Skin – Part One

Another free story from my MA, the third one I wrote. I love the concept of this one, but I feel the story itself isn’t there yet. This version is several drafts in, but one day I will scrap it and start again with all new characters and an all new plot. For now, this is Skin.

Skin – Part One
May 2011

Amin

The light turned on but Amin did not sit up straight away.  It was sharp against his dry eyes and he squirmed as it lanced through his head to the back of his skull.  The leather cushions shifted beneath him and he thought he would slide onto the floor, but bracing himself against the arm of the sofa and clutching the blanket, he managed to pull himself upright as his eyes came to rest on a smiling face.

He knew every line and dimple of her smile and as he stared at it his vision swam into focus.  Flowers bordered her unclouded features, the veil she wore fell away down her garlanded arms and she rested her head on the striped shoulder of a more clean-shaven version of himself.  The moment had been captured, bound inside a plain black frame and placed upon the mantelpiece to oversee everything that came after.

She spoke from the doorway and drew his attention away from the photograph.  He did not look at her, but he could hear from her voice that she was not smiling.

“What are you doing down here?” she asked.

He pulled the blanket around himself.  His mother had crocheted it for his father when he first started feeling cold at night.  He would have been glad to know it was still used, if only occasionally in the depths of winter.  Amin had taken it from the airing cupboard in the night, searching for it with his fingers under thin piled sheets, holding it against himself like a comforter as he drank.

When he was sure he was covered he turned to look at her.  She was not leaning against the doorframe as she often did, and she was wearing a long robe that he did not know she owned.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he said.

“Why?”  She knew something was wrong.

“Too hot.”  It was stuffy under the blanket, but he did not take it off.

She picked up an empty bottle that lay on the floor next to the sofa.

“And thirsty,” she said.

She set down the bottle carefully on a coaster on the coffee table and hugged herself, even though the early morning air was warm and sunlight was already beginning to filter through the curtains.

“When your wife dreams like that,” he said, “anyone would need a drink.”

She crossed the bar of sunlight on the carpet and sat down on the arm of the chair, facing him and tugging at a loose thread on her robe.  When it began to unravel she stopped.  Her fingers shook and to Amin she looked like an intruder: somebody must have stolen into his wife’s body in the night and made her think things that she never could.

“Where?” she asked.

“All across your stomach.  Vivid.”

“What was it?”

He pulled the blanket up to his chin and wished he could hide his face.

“I’ll go and stay with my brother for a while,” he said.

“What did you see?” she asked again.

“I’ll pack a bag and come back for the rest of my stuff another time.”

She knelt down next to him and put her hand on his, but he pulled away.  She told him that whatever he had seen he could tell her, she needed to know.  It could not have been as bad as it seemed; the darkness, the heat of the night, must have made it worse than it was.  Amin stood up and kept the blanket tight around his shoulders.  He knew she was looking at him but he could not meet her eyes.  Instead he fixed his gaze on the photograph on the mantelpiece behind her.  But he kept thinking about the other image, the order of the lines as they appeared on her stomach and how they had formed into something that made him retch.  His hands shook as she asked with rising desperation what he had seen.

“If you don’t remember,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Please.”

Her robe revealed only her ankles and feet, wrists and hands.  Why did she have this robe?  Where had it been hidden?  Whatever was drawing itself on her skin now was happening under it, out of his sight, and it made him angry.  As if she could control it.

*

Amin threw off the blanket.  Teeth were appearing along the length of his arms and lightning bolts streaked down his legs to his ankles from under his shorts.  She stood up quickly, recoiled a little and fixed her eyes on his face.

“Why did you marry me?” he asked.

She said that she loved him.

“And children?”

Her shoulders drooped and she looked at the floor, her fingers twisting into nervous knots and patterning with spiders.

“You‘ve never wanted them,” he said.

She did not move and two drops of water fell onto the carpet, soaking in next to her feet, which were scored with cracks like drought-stricken earth.

“I don’t want to lose you,” she whispered.

Amin felt his throat closing as he breathed.  Already it was brighter outside and his eyes were like sandpaper.  The floor lurched a little; it was made of cracking glass suspended over a deep chasm.

“You told me ‘one day’,” he shouted.

She flinched and stepped back into the corner, by the mantelpiece.  She was shaking.  Eyes opened all along her collarbone but she would not raise her head.

“Were you lying?”

She did not move.

“Were you lying!” he shouted.

“I love you.”

He grabbed the empty bottle and hurled it at the photograph on the mantelpiece.  It crunched into her new-bride face and knocked the framed memory onto the carpet.  She screamed and covered her eyes as the glass exploded and showered onto the floor like shards of rain.  The photograph lay, surrounded by fragments of green and clear glass, picture side down.

“Please!” she sobbed.

Amin looked at his hands – they were covered with knives.  The hairs on the back of his neck were raised.  He had never felt like this before, like he wanted to hurt her.  He hardly ever wanted to hurt anybody.  He knew she was thinking about the other man, the man before.  She was scared of Amin now as she had been scared of that man.

“I’m sorry.  I won’t hurt you,” he said, but his blood still burned.  He ran his hands through his hair, “Shit.”

*

The door handle dented the plaster of the wall as Amin wrenched it open.   In the hallway he put on his shoes and went to the front door.  He hesitated, changed his mind and went upstairs to the small room that was his studio.  In a loving cup on the desk he found a thick black pen and returned to the sitting room where she still stood in the corner.  She had bare feet and did not dare move for the glass.  His shoes crunched on the glittering carpet and he crouched down in front of her.

He tugged open her robe; her legs and hips were scattered with false bruises, fists and bones.  These were her memories of the other man made flesh, and Amin was sick with shame.  He bit his lip and gripped the pen tightly.  Her stomach was almost bare, but as he drew her pigment rose under the ink: the dreamed image rose back to the surface as the pen reminded her skin.  He had never looked at her stomach so closely before; he did not know it had so many tiny imperfections.

When he had finished he went upstairs, dressed, packed a bag and left.  She did not emerge from the front room as he passed through the hall, and he did not look for her.  The daylight was strong now and he squinted painfully as he walked away.  The image that he had seen on her in the moonlight as she slept filled his mind, and he was plagued by the horror that had coursed through him as he replicated it: the shape of the womb, a thick cord and the tiny curled skeleton of a baby.


Read Part Two.

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