It was a rash this time. Her wrist was held in front of her eyes and she stroked the veins and down a bit with her smallest finger; warm, smooth, and then a roughness where a cluster of hair follicles were inflamed and pink. Some kind of rash. She stroked the infected skin slowly and there were several clusters. It felt awful and it was itchy, she stroked, and soon they will crack and weep. The hair follicles will swell and rot and the skin will become porous and scar. Touch receptors
are found closest to the hair follicles, she stroked, and the removal of hair decreases these touch
sensations. She brought her wrist to her ear and it sounded like the distant undoing of one’s trousers.
She hadn’t noticed that he was sitting up now, his back to her, and he spoke into his lap the words
, ‘going for a walk.’
She lifted her head and watched his naked silhouette drift across the bedroom and slip through the doorway like dust.
It was definitely a rash. It had grown now and speckled with red spots, like pinpricks, little blood vessel undercurrents threatening eruption. Her fingertips trickled the rough sores, the intricate patterns and textures and, when she pulled on the skin, it revealed the fault lines; the imminent shivering cracks in a skinscape of natural epidermal disasters.
When he arrived home the next day he said, ‘coffee?’ She loved him. He had been circumcised shortly after their marriage because his foreskin wouldn’t retract back over his penis and it constricted him. It was intolerable discomfort and he had said to her, ‘it’s got to go.’
She sipped her coffee and studied his profile against the television. He had three atrophic scars on his forehead from chicken pox and the hair follicles on his neck were always inflamed, always looked sore, folliculitis barbae - ingrown hairs. A burning pimple for every proud black stub.
Under the covers that night she pressed her breasts to his thighs, stroked his chest, ribs and belly and they were all warm and smooth. Then she said something he didn’t hear and he was sliding down her tongue through the dark wetness, a woman’s palate, warm, glabrous walls. Later that night she cut herself masturbating and when she showered the next morning she would scrape the walls of her cheeks with her fingernails. The skin built up underneath them like white glue and this is how they collect DNA. She shaved her legs in eager rhythms, and all of the hair below her neck she shaved, and she scrubbed all the skin she could reach with her wrinkled paws because the very surface of the skin is the stratum corneum and this is mostly dead cells. When she was finished she became still and watched herself dry in the mirror until the last drop hit the tiles and she was softer than a towel.
And then she found a stranger. And that night she said, 'I love him' in the bedroom, and her eyes held the empty wine glass. She nursed her bleeding palm, bandaged in underwear from an accident she didn’t recall. She lifted her good hand to touch her cheek and said, ‘but my skin is so rough.’ The man stroked her face and she thought about ways to fix her skin, to be in one piece. He tapped the radio for music but it quickly turned to a washed up roar and he held her hips for balance as they tried to find a rhythm in the noise, the indescribable sound waves breaking over the bodies of two moving strangers in the night.
She returned home very late that night and her clothes were wet from the rain so she removed them quietly, and slowly, her skin felt cool and itchy without them. She unbound her wounded palm and climbed beneath the blankets where her husband slept like a bear.
It takes 52 - 75 days for complete epidermal renewal. She arched her back and brought herself to him. She tucked her hips against his and folded her body into his form. Her cheek rested against the warm skin between his shoulder blades and she listened to his breathing, a hushing rhythm, as she traced the lines of his skin with her fingertips, the scattered contours and paths, feeling her way through the dark for familiarity. A soft intrigue, a stolen touch.
Sometimes the skin heals to form keloid scars. Scars red and raised in appearance, and itchy. And they continue to grow, reenacting old paths on the flesh, a memorial for obsessive healing.