THE INTERNEES by Megan Mayhew Bergman

We would be famous in an ugly way. We would be black-and-white pictures in textbooks.

We would be clavicles and cheekbones and bald heads to learn from.

We could smell the bodies of our own kind.

We were sitting on lice-infested beds when the British soldiers came. The liberators. The heroes that shuttled us through hastily assembled outdoor showers. They hung sheets on the barbed wire to give us privacy, but modesty was something we'd lost. We walked slowly to and from the showers in striped bathrobes, a pattern none of us could look at later in life without pause, without bile rising. Without fear.

They made swings for the children and pushed them into the sky. They deloused us with D.D.T., spraying it into our hair and underneath our skirts.

We sat next to each other on the floor, covered in sores. Some of us were dying of typhus. Some of us were just dying. Some of us drank water and picked through tin cans of food, though we couldn't eat as much as we wanted. Our bodies couldn't take it. We vomited. We sorted through discarded clothes and disintegrating shoes. We made fires. We looked at the five-digit tattoos on our forearms.

There was a box of expired lipstick that came off the truck. The British soldiers opened the box and threw tubes of lipstick at the crowd, and we wanted itówe were surprised how badly we wanted itóand we walked the halls, some of us still without adequate clothing, some of us with piss-drenched blankets tossed over our shoulders like shawls, with scarlet lips. We rubbed the lipstick over our mouths. Over and over. We had pink wax on our rotten teeth. We were human again. We were women.


Excerpted from Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman. Copyright © 2015 by Megan Mayhew Bergman. Published by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Megan Mayhew Bergman was raised in North Carolina and now lives on a small farm in Vermont. Scribner published her first story collection,
Birds of a Lesser Paradise, in 2012, and her second, Almost Famous Women, in 2015.

Femme Fatale (2015) by Irena Jurek. Photo courtesy of Jeff Bailey Gallery. Irena Jurek lives and works in Brooklyn.
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