Epilation or Gradual Decline

Almost any area of the body can be waxed, including but not limited to: the legs, back, abdomen and feet. When she did wax, Mirka preferred strip waxing. The esthetician dunked the flat wooden stick in the hot bowl of wax and twirled it around. Mirka’s eyes followed the glob dangling off the edge of the stick before it fell onto her face, where it was spread thinly under and over her eyebrows. The sticky sheet on her face turned her forehead into a cave that trickled stalactite shaped wax drips onto her eyelids. The esthetician applied a strip of cloth to Mirka’s face and pressed firmly, so that the strip would adhere to the wax which was in turn adhering to the skin. Mirka gripped the chair just before the esthetician quickly ripped the cloth against the direction of Mirka’s hair growth, yanking the stubble from its roots. Almost immediately the fingers were back on her face again, except this time slathered with cold cream that soothed her hairless skin. Mirka liked strip waxing, even though it did not prevent skin lifting, which sometimes happened during a wax treatment. The top layer of the skin tore away as the cloth ripped off the face, or legs, or abdomen, or back.

It’s been over ten years since Mirka has waxed any part of her body. Semi-permanent hair removal practices are of no use to her now that her skin wrinkles without her frowning and her back hurts almost always, unless she is seated still at the table in her basement where she binds books. Mirka began binding books shortly after she stopped waxing and her husband disappeared. The process of physically assembling discarded books from folded, neglected sheets of paper quieted her anxieties and insecurities. When she still waxed her face, Mirka had a number of men she could fold and unfold her way through. She was practiced at folding her lips over her teeth: to tighten her skin for hair removal or to keep from scraping. Tuck lip under teeth and tense, cloth pulls at wax. Tuck lip under teeth and take a breath before plunging. She didn’t expect her hair to stop growing, didn’t anticipate men would make no effort to see her as attractive once it happened. She didn’t know she was disposable until she began spending her nights in the basement, stacking sheets for outdated books, sewing the edges to a thicker sheet with a chain stitch.

The books Mirka binds are made of paper. Before paper was introduced, books were written on vellum. Mirka knew how vellum was made. The Latin word “vitulinum” was slaughtered and chopped until the word “vellum” emerged, smooth and cream colored like the fine-grained skin of its definition. The calfskin was reactive to humidity, so after it was cleaned, bleached, stretched and scraped into parchment, it lay between heavy wood boards. Because paper is less reactive to humidity, heavy boards lost their function. When Mirka thought about the calfskin hugging the herse, waiting for the crescent-shaped knife to clean off any remaining hairs, she was reminded of those afternoons she spent stretched out in the salon chair, skin pulled tight, scraped and bleached smooth and then plucked clean of stray hairs with a shining pair of angled tweezers. As she pulled her fingers over old book covers to wipe them clean of dust, she thought about the bookstore on her corner, advertising its closing sale. Mirka liked to Coptic stich the books together, and while she pushed her way through the pages, she stacked nameless and faceless spines in her mind. She completed the stitch, reassembled the useless book and then placed it on a shelf where she was accumulating a new collection of spines without faces.

After each book she repaired, Mirka held her fingertips to her thinning eyebrows for a moment, and stroked the soft hairs laid slick across the lifted bone. There was a time when books were produced by protruding surfaces slicked with ink. The paper made contact with the ink and was pressed flat by hand, with a double-handle brayer.  “Bray” was the sound a donkey made:  A harsh cry. It was also the word that described crushing, grinding, spreading thin. Mirka made no sound when the hot wax was spread thin across her face. She as silent as the papers pushed down to the ink, filling themselves with words. Mirka removed her fingertips from her eyebrow, crossed her hairless legs and began stacking a new pile of sheets. She reminded herself that she was always alone. She reminded herself that it is always too easy to lose one’s function.

*

Tova Benjamin is a poet and student located in Chicago, IL. She is the co-founder and director of Napkin Poetry, a bi-monthly open mic and reading series. Her poetry has been featured on WBEZ and has or will be included in Rookie, Poetry Magazine and Puerto del Sol.

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