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  • The Replacement
  • Madeline Kearin (bio)

This flesh still feels tight at the joints, its fabric stretching like a new sweater. The slightest movement sends a pulsing heat into the stitches, and there are hundreds of them—grating across my ribs, needling into the recesses behind my ears, and pushing tiny daggers up through the soles of my feet. As she rests her head on my shoulder, it pulls the seam at the back of my neck close to splitting, and I flinch in pain.

"Are you all right?" she asks. The moon catches and breaks on the surface of her eyes, where it spins the green pinwheels of her irises. The shafted light paints her face in black and white, striking out half of her features, so that the other half emerge from the dark in a high, unnatural contrast.

I nod, bending my neck so that my scalp tenses and pulls. She nestles her face against my chest, and I tighten my grip around her. My hands feel as though I am wearing stiff gloves, but the warmth of her body seems to help, softening the skin so that it cleaves more readily to me, drawing into all the tiny pocks and crevices.

Beneath us the lights of Edinburgh blur and run. The wan glow coagulates above the parliament building, the sparkling blur of Princes Street, and the jeweled dome of St. Giles' Cathedral. It casts a honeyed pall over the grassy slopes beneath the Scott Monument, where we walked hand in hand beneath the fireworks last New Year's Eve, and electrifies the jolting path that winds along the castle, where she last kissed the lips that were mine.

This is the best part. When she is clear and content, and her whole body murmurs with anticipation. I can feel the flame of her infatuation [End Page 28] quickening, brightening all of her dark corners. We cling to each other, against brittle lashes of wind and the icy black pinpricks of rain, relishing the sweet, hazy fantasy that it will always be like this.


My last day as Harry is a memory that feels simultaneously tangible and effaced, like a tattoo that maintains its presence in the pattern of scorched nerves long after the ink has faded. I woke up, as usual, entwined with her. When I tried to roll over, her leg darted beneath the blanket, snared mine, and pulled me towards her.

We shared a lazy kiss. The smell of her, like beeswax and mint, thickened in the warm pocket of air beneath the coverlet. Long after she got up to take a shower, I lingered there, soaking in it—so long that I must have fallen back asleep. I awoke to the sensation of her arm across my shoulder. She was dressed, her brown hair loosely plaited. She was off to school early, citing IAB (Important Academic Business) with a sarcastic roll of her eyes and an apologetic smile. She kissed the top of my head and reminded me to take an umbrella when I left.

At the office, the hours dripped by. No one ever seemed to answer the phones that warbled continuously in the background. The rain muted the light that entered through the windows, making every surface in the room appear woolly and indistinct. I sent her messages through a chat box in my browser, in between a window of photographs from our last trip to Boston and a dozen tabs of The New York Times.

How's the IAB going?It's shockingly dull hereAlso very wet, thanks for the tipDid you ever find your necklace?My vote is still on gremlins, though I wouldn't put it past Mark to steal itHe seems like a shady character

She replied several hours later in the form of a self-portrait. At some point, she had noticed my unconscious habit of looking away [End Page 29] whenever I was confronted with a camera, and had since taken to mimicking it whenever she got a chance. It was just one of the many ways she playfully copied me, picking up on mannerisms I didn't even know I had...


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pp. 28-44
Launched on MUSE
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