skins and rinds

originally published in Short Fiction Experiments, 2014

 

After he left I licked the places where he’d touched me into knots, and when my tongue grew rough, the knots into wounds. The places I couldn’t reach with my mouth, I worried with my fingernails. New partners tried many ways to stop this habit: restraining my arms, my face, kissing me deep enough that I could hear the rasp of my tongue on their teeth. But the tips of my body still itched. Over time my skin grew sticky and blemished. In some places I could see multiple layers at once, my flesh scrubbed all the way down to the core.

In a dream I awoke to find he’d filled the toothless gaps in my bookshelf with new spines. That night I met a new man in a dark bar and beneath his fingertips my scabs became Braille, my goosebumps Morse code. Languages marched like ants around my knees and elbows, and he read the raw parts aloud. They left flakes of skin on his lips and I was ashamed. Yet he insisted I could keep pouring, letting his throat fill up with my blood. And I did feel lighter then, in my eyes and my ears.

The next morning I shed all over my apartment and left the hulls to collapse where they lay. They dried and cracked, splitting words and sentences. When I practiced smiling into the mirror, it seemed like there were many more teeth than I’d started with, but all perfectly aligned. Studying my new skin made me clumsy: during breakfast I rolled an orange to the floor and spilled milk onto the tablecloth, but remained unfazed. I lay beneath the dining table and sucked thick white drops out of the homespun.