The Skin This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 30, 2012
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“What's that? That mark on your foot … what is it?”

“Oh, that's nothing.”


Beep beep beep beep

Where am I? What happened? I can't remember anything. I can recall the words “Count backwards from 10,” and then memory stops. This is life after the countdown. Lying in this bed surrounded by beep beep beep.

I open my eyes slowly, afraid to see where I am. One eye, then the other. I'm shocked by the undefined blur of the world around me. From the back of my foggy brain I retrieve the memory of removing my contacts. The faces of doctors dance across the stage of my mind. They make brief appearances ­before disappearing behind the dark curtain.

The sheets are rough against my skin. Sterile, crisp, white hospital bedsheets. I want to roll over, but my left foot seems so heavy I'm not sure I can move it. I squint to try to create a clear image. I can tell it is big, maybe wrapped in something. I just can't see. The sharp bite of antiseptics singes my nostrils. I can focus no longer; my thoughts pinball off the inside of my skull. I close my eyes once more and succumb to the allure of dreamland.


“Let's run,” Sam says, smiling.

“Now? But it's cold,” I whine. She rolls her eyes at me.

“You got your stitches out, right?” she says.

“Yeah,” I look at my left foot. My flats expose the column of tan Band-Aids and tape covering the left side of the foot.

“Then we should celebrate. Our moms wanted us to bring the neighbors these cookies. We'll run there, drop off the cookies, and run back. It'll only be cold for a little while,” she says, grabbing our coats.

“Be back in a sec,” she says, then dances into the kitchen to retrieve the containers of holiday cookies.

Still clutching my coat, I kneel, looking at my foot. I smooth the curled corner of a Band-Aid. I'm not ready to run; my skin is still stretched tight, pulling when I walk. I rub my finger from my pinky toe to the base of the messy bandage line, aware of the raw scar underneath. But maybe I do have something to celebrate. The scar is small, and it will heal. For now I am healthy.

I pull on my jacket as Sam returns. The stacked containers teeter. I grab the top two and raise them to my nose. The tickle of cinnamon makes my nostrils twitch. “Snickerdoodles?”

“Don't worry, I stole us a few.” She puts her hand to her mouth and whispers, “Those b****es weren't gonna leave us any.”

“Hey, we made the cookies, so we deserve some of them,” I agree.

“Exactly. Ready to roll?”

“I think so,” I tell her, nodding.

“And … Go!” She whips the door open and flies over the threshold. I chase after her, hugging the containers to my chest. At first I wince as my left foot hits the bricks, the skin pulling as I push off the ground, but I am soon distracted by the cold and the whipping of my hair across my face. I laugh at the sheer idiocy of running with cookies to our neighbor's house in 35-degree weather.

The air is thin and sharp, slicing my throat and tightening my lungs. I know my feet are pounding against the ground because I can hear the thud, thud, thud but I can no longer feel their attachment to the rest of my body. I look over at Sam; her long chestnut hair is whirling around her, her hazel eyes tearing in the wind and burning with the setting of the sun. Just running. And I forget for a while about the scar on my foot.


The doctor plucks a marker from a cup on the counter.

“We're going to have to take a larger sample than with your last surgery. Just to make sure we get everything.”

“So that means the scar is going to be even bigger right?” I say.

“Yes, unfortunately. More like this.” He draws a dotted line starting at the base of my left pinky toe. I can feel the cool tickle of the marker against my skin.

“There we are. That isn't so bad, is it?”

The line curves outward from my pinky toe, sloping down and growing wider until it reaches the gap between my big toe and my second toe. There it curves downward, sloping back toward the left side. It dips two or three inches below my current scar, bulbs out a little to the left until finally connecting with the original line.

“Kelsey, Dr. Whitman knows what he's doing. I know that might look like a big area, but it'll be okay,” my dad says, patting me on the shoulder.

I cringe at the sudden metallic taste in my mouth and realize I've been biting my cheek. I don't ­respond.


“And we have to do it?” I ask, smoothing the surgical gown over my legs.

“Yes. This is the only way to make sure the cancer hasn't spread. And if it has, this is the only way to know which lymph nodes to remove,” the doctor replies.

“How many injections will there be?” I ask.

“Three. They will go quickly,” she assures me. I look at my parents. I can tell my mother is trying not to cry; her red nose gives her away. My dad puts his arm around her and smiles at me.

“It will feel like a bee sting and then burn,” the doctor says. She moves toward my left foot. “It's better not to look.” I look at the monitor that shows my leg in black and white.

“Three … two … one.” There is a sharp pinch. She was right; it's similar to a bee sting. And then I am overwhelmed by the feeling of fire. I gasp and whip my head around to make sure the doctor didn't accidently light me on fire. But there's just the needle in my skin.

I am burning. I hear someone screaming; it takes a while to realize it's me. I don't know where to look, finally I meet the horrified gazes of my parents.

“It's going to be okay,” my dad mouths to me. But the pain seems endless. I look at the monitor, still showing my leg. I can see a bright white line creeping up to my shin from my ankle.

“All right. Only two more to go,” the doctor chirps.

The bright white line continues its sluggish crawl up from my ankle to my calf, seeming to burn through my flesh as it goes.

“Okay, Kelsey, time for the next one.”

I feel disconnected from my body, as though the rest of me is dead and only my foot remains alive.

The countdown begins again, but I do not hear it; the pain has reached my ears. Once again there is an explosion – the surge of a wave crashing across a stone jetty. I'm gripping my hospital gown so hard my knuckles have gone white.

I know that a third injection takes place – but I have no memory of it.


I sit on the edge of my bed with my feet resting on the floor. I know I should stop staring, but I can't. The first time, the stitches had lay flat in a straight line, as though my foot was tied in clean black ribbon like a Christmas present. Now, the stitches seem to barely hold my patchwork skin together, weaving in and out of my flesh in a long, crooked line. What's left of my skin is a dull red. It makes me think of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that don't fit together.


“What's that?” questions a small voice. Soft and light, like the twinkling of wind chimes.

“Huh? What's what?”

I look away from the silver strap of my heel I have been trying to buckle. Harlowe, my cousin-in-law, is standing there, confusion painted on her face. She tilts her head, her tiny hands fidgeting with her white flower girl dress. She points at the faded pink scar on my foot.

“That mark on your foot … what is it?”

Do I tell her the truth? The graphic details of my surgeries and radioactive injections and stitches?

“Oh … that's nothing.” I smile reassuringly but she raises her eyebrows, unconvinced.

I lean close and whisper, “Four years ago a bad thing happened, but everything is fine now.”

She grabs my shoulder with her tiny hand. “Everything is fine now?”

“Everything is fine.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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westkhoryd said...
Dec. 8, 2012 at 12:01 pm
this was extremely good. i enjoyed the images that it drew most of all. The verbs that were used really gives off the expressions needed to continuiously grab someone's attention.
Kelse This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 27, 2013 at 6:20 pm
thank you westkhoryd, I'm glad that you liked it :)
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