Fiction: An Excerpt from Daniel Zomparelli

 

CRAIG HAS VERY NICE SKIN from Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017)
by Daniel Zomparelli

My skin is sitting weirdly on my body today. I woke up this morning, and it felt looser than usual. When I checked the mirror, I could see that there was extra skin drooping from my eyes, some folding around my butt, some gathered around my elbows.

I usually have someone fix this. It would be very embarrassing if my skin were just to fall off. When I was young, my skin was too tight, and everyone would notice. I would make up excuses like, “I have an eating disorder” or “I’m just too big for my body.” Now my excuses are, “I’m too tired,” and “I’m getting old.” It’s becoming harder and harder to keep my skin firmly covering my body. Taping my skin tight with duct tape only works under my clothes, and Botox only lasts so long before my skin begins to loosen all around my face.

Craig was coming over tonight, so I needed to figure out the best way to quickly tighten up my skin. I made several calls, but it was impossible to book an appointment. I decided to wear a hat that sat low on my head. I lined the hat with duct tape so that it would hold my forehead skin up.
Craig arrived early, which wasn’t like him. He had also been drinking. He came very close to my face for a kiss and then stopped. “What’s up with your forehead? You look surprised.” I stared at him until he changed the subject.

Craig has very nice skin. His body is the same age as my human coverings, but his is perfect and fits tightly around all of his body.
“Let’s go out.” He grabbed at my arm, but I pulled away.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you need to go out more and meet men!”
I don’t like meeting men. I especially don’t like the bar. It’s filled with people, and they can’t manage their space. I have my space, and they have their space, but at the bar, everyone wants to share space. I can feel them groping at my skin, feeling it loosen. There is this way humans take up space, like water in buckets, or hair in sewage drains. “Why?” I asked.
“We’re not staying in again. I’ve already had a couple of drinks, and I’m not wasting them on watching more episodes of The Blue Planet.”
I thought about sitting and watching The Blue Planet with Craig. He’d ask me to sit closer, maybe say that he didn’t mind my loose skin. I would lay my head on his chest, and maybe a bit of my skin would fall off, but he wouldn’t care. And maybe some of my skin would slide down, and he’d think to himself how sexy it would be if I took off all of my skin. He would slowly uncoil it, and my body could actually breathe. I could relax, let my fur and wings loosen.
Craig grabbed my jacket and pulled me out the door. A cab arrived promptly. It was missing a headlight and the left side of the car showed several scrapes. The drive of the cab was an older man.
I slipped into the front seat. “Your headlight is out. That’s actually illegal,” I said.
“Sir, you don’t have to sit in the front seat,” he responded.
“Also, you have scratches along the left side of your car. Is that from an accident or a bad parking job?”
“No, some guy hit me.”
“How can they be from someone hitting you if they’re long scratches? I would like you to drive safely please.” The cab driver stopped responding to my questions for the duration of the drive. The drive took thirteen minutes. The car swerved, and I felt my body flail back and forth in the seat. He pulled up to the bar. “Here’s your money. I’m not tipping you because I felt uncomfortable,” I added. I could see Craig wait in the car and pass him a few extra dollars.
When we entered the bar, the space was already filled with too many people. I decided to keep my jacket on in case we decided to leave early.
“Steve, you have to take your jacket off—you’ll die of sweat in here.”
“People don’t die of sweat, they die of dehydration.” Craig stared at me until I put my jacket in coat check.
Craig purchased me a drink. I sipped it slowly knowing how quickly I can become too intoxicated, but then I started taking larger gulps until the drink was just ice and a squeezed lemon.
Craig motioned for us to take a seat on the open plush couches. Immediately several men stood in front of us, their bodies blocking the rest of the club from view.
I waved at them. “Hello, excuse me, you are rather close to us.” The music was too loud. “Excuse me, you’re getting rather close to us.” The men’s butts inched closer until they were directly in front of our faces. Craig seemed pleased by this.
“Look how tight those guy’s jeans are!” Craig laughed. “They’re so fucking tight I can see this guy’s iPhone contact list.”
“I’m going to go get us another drink.” I excused myself.
As I walked from the couch to the bar, I squeezed between men whose hands coincidentally dropped to graze against my butt. I was thankful my jeans were sturdy enough to keep their hands from getting into my pants. The bartenders were shirtless, which meant it was after midnight. I ordered two more drinks, and they went down faster than the last.
I started to forget about my skin.
When I got back to Craig, there were several men surrounding him. I hesitated, but Craig noticed me and pulled me in. He began to introduce each one. “This is Kyle, he works in law. This is Jeffrey, he’s a doctor from Seattle. And this is Kareem, he’s a scientist, I think.”
“Nice to meet you.” I stared intently at the foreheads of each of the men. Their skin fit so perfectly on their faces. “You have very nice skin,” I commented to one. I remembered my skin and quickly finished my drink.
Kyle looked at me. “So what do you do, Steve?”
“I’m an accountant,” I said.
“Oh, do you like numbers?”
“No. But it’s a good salary, and I’m very good at calculations.” Kyle was staring at me. I was supposed to ask the next question. I noticed tattoos running down his bicep. They were thick lines interweaving. “I noticed your tattoo. Is that a fish?”
“No, it’s more just a kind of abstract tribal tattoo.”
“What does it mean?”
“I guess it doesn’t really mean anything, more just a visual thing. Do you like it?”
“No—uh, I mean, no.” I walked away then walked back over to him, “I’m sorry that I don’t like your tattoos.” I walked away. I walked back to him. “I mean that I don’t like tattoos, not just your tattoos. I like your skin, though.” I walked away.
Craig gave me a shot of tequila and another drink. I forgot about my skin. I was dancing.
Other people were dancing.
A man danced with me, pressed against me. “I like your hat,” he said. “Thank you. I purchased it at a store,” I replied.
I had to go to the bathroom, so I excused myself. When I returned, the man was dancing with someone else. Craig pulled me into a conversation with the man from Seattle.
“Steve, we’re trying to figure out if you’re bear.”
“No, I’m not a bear.”
“You’re totally a bear.”
“No, I assure you, I’m human like you.”
Everyone started to laugh. I had either made a joke or they were laughing at me.
“Obviously, but, like, Jeffrey is a wolf, and I’m more of an otter cub, but you’re a total bear.”
“No. I’m not.” I felt myself becoming bothered. “I’m quite obviously a human—look at my human skin!”
“Steve, you’re hilarious. Weird, but totally fucking funny.” Craig was drunk.
My skin. I focused on my breathing. I could feel my skin sliding. If I focused long enough on my breathing, my skin wouldn’t fall off.
“Why am I so funny?” I responded.
“I dunno. You’re just kind of weird. But, like, a good weird.”
“I don’t think I’m very funny or weird. I think maybe you are the funny and weird one.”
My skin.
“Maybe that’s why you constantly have to jump from man to man to man to feel some sort of belonging,” I yelled. Craig stopped laughing.
Skin loosens.
“Maybe that’s why you can’t last in a relationship longer than a month.”
And loosens.
“Maybe …”
I could feel my skin start to slip off, but I couldn’t stop it. “That’s why everyone talks about you the way they do.” My skin was a loose pair of pants being held together by a thick belt. “Maybe that’s why you can’t just stay home and watch The Blue Planet with me.” My skin was so loose, I could feel it flapping around; my hat was the only thing holding it together. “Maybe if we just stayed home and watched The Blue Planet we could fall in love, and I wouldn’t have to go to this place anymore.” I felt my skin drop from my body.
“Dude, what’s wrong with your skin?”
I ran quickly into the handicap bathroom stall and tried to fix my face. My skin was drooping so low. I remembered to breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. If I could calm down, I could get my skin back on just enough to quickly make it out of the club without anyone noticing. I looked in the mirror, and it started to look manageable. I lowered my hat over my face, covering my eyes.
For a moment, though, I thought about letting it just fall off altogether, walking out the bathroom door without it. Maybe everyone wouldn’t notice. Or maybe they would all notice and then be amazed at how beautiful I look without my skin. Maybe one man would walk up to me and say, “I can’t keep my eyes off you. Did you know that you’re beautiful?” Maybe he would kiss me and hold me, tell me that skin was just a disgusting layer of flaking elastic bands covering beautiful flesh and fur. Maybe he would kiss my face, my chest, tell me that I was perfect with my flesh hanging out. I then imagined us walking out of the bar together and the men outside screaming at the sight of my body without skin.
I pressed the folds of my skin closer to my eyeballs. I walked out of the bar. I couldn’t find Craig. He must have left with someone.
When I got home, I sat on the couch and turned on The Blue Planet. I watched as the birds dived and swooped and ate prey by gulping fish from cold blue water. I felt my wings itch. When the program ended, I went into my bathroom, pulled off my hat, took off my clothes, and stared into the mirror. After a moment, I pulled down the skin around my eyes and lifted it off my face. I pulled the skin down from my face to my chest. I pulled my skin down from my chest to my knees. I let the skin drop to the floor and stepped out of it.
I called Craig and apologized.
I scooped my wings around my face to block the mirror.

Daniel Zomparelli is the author of Davie Street Translations and Rom Com (with Dina Del Bucchia). Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person is his first collection of short stories.

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