June 2, 2021KR OnlineFiction

Removing

Time has paused—as much as time is capable—outside, but inside it shoots out of my skin in little black rows. I used to relish the act of knives scraping on flesh, like it was a one-woman struggle against personal growth, and even though it left my skin bumpy and white-flaky-dry, this is the consequence of war against the self. The ugly is left behind. My skin remembers I tried to stop it.

There is no one to show my skin to, except the man who is locked inside with me. Since he is only one, not many, to gaze, it does not seem worth the trouble. I cultivate the hair with lotion and cooed words, admiring when it breaks open the skin on my legs, like sunflower stalks, tall and proud. Sometimes it blisters into small, red agitations, but once the hair pops through, it settles. It is only a matter of getting used to minor irritations.

“That’s disgusting,” the man says, buzzing an electric razor across his own face. He does not mean the hair, because his own legs are full of them, and that would be hypocritical. No, he takes issue with the small family of flies that have taken residence on me after I ran out of Cetaphil and used honey on my skin instead.

“If it’s good enough for a sore throat,” I say, “it’s good enough for skin.”

Nothing outside the window is open and we have nowhere to be, so our entertainment—mine joyful, his with a sneer—is naming the flies and cataloging their family lines. They buzz around quite fast, and so at least seven are named Frederick. Sometimes, they drop dead on my legs when the sticky honey hardens too fast for their little wings to lift them back up, but that only adds protein. It makes me more nutritious. I can support so many more.

“I want to live that way,” I tell the man, whose name is Frederick.

“What?” Frederick says, bewildered. “Don’t you know how they eat? They vomit acid and then suck it up.”

“No,” I say, though that sounds interesting. “I want to be surrounded by movement. All the time.”

They have a song, all these little Fredericks. A buzz that echoes around me. Whirligigging. Vibrations that sound like a melody. They dance to it in the air and crawl up and down me, as if inviting me to be a part of them.

Weeks later, one of the Fredericks is gone. He mutters about the smell, but I think he found another woman who likes knives more than sweet, sticky things. No matter, I hardly miss him. There is noise all around me, a steady vibration in the air, a hum that reminds me I am not, and never was, alone. My skin is constantly full of movement, and the air is so thick with it that when I breathe in, I can taste the life of it.