Skin by CL Bledsoe
Lisa was in the shower when she noticed the spot of skin on her thigh. It was brown, whereas the rest of her skin was a kind of gray. It was in the shape of a thumbprint, as though someone had touched her while she slept, leaving this behind like their scent. She scrubbed it three times with the soap and a cloth, and when that did nothing, climbed out, dripping on the rug, and found her mom’s old pumice stone and rubbed it with that until the stone wore away in her hand. There was no effect. She turned the water off and dried herself carefully and then applied a bandage to it and tried to forget it.
All day she worried about it. What if it spread? What if she woke the next morning and more of her was changed? What would people think? She already thought she heard them muttering about her and her strange skin.
There was a girl in the back of English class who made jokes about burning her vagina with lighters so no raping man would ever bother her again, but everyone knew she hadn’t really been raped. She was like that girl in The Breakfast Club, and sometimes, when they were feeling especially mean, some of the other girls brought cereal sandwiches and stuck them in her locker, but it only shut her up for a couple days.
But listening to her talk about cutting her nipples off gave Lisa an idea. That afternoon, she went home and found her father’s straight razor that he hadn’t used since Lisa’s mother died and he decided to grow his beard out. She sharpened it on the strop the way she’d seen him do until it felt good to her. She took the bandage off, expecting the brown skin to either be gone or bigger, but it looked the same. She poured rubbing alcohol on it, washed her hands thoroughly and made a neat circle around the skin with the razor, breathing quickly through her mouth. Then she pulled the skin up and whittled it away with the razor as though peeling an orange, slowly and carefully. The pain was tremendous, though there was less blood than she expected. When it was finished, she smeared it with Cortizone and covered it with a bandage.
“What if it spread? What if she woke the next morning and more of her was changed?”
The next morning, she lay in bed a long time, refusing to even open her eyes, and finally threw herself onto her feet and marched to the mirror. She expected the patch to have moved to her face, but it hadn’t. She searched herself, and other than the bandage, all of her skin was a uniform color. She showered and dressed and went to school.
She smiled high and carried herself happily through the first part of her day, until at lunch, she noticed some kids talking and looking her way. She ignored it and finished her meal and then went to the bathroom. Again, the skin that she could see was all a uniform color, and she thought maybe she was just freaking out and the kids weren’t really looking at her. For the rest of the day, she tried to pay attention to those around her, which meant that she came off as distracted and inattentive in her classes, but no one else seemed to be talking about her.
It took a couple weeks for her thigh to heal enough to remove the bandage, and even after that, it was covered in a dull bruise. During the wait, Lisa felt strangely more self-confident than she could remember. She became more outgoing and smiled more easily. Her father noticed it, too, on the rare occasions when they spoke, and he even suggested a shopping trip, which consisted of him dropping her off at the mall while he watched a game at the sports bar across the street. She bought high skirts and dresses in bright colors. In her new clothes, and with her new spirit, people really did seem to notice her. Instead of laughing, they admired. Instead of avoiding, they invited. If they saw the bandage on her thigh, she said it was from an accident.
When her thigh finally seemed healed, Lisa removed the bandage. The wound looked strange. It had healed gray, but she realized with a start that the rest of her skin had turned the soft brown that the patch had originally been. She cut it again, and waited, forcing herself to wear skirts and trying to explain why this wound never healed. People asked constantly if she was all right, and each time she had to add a little more to her story while trying to ignore the disbelief in their eyes. She became despondent in private and forced herself to smile so that the muttering wouldn’t return. When she removed the bandage this time, the skin was still gray. She thought about cutting all of her skin off, but just that little patch had hurt tremendously, and she didn’t think she could stand it. Instead, she put the bandage back on it and went into her bedroom and pulled all of her skirts out of her closet and threw them away. In the very back, she found the baggy jeans she used to wear. It made her cry but she put them on. There was no sign of the bandage beneath them, no need, now, to lie.
CL Bledsoe is the author of two poetry collections, _____(Want/Need) and Anthem, and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe. A minichap, Texas, was recently published by Mud Luscious Press. His story, “Leaving the Garden,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South’s Million Writer’s Award. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 3 times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere.
© 2010, Metazen.