Spotted - Keara McGraw.jpg

Sara Alaica

Moles. Spots, dots, freckles, and beauty marks. I’m covered in constellations of them, enough to trace out a few copies of the entire Roman pantheon. Instead of the spotted camouflage of a leopard whose fur can mimic the fall of dappled sunlight, my spots only draw attention to me through the thicket of evenly stained bodies at a beach in New Zealand. Here, where the pasty skin of Scottish transplants collides with the warm currents flowing south from the tropics, my moles were enough of a distraction to elicit a warning from a stranger.

“You should get those mapped.”

Mole mapping. To sit naked on a stool as a nurse photographs each individual mole, the cold glass lens pushing up against your skin, the spot expanding in size until it is large enough to fill all four corners of the view screen. I had never heard about it before, and as I researched it online my screen popped up with photos of ugly, misshapen moles that had become dangerous, like close friends you lived with every day suddenly trying to kill you.  

I wasn’t born with any moles. I remember as a child sitting in front of my aunt, her eyes on me, reaching out her fingers and stroking my face. “Your skin is so beautiful,” she said. “Flawless.” But like when night falls and the first star appears, faint and first, then followed by another and another and another until you can’t find an empty spot anywhere in the sky, so too did my body become spotted so gradually that it never occurred to me that I should be watching it for signs of rebellion.

So I made a half-hour appointment for a nurse to do it for me. When I undressed and sat down in front of her, she pulled aside the flimsy blue gown made of throwaway tissue I was carefully hiding behind and looked at me, cocking her head to her side.

“We’re going to need more than thirty minutes.”

. . . my body become spotted so gradually that it never occurred to me that I should be watching it for signs of rebellion.

She turned to the computer behind her and clicked on the mouse to activate the screen. A white human figure appeared, faceless, hairless, genderless, and spotless, bordered in heavy black marker like a chalk outline on the street.  

“First, we’ll need to get full-body shots.”

She pointed to a spot on the floor right next to the blank white wall.  

“Stand in the ones.”

There were four sets of numbered footprints painted there, like the next steps in a dance combination of an old-timey musical. The pair of feet labeled with the number one faced forward, towards the nurse at her computer. I lined up my feet and looked at her.

“The gown.”

I shuffled it off of my shoulders and handed it to her to ball up and set on the desk. I stood facing her, bare-breasted like an Amazon, my moles perfectly lit against the white background.

The mouse clicked. “Good, now the twos.”

The feet marked with the number two faced the wall, but just as I was about to lift my arms up, elbows out, fingers stretched wide like the diagram she had shown me, there was a slight tap on the door and a small group of people walked into the room.

I stood facing her, bare-breasted like an Amazon, my moles perfectly lit against the white background.

“I’m so sorry to interrupt,” someone said, as I glanced over my shoulder, “but these doctors are in training, and we would love to sit in for a moment or two.”

“Not a problem,” said my nurse, as I stood there, trying to disappear into the Milky Way of moles that were scattered across my back.  

“High risk,” said one voice. “Is there a family history?” asked another.  

They weren’t looking at me, they were looking at my moles, as if they were a separate thing and not wrapped up inside me, burrowed deep under my skin. I was naked and exposed, but when I had taken off the gown I had also disappeared. They only saw a collection of dots.

And even though I knew that, another part of me felt like I had failed somehow, as if I had allowed the moles to get out of hand, to gorge on the pigments of my skin and run rampant across my body without putting up any resistance. They had made me embarrassed of my moles, of my Andromedas, my Cassiopeias, my Orions.

The mouse clicked. “Threes,” said the nurse.

I looked down for the next number and saw the feet pointing toward the door, the right in front of the left, as if already taking the first step toward home. I wanted to crouch down into those feet like a sprinter, knees bent, ass up, hands perched on top of their fingertips, and at the click of the mouse to run out of the door like that spotted leopard and disappear into the deepest jungle, my spots, like hers, mistaken for a glimmer of light.

Instead I stood there, arms akimbo, a runner frozen in mid-step, until I had run through three and crossed the finish line at four, and the nurse told me that she had gotten all the shots she needed and handed the gown back to me.

Fully covered, with my moles hidden underneath the blue paper, I was no longer of interest to the doctors, so they turned instead to the nurse and the computer screen. Where there had been only one figure there was now a second, a full-body photograph of me standing in the footsteps on the floor.

"Let's begin with the face," the nurse said.

She took a photograph of each mole with the wide lens first, then the close-up, wiped the lens with a small microfiber cloth, drew a dash next to the mole with a blue marker, and finally tapped the mouse to input the information. Click, click, wipe, swipe, tap.   

With each photograph a mark appeared on the white figure on the screen, its perfectly even skin slowly becoming covered in little asterisks, mirroring my own, until you could barely make out the white underneath.

Click, click, wipe, swipe, tap. The doctors followed the camera as it clambered across my body, documenting, analyzing, its judgment-free eye uploading my moles to the computer. After she finished with my arms she pulled them up on the screen to review, a grid of brown faces with crooked smiles, their imperfections magnified for the doctors to peer at, tapping the glass with their pens.

I pushed the stool away from the huddled antelopes of doctors at the watering hole of the computer screen and looked down at my arms. The marker the nurse had used to track her progress had created a new pattern, an unusual blend of brown and black spots of all sizes scattered with streaks of blue. I extended my arms and admired my new skin: it was beautiful.

The group of doctors turned back towards me then, and the nurse asked me to remove the gown once more so she could scan the rest of my spots. I shed it like a snake scraping off last year's skin, sitting proudly upright, the only leopard in the forest.

Sara Alaica is a citizen of the world and a nomad. Her work focuses on her experiences living abroad in Asia, Europe, and the US, and has been featured or is forthcoming in Vela, Cleaver, Spry, Switchback, and The Tishman Review. She blogs at

Illustration by Keara McGraw.

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