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Dust

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She has no nasal bone, that’s the issue. Or part of it, at least. After Leon teaches her how to read, Martha sits in her living room, her cool green eyes focused on an old anatomy book with the library’s address stamped on the title page.

She traces a diagram with her finger, feeling the pictures gently with her nerves standing on end. She half-expects for something hidden in the ink to grab at her, to sink into her pores, to touch her skin. There’s the left nasal bone; there’s the right. They’re small and long and oblong and together they form the bridge of the nose. They’re covered by cartilage.

Martha’s nose, when she touches it, isn’t like that at all. It’s not made of cartilage. It’s made of skin grafted from her hip when she was a baby. The scars on either side of it are pink and stretched, the left side jagged from where the doctors stitched it wrong. Her nostril on that side isn’t shaped right, either.

She closes the book quietly, thoughtfully, and sets it aside.

Am I beautiful?

Her mother was beautiful. There’s a photo of her somewhere not in the house, but floating in pristine condition in a room in Martha’s mind. A beautiful woman, very thin, with a small face and smiling eyes and dark hair and a pert nose, perfectly formed. 

Martha has smiling eyes, too. Bright eyes. Green-flecked eyes. She sees them every time she looks in the mirror. When she goes to town now, she knows other people see them, too. Mr. McRae sees them and his own eyes widen and he smiles, a big, happy, tearful smile like just seeing her makes him want to shout and laugh and jump and cry.

And he never even looks at her nose. No one does, anymore.

So maybe she is beautiful, in a way. Leon certainly thinks so. He’s looking at her right now with love in his eyes, with his lips curled up tightly -- an anxious smile, eager to please, waiting to hear what she’ll say next.

But she says nothing. She wipes her eyes and huffs out a sound that’s almost a laugh.

“What is it?” Leon asks. He inches closer to her on the couch, his thigh touching hers, his hand coming to rest on her wrist. His palm is broad and warm; his fingers are strong.

“Dust,” Martha says, and somewhere deep in her mind the picture of her mother seems to smile. “Just dust.”