Long hair drips from their perfect skulls and they blow fanged kisses to me in the rear-view mirror.
REVIEW: All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color
Not ghosts, then — not with those sharpened teeth — but pontianaks. The old place, the old girl. He spins the steering wheel with the heel of one hand, and we turn into a driveway that feels both familiar and strange at once.
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A noticeboard hangs at the front among a shorn clump of bougainvillea. Mountainside Hotel, it reads, in curlicued script fresh out of the tin. I remember a thicket of hibiscus shoots and dizzying deep-water ponds where the mineshafts used to flood. Dilip grunts with satisfaction as he glides the car into a painted parking space. Behind all that smoked glass is a little simmer in the ground; a seepage where the ponds are trickling back. They used to overflow, juicy with weed and seething with the monstrous shoals of koi my father bred.
Short Fiction — a dreaming skin | angela t. carr
Lucky fish, Elsie once said, when we were still on speaking terms. Before the diamonds, before her ring, before someone draped the mineshafts with grass and buried the fish under a birdbath with their luck gone for good and all. For a moment I see my father kneeling with an opal ring and Elsie with Chinese pomade in her crisping hair and a smile that spreads like butter.
But then Adelia leans over the mirrored desk and her lovely reflection swims up into his empty hands like a fish with luck knotted tight to its tail. Trees with stranglers on them die, given enough time. They rot away inside, crumble so quietly you never even know. Dilip taps at the door.
He closes his eyes and for a second we sit together, listening to the vanilla hum of the air-conditioning. A few days by ourselves.
Without opening his eyes he reaches out and crumples my fingers into the hollow of his palm. Underneath everything, in all his soft, hidden places where the words run out, I can still feel the pulse of his heart. Without a word or a kiss or a brush of the lips, she dragged him into his own parlor and began peeling him down to the skin. She was methodical, meticulous, mindful of every button. Before laying his shirt to rest on the divan, she flicked the creases out with a long finger.
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He would have remembered. But she had recognized the door. She had him by the socks now, thin fingers slipping under the cuffs and grazing his ankle bones as if they were no more sensuous than small stones. Her eyes were gray, not gray like the cave but gray like an emptiness, an omission, like something he had forgotten as a boy and had been trying to remember ever since.
But Mads had never been much for faces, and her hair was falling down her back like black water and her vellum throat was pulsing with something that was not quite love, but was something he wanted very much. She brought her hands down to the place below his belly button where the hair sprang up in cheerful curls. He felt her fingernail, cold and sharp and curved like a scythe. Felt it graze the skin there and then bite in. Felt her unzipping him, from navel to neck, his skin curling back.
There was no pain. Instead, an almost familiar relief fell through him. Like sliding into a hot bath and feeling his worries slough off and sink, dissolving before they hit the bottom of the tub. She unseamed him, opened him, all in one slice. He said nothing.
He had no words for what she was doing to him. Very gently, she peeled his skin back to make space for her hand. She slipped a finger between his ribs, nudging the organs aside, making room. Then, in one swooping movement, like a bat furling its wings in a tight dive, she slipped off her dress and there was nothing underneath. She snuggled deeper into the space beneath his heart, tucking herself in. She was warm. She seemed to belong there. She fit just right in that old, cold space that all the brandy in the city had never been able to fill. She was peace inside his skin. Over several strange days, the skin knit itself together again.
He rubbed a balm of calendula and beeswax into the scab, sealing the seam. He moved tenderly around his bruised ribs. No more shifts to skip. No more nights on Watch. Just Mads Wilder at home with his scar and the girl under his heart. He found it harder to bend over with her cradled in his ribcage.
In the mornings, his left arm was stiffer than his right. She got restless when he drank anything harder than cider, so he stopped drinking. One day he took the little ceramic boat out of its alcove and smashed it with a mallet.
Related Skin: Short Fiction
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