Under His Skin
by Anna Schechter | January 13, 2021
I don’t think he knows I’m here, embedded in his dermis. We ended things in a typical rage:
“God, you get under my skin!”
And I said what now seems to me the line which sealed my fate: “You’d be so lucky!”
And, the next morning, I came to, and there I was.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite at home here. I don’t miss my old life with its commutes, bills, obligations, and politics—
I sleep at the crest of the “A” tattooed without forethought into the inner left forearm of my simpleton ex-lover. “A” for Alexandria. “A” for me. I think he was supposed to add the rest of my name at some point but never got around to booking the appointment, or so he said. (Now, I realize a mouthful of a name like Alexandria would never fit across a forearm.) When he got it two months into our two year on and off tryst, I’m sure he had no idea he was putting a down payment on my future home. Now, the “A” is my domain. I stroll its thin black tunnels, hiking the rolling hills of its lines, and sliding with glee around its curled tail end. The bridge of the “A” is my favorite spot, offering gorgeous views of his capillaries and hair follicles. His tiniest and finest features have become blue skies and wheat fields
I took comfort in knowing this calligraphic terrain well. I had mapped it with my finger’s mindless tracing and outlined it with my tongue’s coquettish teasing many a time. I’d even sat with him in the parlor while beads of blood and excess ink bubbled from this very spot. Now I was in this universe which begun with a bang, with the artist drilling it into existence.
Here was this letter, “A,” which belonged to me. The tattoo itself existed physically. It had depth and height. It was (surprisingly, wondrously) habitable. It was material, no different than brick or vinyl or even ink on a page. How was getting a tattoo different from building a house or writing a letter? Those are things one can dwell in, so why not skin, too?
There was soon the question of sustenance in my new home. Water seemed easy enough. Sweat passed me by, and I supposed the salt didn’t taste so bad. With a whiff, I learned to differentiate the non-potable post-gym sweat—since when did he work out?—and the refreshing cool-off provided on a warm spring day. I was well on my way to hydration.
But food? What was I to eat? I paced the fraying, fanned-out ink at the edge of the tattoo, gazing into pale pink skies. How he used to blush with his whole body! But why blush now? He had no reason to.
I was famished.
Could he feel my stomach rumbling?
Did he wonder if my hunger was some phantom tickle, a gnat, a misfired synapse, a tremor below the earth’s surface?
I started to consume the little flakes that burst from my ex-lover’s skin. I eat only what is already on its way out, straining to coat his pillowcase, ready to assume its final dusty form. I debated the ethics of my leechlike lunches, and came to the conclusion that until I dip into his veins for a coppery milkshake, I’m in the clear. After all, it’s just skin. It’s not that deep.
If asked to defend my case — let’s just say we’re on a cheesy daytime divorce court show, or I’m accused of breaking and entering his permanent residence or something, — I would say this: I believe that my client (I would represent myself) has a right to these meals, as she (I) was always asking him, begging him, to moisturise. He never did. (Now this would get my imaginary jury revved up. Sympathy for the poor ex-girlfriend.) Out of the goodness of my heart, I tried to prevent him from flakiness. (Dramatic pause.) Now that I’m a parasitic dermis-dwelling ex, I thank the heavens above that he never listened to me. Thank you. (Canned audience clapping. Roll credits.)
Only one thing continued to nag at me: the possibility of him laser-erasing my home. Isn’t that what scorned ex-lovers do—blot out signatures of affection? Naively, I’d always thought of these things as binding, a commitment or a contract, a “please initial on the dotted line” kind of situation. I could work myself up thinking about how apparently unbearable tattoo removal was for the remorsefully inked. In such moments, I would summon the memory of my aunt with three-quarters of a rose on her ankle. She only made it through erasing half the stem before screaming it quits. I couldn’t imagine the pain of being within the zapped body art. I mean, where would I go? Would I become medical waste? Disposed? Would I be released from one area to roam his skin unbound, a climate of grease, pimples, and oil? The man had great forearms. But those legs? Are you kidding me? Uninhabitable. He wasn’t all wheat fields.
What would happen to life among the blond wisps? What was the afterlife of a tattoo?
My questions never found answers.
What I can say is this: he didn’t remove the tattoo.
One day there was what I can describe only as an earthquake. I thought the tectonic plates at large were in a tizzy, that I was merely experiencing the cell-deep, bone-shaking rattle of it all.
I was not.
I ran for cover. A fresh, still-wet tunnel split open at the bottom left of the “A.” He wasn’t removing my home but altering it. Adding on. Allowing himself to forget.
Words by Anna Schechter. Art by Sasha LaCômbe.