“Can you see it?” She asks me, her hand caressing the skin around her navel. I can’t see anything except for the soft brown hair leading down below the band of her boy shorts she wears because comfort is more important than fashion or being sexy, her fingers hopping in the air as she said it.
“Feel here,” she grabs my hand, pulling my fingers towards her belly. “There.” And the tips graze buttons, invisible, circling her belly button. I can feel the ridges, the holes, filled with thread. They are not uniform and change size and shape as I continue to circle my fingers. I stare at the places where they should be, wonder about how they got there, how they are attached to her.
“I was having that Coraline nightmare again. You know the one, and they were just there when I woke up.” She doesn’t have that dream of buttons sewn into her face too often and I try very hard not to tell her my thoughts about what that dream means because no one likes to hear that they fear loss of agency, loss of self. I mean it’s obvious, right? But still, it’s not something she wants or needs to hear from me.
“When I pull on one of them, I wasn’t trying to pull them off, although it did cross my mind” she says as she watches my fingers press against the air above her body, “I remember the weirdest things, like that time we sat in the parking lot of the Denny’s arguing about the stupid names they give food or the time you bought that clown doll I hated and put it all over the house.” Moons over My Hammy is a stupid name, and the doll was my way of getting her past her irrational fear of clowns and of dolls. Her unwillingness to see the humor in finding the doll in the shower, next to the cereal, in the backseat of her car made me realize that maybe she needed more work than I was willing to do. You can’t fix everyone, right?
“They change too. Have you noticed?” I want to pull one to see what memory floats to the surface. “They’re never the same button or the same memory.” There’s a diamond-shaped button under my thumb, the edges almost sharp. “You can pull it if you want. I don’t mind.” I look into her soft brown eyes and I do.
Melissa Llanes Brownlee
Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Fractured Lit, Flash Frog, Gigantic Sequins, Cream City Review, Indiana Review, miCRo, and Craft. She is in Best Small Fictions. Read Hard Skin from Juventud Press and Kahi and Lua from Alien Buddha. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.