Nadia Born

Kelly Sikkema


All the rage: doodling on each other’s skin. Girls begin to wear Bics as accessories—stuck in buns, behind ears, on belt loops, over bra straps. Sometimes they dare to draw phallic symbols or crushes’ names that only wane when nail-scrubbed under scalding water. Mostly it’s just nonsense—hearts and stick figures and such. There’s so much skin in a high school, after all.

That day, Ginny’s besties uncap their pens and descend on her arm. “Your turn, Gingerbread.” They press the ballpoints to her skin and milk black veins over it. She’s certain they’re turning her into a fish. Liquid ribbons, they draw, looping her with black scales. The ink slicks back and forth with the soft fury of their pens.

Ginny closes her eyes. She doesn’t care what they draw, relishes only the smolder of her friends’ attention. She’s known these girls since, well, forever. The trickle of their pens reminds her of summers at the Spillway, sand leaking from their shoes like lines of an hourglass. Together they’ve been through thick and thin: surrendered secrets across pillowcases, shared in the boredom of their small town, fought over all species of slights and lies and envies (beauty, good grades, driver’s licenses, etc.). They’ve spotted each other’s movie theater fares, brought balloons to the hospital (Ginny’s cyst, Astrid’s anorexia, Jo’s dad’s suicide attempt after he was furloughed), debated about minimum wage and divorce and thongs until they were hoarse, made a fact sheet about birth control for their future daughters (don’t leave it in the sun, darling moron), tattled to the guidance counselor about those bruises, burned CDs to apologize for things they said, wished their lives would be as full and glimmering as celestial bodies not yet charted. 

As they ink her, Ginny gets goosebumps. “Friggin’ AC,” she says. She feels the path of the strokes across her forearm until they peter out. Even later, when the History teacher scolds Ginny and makes her wash off her ink-sleeved arm, she can still sense the pleasure of that moment: the snake of yearning in their pens, the contract of childhood friendship seeping into her skin, at least until it fades.

Nadia Born writes peculiar fiction, both literary and speculative. She won New Letters’ 2022 Editor’s Choice Award and has stories featured in Gulf Coast, Water~Stone Review, Jellyfish Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and elsewhere. She also has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction. Find her online at

On Pleasure: “Perhaps it was a symptom of growing up in a small town, but my childhood friendships were intense and wonderful and wholly irreproducible in other eras of my life. Even now, I can feel the pleasure of being surrounded by those girls: speaking secrets into the dark, or laughing like hyenas, or feeling the singe-glow of their affection. There were ups and downs like any relationships, but they remain my first and purest definition of pleasure: the joy of companionship.”