I take the skins of the women my lover loved. I flesh them until they are paper thin. They are folded stacked in a box at the back of my closet. The box is cherry wood and the lock is made of gold. I know it should be silver, because silver contains powerful magic, and sometimes I hear the skins shifting and whispering to each other.
Think what you want.
He left me no choice.
My lover doesn’t love me but he is mine and I intend to keep it that way. He is bound to me by a powerful spell. There is a silver ring on the third finger of his left hand. I slipped it on when I apologized with my body for my temper.
My father made the ring. It wasn’t easy. Not all silver is powerful. The right kind of silver runs molten and liquid through the fiery heart of the world. It comes bubbling up in glittering gray masses to hiss through the earth.
My father saw my lover chipping away at my heart. How he wandered through the village. Where he went, my heart followed, darkening with each betrayal. With this one and that one and oh, oh, oh, how fury rang through me, how it rose inside me and spilled out on everything I touch, hunks of bread I baked turned sharp as the blade of my rage, cutting the mouths of my family, blood spread like jam around their mouths.
My father trekked two days to the Silver Springs. This is the only thing my father ever did for me and I keep it curled in the secret part of my heart so it remains close. He was always more partial to my sister. He carried a lock of hair I had ripped from my lover’s head during an argument.
Don’t ever leave your hair where someone can get it. Hair can bind, silver can bind, any part that comes from you contains your essence. Any part of you can be used against you, for reward or vengeance, for love or for hate. Like my father, I am not afraid to use your essence. I am a magic maker, by birth and by blood.
Inside the ring, our hair woven together. We are braided together, in this world and the next. He cannot leave me.
Well, that’s not entirely true. He may wander but he is bound to return.
When he strays, I have ways to deal with that.
Sometimes, when things between us are strained tightrope taut, I slip on a skin and I change and I lure him to another place where I pretend I am the lover wearing his skin.
The skin of Lust fits the tightest. I slip it on where it feels like silk on my own skin, velvet to touch. My hair turns sleek and golden. My eyes are dark blue and full of want, and the space between my legs is hot and slick and throbs with a pulse all its own.
When I am Lust, whose name was something I’ve forgotten now, there is a crackling electricity between he and I that lights little fires in the air and when his hand touches me, my/her skin sizzles where his silver ring lies. When I am her, he cannot keep his hands/mouth/cock off or outside of me—we can spend hours locked together.
When I am Lust, I come so hard I forget myself and leave furrows in his back.
I have to sew the skin back together in places afterward with the finest of threads.
When I am me, I can feel my bitterness hot and dry against my skin, chafing my passages through every room every door every place in this home, this grand home that no one knows what happens in. When I am me, I am righteous anger and icy contempt. When I am, he fears me. And yet I love him with this hard hot heart beating in my chest. The thought of his absence is thousands of needles in my eyes and thousands of blades piercing my organs.
You may wonder why I stay.
I am not sure you understand what love is, my sister said. It was easy for her to say. She is the pretty one.
About this she is right. Sometimes I feel something stirring inside me, deep down inside me, a feeling that is warm but not hot, not burning. But I am more familiar with white hot rage.
If you had known me before—
But you don’t.
Picture a small, dark haired child. Picture her younger sister, blond and lit up from within by the natural gift of beauty.
Picture the pinched face of the ugly child. The forgotten child.
Now you know.
The bodies of his lovers are out by the sea. I dug their graves on a high cliff where the sea pounds the land and their organs and skeletons lay jumbled up in shallow graves and I hope they hear the pounding of the waves, that it fills their ears and rattles their teeth and makes them dance to the tune of fear.
I hope their ghosts rise from their graves and look for me, held by the spell I used to bind the cliff. I hope their translucent spirit fingers loop around the invisible mesh and they shake and tremble and howl in fury. Oh, how I hope sometimes.
Gluttony. Her name was Sunny. Like my sister, she was born beaming. They even named her after the candle that lights the world. Oh, how I hope she howls loudest at all.
She fought the hardest.
She was greedy. She wanted wanted wanted everything she saw. She laughed the loudest. She was the bravest. She had the kind of spirit that I longed for, the kind of spirit that never looks back or never fears anything.
She had everything. Men wrapped around her fingers, weaving them as if she was working a loom, creating a fabric of admirers. Why, why did she have to have him as well?
I don’t think she was afraid even at the end. Even as she lay dying, as I peeled her skin from her the same way I peel the shell of eggs boiled in my pot, she was angry.
That is something I am familiar with.
I follow him. I’ve always followed him. Since I was young, since he smoothed out my pinched angry face, since he freed me from the trappings of my garments and made my body dance and shake. You might not see me, but I am there, so know if you smile back at my lover, if you allow him to hold a door for you, if you sit down to a meal with him and his hand brushes your thigh and you feel that little touch run up your flesh and shock your nerve endings so that your sex wakes up and begins to tingle, well, you should stop and ask yourself—
How attached are you to your skin?
Make no mistake. I am not afraid to take it from any of you.
His favorite was Sadness, Lydia, who mooned about with such bottomless eyes he could drown in. He still tells her that now, when I wear her skin. ‘I could drown in you,’ he says. He makes her promises he never makes the others. He traces the patterns she made on herself, her scarred up, ugly flesh and when he fucks her, he looks in her eyes, and later, he will lie with her and they are so enmeshed, I cannot tell where one ends and the other begins.
He will tell her secrets, secrets that I know but are not mine to hold. He tells her everything, about how he feels and who he is, and he lets everything inside him fall over her. It is her that I hate the most, her whose skin itches and tugs at mine, her skin that feels lined with thorns being worn. It is her he is gentle with, her skin he touches whisper soft that is already scarred and fragmented and a road map of all the people who came before them and left their mark, left a very detailed description of the passage they carved through her.
It is she who is kind, who says that people do the best they have with what they are given, her who sets my teeth on edge and makes them grind the enamel to dust that I swallow and add to the pile of filth inside me.
I broke part of an incisor off when he was with her, when he strayed for two whole months, snapping it off right inside my mouth, but when I wear their skins it is whole again.
It is dark tonight and there is a faraway look in his eye, one he’s had for months no matter how often I wear his dead lovers skins. He is not satisfied with the nights I give him their flesh which is my flesh. He wants love and even in their skins I do not love him the way he demands to be loved, I have suffered too many scars not outside my body but drawn inside, to ever love him the way he wants me to. Through their skins he can feel my love which is mostly anger but inside, he is mine, he once loved me too, and he is bound to me and I to him.
His steps are light and quick and unlike the heavy tread he has at home, his feet dance across the cobblestones.
There is a small, squat home off the street he goes to. He smooths his hair, which is slick and soft and whispers promises against your fingertips on nights like this. He knocks and there is another lover, or soon to be lover, who opens the door. She is pale milk skin and luminous eyes and hair shorn to close to her scalp. It is white as her teeth which she reveals to him with a curve of her gluttonous, traitorous, lustful mouth and before they are inside they are locked in an embrace. She folds her leg around him like a praying mantis, and when his mouth moves down her body, she looks as if she may very well devour him, snap off his head and swallow it down her yawing gullet.
Anger like fire in me. I watch through the window, how he sits in her home and she astride him, how the panting gasps press her ribs out against her skin, the skin that will soon be mine, how pale and dotted with freckles and how his mouth leaves slicks across it.
You may think me a very angry person.
I am not. After all, I once saw my lover with my sister, the one who made my face pinched and narrow, who stole everything that was mine first. She was my daddy’s favorite, my mama’s too. When she was born, my existence was not cut in half, but carved to the smallest imaginable existence.
I saw them joined under a bright sun, the same kind of sun my sister is to our family, locked together.
Then I was angry. Then there was such a tearing, ripping sensation in my head, as if a spell had detonated inside it. There is a period of time that remains deleted from my memories.
I have not seen my sister, nor my family since.
The fleshing must be planned carefully, well in advance. Spells have power but they are only spells. There is still a woman to overcome.
I will follow the lover of my lover to learn her habits. I will know her secrets. I will watch my lover love her until I am so full of heat that I must explode so I do not cook alive in my own paper skin.
Then I will come. I will come and I will subdue her and I will cast spells to hold her still while I tug her skin from her body. She will lie there, a body of bones and muscle and connective tissues, only her eyes twitching towards me as I flesh her skin, pulling slimy slumps of fat from the skin, cleansing it and stretching it to dry while she lies beside me, just a bag of meat with no sack of skin to cover it, and I will tell her how her skin keeps my lover with me. How he is mine. Mine.
If you think I enjoy it, you are wrong. I would not say I enjoy it. It is something that must be done, that must be performed in a specific fashion, a ritual that releases the blinding brilliance of my rage while giving me another skin to keep my lover’s interest.
I take the eyes last, and then I put the meat bag out of its misery.
My hands are never softer than after fleshing the skin. The fat that slimes me and gets beneath my fingernails leaves them soft and smooth and glowing. I am admiring my hands when I feel a sharp searing pain at the back of my head. My hair is caught in a powerful grip being yanked from my very head, and I scream at it, my hands flying up to stop it, but they are not my hands. I am not controlling them.
My own hands are wrapped around my hair, tugging, tugging, and how it rips at me as I feel my scalp separate and detach from my skull. I feel it happen, and suddenly my skin is loose on my body, bagging the way theirs does, and I am screaming but I do not hear a scream, just a muffled moan.
I am sliding into a pile at my feet.
I am leaving my body behind. I am my skin only.
I lay there where I am, sightless now, and there is a voice that is foreign to me but tickles my eardrums. It’s a tip of the tongue I don’t have, whispering into my shelled ear.
I know this voice but I do not remember it.
I feel fingers pinching at my flesh, hooking into my shoulders. I am given a brief shake and the length of my hair tickles my back. I am folded in half, and again. I am carried somewhere. The closet door opens.
“Oh, I’m sorry, my dear Wrath,” the woman who just took my skin off the same careless way you remove an old coat says.
Now I know where my sister went.
I try to shout at her, to get her to listen to reason, unfold me and let me be her skin again, but all I do is buzz against her fingertips.
“I know, darling,” she says. “I am sorry. You’ve been so useful to me. Your anger-oh, how I loved being angry. But I’ve grown tired of it, and so has—” and her she names my lover and his name cleaves through my spirit. “However, I cannot bear to look on my scars you gave me, that day. The new skin—she’s a pretty thing, isn’t she?”
She puts me in the box and I feel another skin beneath me, ridged with scars. There is a whisper of movement, a settling as it skitters away from me.
The lid closes. I can feel the dark pressing down on me like the weight of a thousand ships.
Then I hear them shuffling, feel Sadness’s scars sliding away. Something silk and soft moves against me.
The other skins are muttering to each other with their soft hairs speaking a language I already understand.
“We’ve been waiting for you.”
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