by Morgan Kayser
She unzips her skin and curls it back like an orange peel, bit by bit, until she is nothing but insides. The skin collects in a pile of peel on the sterile tile floor, brighter on top with layers of stringy white rind underneath.
She takes a breath, expecting relief. Do snakes release their old skin with one big sigh, slithering out of it as they exhale their past? She always imagined they did, and envied that ability, but our human skin does not come off with a sigh. It comes off when keeping it on is too painful, when the skin starts to eat away at what’s inside, and you have to pull it off like a wolf eating its own paw to escape a trap. After she is skinless, she still does not sigh—she inhales sharply and feels naked and cold. She looks down again at the white tile floor, to the sides at the white walls, and up at the white ceiling. It is still. Everything is too still. Everything is too white. Everything is too clean. She cannot breathe.
She stretches her skin into a rope, knotting periodically, just like rebel teens do with bed sheets in old movies, and swings down out of the sterile white tower and into the world. The tower guards yell after her, but the others in pain are jealous. They stare out their windows and wish they could rip off their own skin, wish they could join her.
Her bare, exposed feet hit hot pavement and sear black on contact. Her muscles sizzle as the sunlight hits them, frying like bacon, and the same color. There is a dirt path nearby, and she walks down it to the lake. As she takes each step, jagged rock and twigs embed themselves in her open feet, weaving between muscle and tendon and bone like macabre tapestries hanging in the castle of some evil king.
When she arrives at the lake, she kneels at its bank, feeling the grit of sand and dirt crunch against the exposed joints of her knees. She looks into the water—it’s muddy brown, the color of herself, a nondescript nothing color, rotting fruit, decaying leaves, a withering color—and does not recognize what she sees. What are we without skin? What are we without bones? How much can you take away before you cease to be yourself and become something else?