Fiction: The Freckles
The sun was coming up. Nate, who was twenty-eight but still in appearance and spirit very much a boy, was lying on his side, watching for the girl beside him to wake up.
He had spent the whole night looking at her. He felt wide awake, though he didn’t want to be. She was lying on her stomach, with her head turned away from him. It had been hours since she had fallen asleep. At first, he had been anxious about not sleeping but then he had been thinking all night and he reached the conclusion that he was happy, his life looking bright. When night blanched to pre-dawn blue, however, pooling in the lampshade and the corners of the carpet, he felt his contentment recede. A sudden anxiety crept into his bones.
He became worried that the girl was not well. He lifted the yellow sheet—her yellow sheet, with pale blue flowers—from her body. She had a particularly nice butt. He lowered the sheet, because he was not a creep.
She had a very delicate set of neck and shoulders. How terribly lovely. And a little sad! Why this was sad was unknown to him. Scrunched up and crushed in sleep, her neck was no wider, it seemed, than his wrist. Her brown hair had fallen over her neck and gently he swept it away.
Between her shoulders were six freckles. They looked like a close cluster of stars, like some real constellation, but he could not say which. It was not the sort of thing he had any interest in.
He was, however, in his second year of medical school, and from the anatomical standpoint, this girl was very elegantly made. Now what was her name? For the life of him he couldn’t say. He pictured her from the night before, her mouth a black hole under the orange street lamp. I’m blank. Her voice a cheerful trill.
He was about to lift the sheet again, to peep at her anatomically perfect butt one last time, when something caught his eye. Something had changed. He frowned. Now, between her shoulders, there were only five brown dots. They didn’t look like a constellation at all; the lost star made it all fall apart.
He looked at the mattress, as if it had fallen off like a crumb.
Delicately, as he would to an elderly patient with fragile skin, he pulled her skin taut, to see if the mark was hiding in shadow. But the girl had exceptionally firm, full flesh. There was nowhere to hide. Where there had been six dots were now five.
He brushed his hand across her skin to look for abnormal texture. Any change in beauty marks was cause for a second look.
To his amazement, two of the beauty marks came off onto his index finger.
He rubbed his thumb over it and one fell onto the bed and looked like nothing more than a particle of dust. The other dot remained on his index finger and would not come off. He rubbed it harshly with the blanket, turning his skin red. The freckle didn’t move. It was embedded there, as if it had taken root. It had fused to his skin. It was a little raised on his finger, a little raised and round, and he could feel it with his eyes closed.
Nate returned to his study of the girl’s back. Now only three dots remained, in a triangle shape closer to her right shoulder. Not wanting to wake her, he reached into the pocket of his jeans, which were crumpled on the floor by the bed. He took out his phone. When he opened the camera on it, and positioned it above the girl’s back, he was astounded to find that the triangle of dots had vanished, as if into their own Bermuda Triangle.
The girl woke up. Her smile faded as she turned towards him and saw his camera.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” he said.
She put on her shirt. Then she got out of bed and pulled on her skirt from the night before.
He felt very aware of his nakedness.
“Why were you taking pictures of me?”
“I was—” He paused. “I wasn’t.”
“But I saw your camera out,” she said.
Her voice was edged with something flammable.
Nate put on his clothes, trying to gather his thoughts. “I thought I saw something on your back,” he said, wondering how drunk she had been when they were discussing how he was a doctor, or almost. This made the girl pause. “What’s on my back?” she asked.
The question puzzled him. He slowly put on his shoes.
“Well, you have—you had some beauty marks there…and I thought I saw them change.”
“They changed? You saw them change?”
“Well, yes, I thought I saw your freckles—” he stopped. He had no clothes left to put on. He felt his pockets for his phone and wallet. “You should go to a dermatologist,” he said, using his doctor-in-training voice.
“I thought you were a podiatrist,” she said, her tone setting his cheeks aflame.
The girl was now making her bed, looking at everything suspiciously as if for evidence. When she heard her door, she opened her mouth as if to stop him. But then she sighed and shook her head.
As the boy walked down the street, the birds were still noisily lighting up the trees. He was looking down at his hand. There it was—the freckle—on his index finger where it had come off the girl’s skin.
Christine Kwon is the author of A Ribbon the Most Perfect Blue (Southeast Missouri State University Press), which won the Cowles Poetry Book Prize and debuts in spring 2023. Her stories have appeared in Joyland Magazine, X-R-A-Y, Cheap Pop, Sad Girls Club, and other places. She lives in New Orleans, where she serves as literary editor of Tilted House. You can follow her on Instagram @theschooloflonging