Updated on May 24, 2015
Skin – Part Six
This the final part of ‘Skin’.
Skin – Part Six
Barely a minute after answering the telephone Liela ran past Aletheia’s cubicle. A few people looked up from their desks with puzzled faces and one man had to step to one side to let her pass, but nobody gave her more than a fleeting thought. Aletheia stood up and followed her through the door to the stairwell. She began to hurry down the steps but, pausing, she heard the echo of climbing feet. She turned and ran up the stairs after Liela.
The other man, before, had once chased her up some stairs. The doctors had told her she had to look after herself and get plenty of rest; she was certainly not in any condition to run. But the man was angry: she had been out for a walk and returned home later than he was expecting; he told her he had been worried sick. She said she was sorry, but it was clear from his eyes that his anger was too far gone.
He had chased her up the stairs. She often ran and he always caught her. This time was no different, but on this occasion his punches did more than cow her into submission. The pain in her stomach doubled her over and she knew immediately what had happened. He was instantly struck by remorse; he even cried and cradled her swollen belly, whimpering softly under his breath, “my baby, my baby, my baby.” By the time they got to the hospital it was too late. And yet Aletheia, who had been afraid of her own body and the strange thing inside it for weeks, could not feel anything but relief. Sickening, hateful relief.
It was raining again, much harder this time. Several puddles had formed and the deckchairs dripped; the sunlight still reflected off the windows of surrounding buildings, creating a shimmering rainbow that hung above the city. The water was warm; the air was thick with it. Aletheia felt as though she was wading along the rooftop. At the edge, standing on the surrounding wall made slick by the rain, she could see Liela, blurred.
“Stop!” shouted Aletheia.
The woman turned around – her hair was loose and sodden, and all the images on her skin had oozed. Ink streamed down her flesh and stained the wall at her feet. Only raw shapes held fast: circles, lines, loops.
Aletheia stopped a few paces away from Liela and the wall. She did not dare move any closer. A cityscape began to sketch itself onto her left arm; the tallest building extended from her shoulder to her wrist and black clouds gathered around her collarbone. Liela turned back and curled her toes over the far edge.
“What’s happened?” said Aletheia. She had to raise her voice over the hammering rain.
“They know! You know! Everybody will know!”
“Get off the wall. Let me help you.”
“It’s too late! I’ve been prepared for this my whole life.”
She leaned forward and looked down, way down. The rain began to ease.
“Please!” said Aletheia, “It’s just a few donations.”
Liela looked back over her shoulder at her; she looked eerily calm. The rain stopped.
“Not my body.”
“But you have to help people. It’s your duty.”
“And this is my choice,” she said.
With smudged arms spread she leaned forward. She looked like a chalk drawing in the street, after the passage of hundreds of feet. She fell.
Throughout the day the forest on Amin’s arms had grown and joined in a tangle across his shoulder blades. Between the dimples on the small of his back, was a dark stone covered with moss. He was standing at the foot of the office building with a small knot of people; they had run down to the street as soon as they saw the body streak past the window. Most people remained in the office. Most people did not want to see.
As soon as he was outside a police van pulled up, and he could not understand how they had arrived so quickly. They pushed through the circle of people and re-emerged a few seconds later, their faces grim. From the back of the van they produced a stretcher – every police van carried one – which was covered in straps and buckles. They were not only for immobilising patients with spinal traumas; they were heavy-duty, for restraint.
Policemen were obliged not to expose themselves – they wore long trousers and shirts made from especially lightweight material. It was not right for everybody to be able to see the thoughts of those in authority. The crowd moved back a little way as instructed. Amin watched as the policemen loaded the stretcher and covered it with a sheet. They did not bother to fasten the straps. There was a murmur in the crowd as a little blue leaked through onto the sheet, over the arms. They put the stretcher in the van and drove away. It was all over within a few minutes.
Amin talked to some of the other bystanders for a while before he noticed Aletheia standing in the atrium. He rushed through the sighing glass door and began to reach out his arms, but he stopped short. She was staring and her expression dumbfounded him.
“I was up there with her.”
He moved towards her but she took a step back.
“She jumped because she wanted to.”
“Aletheia. People like that are very disturbed…”
“She didn’t want them to use her, so she escaped.”
A hairline crack appeared in the stone on Amin’s back.
“You can come and get your clothes tonight,” she said. “I’ll be out.”
The crack widened.
“You’re upset. We should talk about what happened up there.”
“You said yourself, there’s no point in this,” she took off her ring and pressed it into his hand, “if there’s no future for us.”
Out of the crack, a tree began to grow.
“I meant …”
“You meant, if I don’t want your future.”
The tree grew taller and sprouted leaves which reached up to the branches on his shoulder blades and twined together in a thick mess.
“I don’t want it, Amin. I never have.”
As she walked away the late afternoon sunlight slanted across her back and illuminated a pair of wings.