It didn’t hurt as much as she thought it would. With every new needle she felt a small ghost of a pinprick, or nothing at all. She had imagined stabbing pains and panic, but in the end it was, almost, nothing.
From the boned slope of her arched foot to the center of her forehead, the perfect shiny pins slid into her skin so easy. Easy the way he’d pulled her through the doorway and to the bed. The way she’d matched his silence with hers — saying yes by closing her eyes.
The acupuncturist moved down her body slowly, with purpose, touching pulses and energy points. Asking irrelevant questions. How are you feeling? His fingers rested there, on her collarbone, here, on the inside of her wrist. A tenderness she hadn’t known to expect. It made her angry, this kindness from a stranger, this touch that was not hard or selfish. He rolled her shirt up, slid a pin into her belly, in the center, some submerged chakra, and her blood moved. He crooked her knee to fit one in the soft skin underneath. And she thought then that maybe he meant it, maybe he wanted to know how she felt. But she didn’t have the answer anyhow. Didn’t know where to find it.
When he finally inserted the last precise needle, he draped a small, weighted pillow gently across her lids and left her to steep. Her eyes flickered open and closed, refusing rest. Even with the cool pressure against her skin, spreading brow to cheekbone, she forced them open. She stared into the herb-scented fabric, the endless dark of it, and watched her pulse grip at her vision. A throb and tremble for every moment she had to go on like this, breathing deeply, finding her peaceful center, not disappearing into a more dangerous self.
Air in, and carefully out, she felt him, felt the thumbprint marbled onto her rib cage, already fading. She numbed her mind to his departure. To her recklessness. Pardoning herself from the matter of it. That dark passion, that welcomed invasion. She was only…human. Her eyelids closed.
When the needles came out she felt only air. A flutter above the skin and the knowledge that something was gone.
Hannah Heimbuch is a freelance journalist and commercial fisherman from Homer, Alaska. She is currently working toward her MFA in creative nonfiction through Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop.