“The Illustrated Girl” by Mila Jaroniec

She was 24 when she noticed her body changing. Or maybe it wasn’t changing, maybe it had been that way for awhile and she was just now starting to realize, either way. Spider veins, purpley-black like squid ink (presumably genetic, but who knows) were beginning to show and so were the rings around her neck, like a tree’s rings, like every choker she’d ever worn had left its indelible mark on her skin, the gummy stretch marks around her hips and thighs a persistent reminder of her former lack of self-control. She considered expensive treatments and creams but deep down knew that nothing erases the telltale signs of life on a body and so decided to make peace with it.

She tattooed her left thigh first. Then her right, then her back and arms and stomach and so on until she had almost no more room. There was a huge colorful dragon where the anemic veins had been, scaly and green and breathing fire in shades of sunrise. The colors looked so saturated and vivid underwater she took to running baths instead of showers, flexing her muscles under the filmy bath oil and watching them ripple like tropical fish darting through a coral reef.

She tried to wear long sleeves all week while visiting home one summer but it was so sticky and humid her hair clung to the sides of her face even indoors so she gave up and with a sliver of hope stripped to her t-shirt though she knew it was a bad idea. Her father choked on his cherry tart and her mother exclaimed and shouted and told her she would have to attend her brother’s wedding in a ski suit. She threw the sweatshirt back over her head and, feeling the individual bits of fleece roll off and stick to her wet back, reminded herself that beauty comes at a price.

Profile: Mila Jaroniec