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Skin

by joshuapaul


A/N: So, I've come back to YWS in need of a critical fix. Please be honestbrutally honest

Skin

Felicia sat on the carpet before the full mirror with her cheek propped on her knee. She watched the way her fingers moved through her hair.

“Honey,” she called, “Do you need anything dry cleaned for Saturday?”

Martin glanced over the rim of his glasses at her, he frowned then continued reading. “No.”

She stood, watching herself. Without moving her feet, she twisted and eyed the buttons of her spine then she found it poking out from her slik nightshirt. She wrapped her arm over her shoulder and pressed it with the nail of her thumb. It folded and squashed.

Had a year passed already? She counted back the seasons. She traced a loose thread of hair behind her ear. A green backless dress hung on the door, still choked in the plastic it came in. She took it down and used her fingers to pin it to her chest, it fell down to her knees. She twisted again and eyed the thing on her back.

Martin folded a business card into his book and shelved it beside the bed. He laid down, closed his eyes and asked, “Are you going to be up much longer?”

“No,” she said idly, still looking over her shoulder in the mirror, “Not much longer.”

She spent the next day cleaning the house. Ran over the floors with the vacuum and dusted. After lunch, she took the sedan out from the underground parking. At the pharmacy, the chemist greeted her by name and asked what she needed. She regarded him then moved close to the counter, she leaned over and asked.

“Can I show you something?”

He studied her a moment.

“What is it?”

“I can’t see my doctor until next week, and I need some advice before then,” she said quietly.

Creases carved across his forehead and the tuft of hair above each eye lifted.

“What is it?”

“It’s on my back,” she said. She put her bag on the counter, shrugged her coat from her shoulders and let it slip down her arms. She turned around and pulled her hair to the side. “Can you see it?”

“What am I looking for?”

“The bump, do you see it?”

He adjusted his glasses and frowned at her back. “I see something, it looks like a skin tag. If you’re concerned you should see your-”

“I’m not concerned, I just want to get rid of it.”

The chemist nodded, still frowning as she hopped her coat over her shoulders. He moved out from behind the counter and marched past her. He studied a few white boxes on a shelf, he leaned back and held one box at a distance and read the label to himself and said hmmm, yes this should do it.

“Skin tag removal – Extra strength.” He held out the box and she took it, “You could try this, I would recommend seeing your doctor but if you need it done before the weekend this should work.”

When she arrived home, he was reading the paper. He had two open boxes of take out and she mouthed a fork load of each then filled a glass of water and sipped it. She watched him eat.

“Is that all you’re having?” he asked.

“I can’t eat anymore, I want to be skinny on Saturday.”

He watched her and his gob slowly worked a mouthful of chow mein. “Your skinny enough Felicia, don’t be ridiculous.”

“I want to be perfect this Saturday.”

“Who do you want to impress?” He said watching her face.

“No one.”

“You want to impress no one?”

“No,” she said and with that, she carried her skin tag removal kit to the bedroom.

He sighed then sat a while longer and picked at the boxes of take out. The television quietly reeled news stories and the rain was beginning to tick against the glass leaving spots that warped and magnified the image of the buildings outside and when Martin hit the angle just right he could see the door open on the side of a yellow taxi and someone step in, it could be a woman or man with long hair. When the stars began to prick the thin cloud, he poured a few fingers of gin and sipped it a while. Sometime after nine he went to the bedroom.

She was crying. Around her spot on the floor was an empty box, a pressurized canister and a few foam nibs with plastic handles. She sat naked from the top up and in her pajamas from the bottom down, she held something against her back. He could hear a hissing sound and she continued to cry.

“What in the name of god are you doing?”

She still didn’t speak. He stepped past her and looked down. She was holding one of the foam nibs against her back and it still hissed.

“Felicia, what are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re doing nothing?” He said incredulously.

He pulled her elbow away gently. On her back a fold of skin was changing before his eyes, it was marbling white, not skin white but plaster white with red creases rising like blood.

“What are you doing?”

“I just want to get rid of it.”

“Rid of what?”

“The mark on my back, the skin tag,” she said punctuating each word with an arrested sob.

“Felicia, if it means that much to you, I will do it. This is dangerous.”

He picked up the sheet of instructions and scanned over them. He took a foam nib and pressed it into the can and the sound reminded him of whipped cream, he counted to three then removed it. He pinched the skin between thumb and finger and lifted the tag. He placed the nib at the base of it, the stem. He held it hard against the skin. Her entire body seemed to tighten. Her ribs were carved deep against her skin and her spine was knotted like a scorpion’s tail. He watched the thing shrink and discolor. He felt something, a coldness, he had the feeling surgeons must have once had. The power to change a body. The skin reacted, changed forever, burnt or frozen. Damned to shrivel and die. He had the power to scar. It was cold yet intimate and his hand softly trembled with it.

“You must really love me,” she said, “To do this, to see me like this, you must really love me.”

He didn’t smile or respond. He just eyed the spot. When he finished it didn’t fall, it seemed bigger than ever, but white and burnt.

“Okay, I will just sterilize it and cover it, it should come off in the next forty eight hours.”

“Forty eight hours, it needs to be gone by Saturday.”

“It should be gone.”

It began to itch the next morning. Wincing, she pressed the scab lightly with her fingertips and scratched around it. She rolled onto her back and thrust her pelvis up. She scratched in the shower. She scratched reading the newspaper with a bowl of granola. She scratched as she sat at the couch watching TV and when she drove to the gym in the afternoon, she rolled from one shoulder to the other pushing her back into the seat.

Two more sleeps. She was going to look perfect. Better than last year, how many of the other wives could say that? And Frank, Martin’s boss, will kiss her hand and say how lucky Martin is. Franks girlfriend would be there again, with the blue butterflies inked over her shoulder and her straight black hair. When they met a year ago, she smiled as they shook hands and she watched her move on to meet the other guests. The smile drained from her face and she sipped her cocktail with her gaze still on the girl. The girl smiled and Frank led her with a gentle hold of her elbow, like a father down the aisle, but rather mismatch lovers.

That night it began to itch again. She rolled over and tossed the covers off. She scratched and picked it and squeezed it until it hurt. It felt like it was growing, swelling like a boil. She scratched it. After fiddling about in the dark she found the lamp switch. When she pulled her hand over her shoulder and held her fingers before her, a crust of blood had worked beneath the nails. She stared with wide eyes. She rushed to the bathroom and rinsed and worked the blood away. She moved her fingernails between her teeth then pulled them away quickly and wrapped her arms around her waist. In the mirror, she stood watching her eyes and the shadow cast by her brow. She slowly turned and glared over her shoulder. It sat between her blades, where the growth had been there now was a bloody scab. As she moved closer to the mirror it came in focus, the ring around its edges was pink and smooth like a healed over burn. The scab was a flake of young pine bark. From beneath, a thin tear of fluid ran. She pressed a Band-Aid over it and decided not to touch it until nine am Saturday morning. Yes, she would wait, it would be gone before the party.

That day she left the window in the bedroom open. In the afternoon, she heard a hum. It was almost a static hum, she thought it must be the refrigerator cycling. Or perhaps Frank had left his electric shaver running. Yes that was it. But she went to the bathroom and the hum grew no louder. She moved to the kitchen and it was loud. Above the sink, she found a dragon fly beating against the window. It was no wider than her hand from thumb to finger yet when her eyes found it fear nailed the soles of her slippers to the hardwood. She watched as it beat and hurled itself against the window.

Eventually, she shuffled backwards a few feet. Without looking away, she reached back into the pantry, found the broom and began to slowly shuffle forward. She got it. In one joust. The buzzing stopped but the wretched thing’s wings continued to twitch and move. They would fold together then suddenly split and beat a few times and stop. She ran down the hall, found the vacuum cleaner and plugged it in. She held the tube close to it and pressed the on switch with her foot. It disappeared.

Later, Martin brought home a giftwrapped bottle of scotch on Friday evening. Felicia worked her lip with her teeth and watched him uncork a bottle that he took down from upon the fridge. He poured a short glass had a sip then kissed her forehead on his way to the couch.

The phone rang and when she answered, it was her mother.

“Hi Mom,” she said as she left the room and he glanced up.

“How are things, dear?”

“Good, Mom,” she said, lowering herself on the bed in the spare room.

“So they are getting better?”

“Things are good.”

There was a long pause before her mother continued. “ Okay, well you tell me if things get bad.”

“I told you last time didn’t I?”

She sighed and told her mother she would call back, she told her she had to get ready for a party the next day. Her mother sighed too. Felicia imagined her mother with her arms crossed and the phone wedged between her shoulder and her ear as she scrubbed a pot or guided the iron over a shirt and she said “Well, keep in touch, I’m sorry we couldn’t talk a little more today but you call me next week.”

“I will,” she said but she knew she wouldn’t. They said bye.

The rain started as specks on the windows and grew to teardrops then as the duvet of cloud reclaimed the last wedge of twilight, the teardrops grew wider. When the streetlights began to wink on the rain was coming down the window in a sheet and she still sat with the phone on her lap. It felt like a corn kernel had been weaved into her skin. It sat slightly to the left of her spine. She found it with her finger tips and winced as she touched it. She scratched it and pressed it with her thumbnail. The pang sent a quiver down her spine and into her hands. She worked the tips, nails of the five fingers on her right hand into the spot. Tomorrow, the party, Martin, Frank, it didn’t matter, nothing mattered except the itch. The itch first and forever. It grew deeper and the itch was proportionate to the pain which grew as she plucked it and kneaded it. When she stopped, it was as though she had worked her way from the depths to the surface and she could breathe. The hand, still braced as a claw, sat on her lap beside the phone. Bloody and used.

Martin didn’t ask about the call. He eyed her when she walked back into the lounge.

“Oh Martin, you should have seen it,” she said.

“Seen what?”

“Today a huge dragonfly came inside. It was this big, I swear. I squashed it with the broom.”

“Where is it?”

“In the vacuum cleaner. Isn’t it strange Martin? What business does a dragonfly have in our apartment?”

“Sometimes these things find themselves in strange places, I suppose.”

That was all he said and he went on with his scotch.

When she met Martin, he was dating a girl, whose name she forgot a long time ago. Martin kissed her and asked her to a party at his boathouse. She walked in to a room of men and they got to drinking, other girls arrived but she chewed her lip and barely spoke. She drank wine until after midnight then before she left he took her hand and lead her to the lakeside, they sat in the grass and he kissed her and touched her but she moved his hand away. She wasn’t straightening her hair at that age, when she looked down and picked pine needles from the grass a tangle of hair tumbled over her face. He parted it like curtains and pressed his lips against hers and they fell back together.

The rain continued to fall and the clouds seemed to come down with it. When she got up to turn the light on, she could barely see the buildings across the street. Thunder came like tumbling bowling pins, but she didn’t see lightening. Her hand, as if tainted, was still curled like a dead flower. She rinsed it and lifted the back of her blouse in the mirror. It was swollen and dark. She began to itch again.

He didn’t move when she slipped into the sheets. He waited a while until she had settled, until the burring sound of her head sinking into the pillow gave way to their breathing. Then he reached out and pulled her hair back away from her face. She was turned away and as he moved closer and nestled her, she bunched her knees to her chest and shivered. He pulled her hair back and kissed her neck.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?” he said.

She didn’t answer, she just held her knees tight to her chest and closed her eyes. Each breath came with labour and concentration. Her stomach had been empty for three days and her head hurt. She reached back and pushed him away. He rolled over and jerked the covers.

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” he said.

She was in the mirror and the storm had cleared outside. It was going to be a beautiful day at the party, at Frank’s cocktail party. She was wearing the green dress with the low back. She was watching in the mirror and the itch came. She resisted. She moved to touch it but couldn’t, as though she was meeting some physical barrier. She turned slowly and watched over her shoulder. It wasn’t there. She moved closer to the mirror and it began to swell. It grew. Impossibly, it grew. In moments, it was as large as a grape then it grew to the size of a lemon. It swelled and she couldn’t reach back to itch it, her heart was going like hell and her breath was laboured and wet. It continued to swell and the skin stretched and bruised. And as it grew it pulsed and a crease formed at the centre. It grew wider. The skin parted and from it extended a pair of white nibs. They grew longer and there was something else. A caul broke and from it came wings, like triangular sheets of spun glass. Her mouth grew wide but she couldn’t scream. A framework of dark polished tendons divided the wings, not unlike the restless dragonfly they twitched. She didn’t pull from some slumber; she just turned and stood with the pair of wings stretched at an arms width. She eyed her dress and smiled.


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Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:02 am
sargsauce wrote a review...



Hullo! I'm sorry I'm so late. Well, I'll just get down to it.

Overall, a very enjoyable read. It has a very cinematic feel in that it's more about what's happening and our literal mental image and the depth of an expression. That's not bad, but it can sometimes lend a bit of an elementary "this then this then this" kind of story. Particularly, when she goes into the bathroom at night to examine her back, we're seeing what's happening, but aren't privy to anything intimate and it feels like a series of stage directions and the impact in her face and movements you might get from a movie or play is lost.

And on that note, we're held at arm's reach from these characters nearly the whole story. We can look in and wonder what is wrong with their relationship and how the party makes them feel and how they feel about each other, but I think you're withholding a little too much. I did like, however, when something rather odd happened, and then we were left to reflect ourselves, like the dragonfly and the final scene.

There was a weird bit in the middle where you shifted perspective to Martin but then never came back to his thoughts again. Struck me as a little odd.

Small thing, but I would have liked a description of any kind of the skin tag at the very beginning. You just refer to it as "it" until she sees the pharmacist.

I really liked the short scene of them ink bed together where it begins "He didn't move when she slipped into the sheets." it feels very real and desperate and despairing. Sums up the whole thing and practically absolves you of all you had previously withheld from us about their relationship.

And another small thing, at the end, I might have liked it better worded as "Her mouth grew wide but she didn't scream." Saying she "couldn't scream" as you did perpetuates the idea of panic right up until the end, but then you abruptly switch gears on us with "she eyed her dress and smiled." If you allow the idea that she could choose to accept or freak out about the transformation, then it opens it to interpretation and eases us into that last line.

And the sudden call by the mom seemed out of place. Her mom works up the courage to call in this trying time, but then lets Felicia off the hook so easily. It just felt too much like teaser exposition shoehorned in there from an anonymous character, like when Shakespeare has street gossip fill the audience in on the goings on of something he couldn't figure out how to write into the play.

I do like the fragility of their relationship. Like a puff of wind, a misspoken word, or an excuse could cause it to tumble down.




sargsauce says...


Typos. Stupid mobile device and its autocorrect (autoco-wrecks)



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Tue Mar 27, 2012 4:47 pm
Twit wrote a review...



Hi Joshua! It's nice to read something of yours again. ^_^

At first I wasn't sure about this. It moves quite slowly, and the tone is quiet, almost methodical, but there's a great tension there as well, which is interesting. I get the feeling that Felicia and Martin don't have the happiest of marriages--the phone call to her mother makes me think this is possibly because of something that's happened in the past.

Although there is this tension, the rest of it feels a little dead. I don't know, maybe that's the effect you were aiming for. The tone is so quiet, all the emotions feel muted, which could be due to the state of their home life--or it could be something that needs fixing.

I didn't find it too bad in this section, but something to beware of if you continue this, is the perambulating pace. It was a bit "this happened, then this happened, then this happened, then this happened, then this happened..." without much of a transition between one day/event and the next. I can't tell if you are going to continue this; it could work very well just by itself, but even if you're not, I think that needs looking at. Make it flow more smoothly, so it's not just a list of events. If you have connections between them, then things like the dragonfly (which I found random and thought completely irrelevant until the end) won't stick out so much, and will be more of a part of the fabric of the story.

I hope that all makes sense, lol. PM or Wall me if it doesn't, or if you have any questions!

Good to see you back again!

-twit




Twit says...


Mmkay, so I can't go back and edit something else in. >_< But if you aren't continuing this, if this is a short story, I'd like more of an idea of what is wrong with Martin and Felicia's marriage. They aren't cruel to each other, but there seems something really vital lacking between them. It's like they're uncomfortable around each other--almost scared of each other. I think that should be elaborated on.




"You, who have all the passion for life that I have not? You, who can love and hate with a violence impossible to me? Why you are as elemental as fire and wind and wild things..."
— Gone With the Wind