“Her Skin”

The waves lap the shoreline with their pale green tongues and the wind carries my dead mother’s name over the dunes.  I drop my duffel bag next to a woman who could be my mother’s age.  She lies splayed out on a towel like a slab of lean white angel fish, well-buttered and ready to be devoured. Some children hover nearby splashing each other by the shore.

Despite her age the woman’s breasts are perfectly round and perky, her lips unnaturally plump and her stomach is a flat board of corded muscle.  Enhanced, tucked, injected. No doubt.  She is beautiful in her desperation to be the woman she knows herself to be.

Inspired, I peel off my black tee, kick off my sandals, toes sinking into the burning sand and then drop my trunks and am naked before the sun.  She doesn’t notice me at all.  I open my bag, the same bag I carry to the beach every day, but have never dared to open before and take out my new skin, stretch it over my pale flesh clinging tight to it like fish hooks and pull my new face over the old and snap it in place with rivets.

A young couple approaches from my left, stops and points at me and then turns around walking back the way they came. Why? No one is shocked about a man who knows he is a woman or a woman who needs to be a man or that two men want to spawn together or two women want to spawn together and then cohabitate an aquarium for the rest of their lives.

Once I saw a man who knew he was a lizard inside and so tattooed his entire body with green scales and split his tongue in two.  I’ve always known I’m a fish inside, ever since I was a child I never felt more alive then when I splashed in the Gulf, the surf sliding over my hairless body and my webbed toes propelled me for hours on end and when my father decided to come home from his boat or the bar, he’d sit me in the tub and lather my head and body with suds, rub the dull sand and mud from the day’s play and teach me our gross anatomy: dorsal, pectoral, anal fin, gill, peduncle and operculum and then he showed me how to milk my sea cucumber and then how to milk his: just more salt water to swallow. The few times I ever asked about my mother he told me she left when I was still a young hatchling, called by the sea to return to where she belonged.

And what is desire, if not to return to the school to which you most belong?  So I begin to hop towards the shore my legs stuck together and instantly regret not having feet built into this new skin.   The woman who could be my mother notices me now and I try to wave at her, but between the hopping and enormous fins over my hands I lose my balance and tumble to the sand.  I can feel the sweat pooling. I try to roll towards the water one small revolution after the other the sand slowly roasting me on one side, then the other.

A tiny voice of doubt creeps into my mind like an Amazonian bloodworm and it says that I am a fool and this was a very stupid idea and that I will always be a fish trapped inside the body of a man. This mask is suffocating I can barely breathe through the slit I left for my inferior lips and start to fumble for the snaps to the mask but fish don’t have fingers and then a second voice tells me to be calm, everything is going to be okay and suddenly I can hear the sweet siren’s call that each salmon knows each season and I know it is the voice of my mother calling me home.  I can almost taste the sweet salt water on my lips, so close now, just a few more feet until I can breathe the elixir of life from which we made our first and greatest mistake crawling onto land.

 

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Eric Lee

About Eric Lee

Eric Lee holds a Ph.D. from Florida State University and is the winner of the 2010 Page Davidson Clayton Award for Emerging Poets awarded by the editors of Michigan Quarterly Review. His work has recently appeared in: Rattle, Georgetown Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Slipstream, Dos Passos Review, New York Quarterly and many others.