staggered to the corner of the room, where he popped opened the lid of a tiny metal trashcan and quietly, meticulously vomited.

“Sorry about that,” said the doctor. He made his face into a smile but didn’t look Ruby in the eye. “I must be coming down with something.”

She used to joke about her condition—mostly for my benefit, I think—but in the doctor’s office she remained quiet, docile, utterly blank. I almost burst into tears right there. In the van on the way home she said she wasn’t sure we should have sex anymore.

“That’s not fair,” I said. “That’s really unfair.”

Sex was always more than pleasure for me, and she was more than her anatomy. Ruby is whole, and when we enter each other, for just the briefest of moments, I can know it, too.

I can touch something true so as long as these straps will hold.

Front page image by puuikibeach.

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J.D. Schraffenberger

About the Author

J.D. Schraffenberger is the associate editor of the North American Review and an assistant professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He's responsible for a book of poems, "Saint Joe's Passion" (Etruscan), and his other word appears in Best Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, DIAGRAM, Hayden's Ferry Review, Poetry Easy, RHINO, and elsewhere.
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