‘Nudes in the Twenty-first Century’ by Jill Varani

This story breaks my heart over and over, but it does so with such exquisite irony and attention to sensory detail, I prefer it broken. I still feel the pain of the slow reveal of the narrative, in which the overlooked or fetishized scars of motherhood are laid bare.

It begins with the protagonist posing for a life drawing class.

When it’s over, she scans the drawings. It’s always a shock. Narcissus at the lake. She sees herself anew. Through their eyes, two dimensional. The odd length of her torso, the smallness of her hands. And the scar. Lightning from her cheek, along her chest to her tummy, forked like flames. Drawn in silver or deep purple or grey, smudged charcoal. It looks like a tattoo on some of the pictures. Stuck on, an afterthought. But she finds it most disconcerting when the artists have chosen to leave it out. As if they had tried not to see it. Instead smoothing her out, cleaning her up.

Nothing is smoothed out, nothing is cleaned up here.

First published in the Sunday Star Times, December 2019. Winner of the Open category of the 2019 Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards, available on Stuff