skin deep

it’s a superficial wound, they reassure me on the day that the neighbour’s dog bites me and i have to get seven stitches along my calf. only skin-deep. it’ll heal in no time. poising the needle above the surface saying, this is just a vertical mattress stitch. and i think about how that’s pretty funny, the thought of skin meeting skin and mattresses, and i think back to all those nights after we’d fucked and how we’d pressed our bodies together and our skins had seeped sweat. and i laugh to myself and think about how it’s a different orifice oozing now, and it’s bleeding red, and also brown from the betadine the nurse is putting on it. but i try not to think about all that for too long because i’m sitting in a doctor’s surgery and it feels a bit inappropriate and his plastic models of the anatomy remind me that really, the human body is pretty unsexy.

but will it leave a scar? i ask. and i make my voice sound concerned but secretly i hope that it does because some ostentatious part of me thinks that’d be pretty cool. how i could one day show it to my grandkids. how you would interrupt and tell them that i’d gotten it in a fight when really we’d both know full well that the terrier had caught me completely by surprise and that i’d shrieked like a kindergartner.

that night, i stand in the bathroom in front of the full-length mirror, and piece by piece i remove every item of clothing until i am staring at myself naked and i think ‘this is me’ and i think ‘this is my skin’…all of it. and i remember back when puberty hit and i’d just turned 13 and how i’d started showering with my eyes closed, applying make-up with the lights off. the irony of covering up what in the dark i wasn’t even able to see; acne and pock-marks that i’d simply learnt to feel with fingertips on skin. the braille of beautification.

it makes no sense to me when people take ‘skin-deep’ to be synonymous with ‘superficial’ because to me they are polar opposites. there is something so permanent about your skin. i think that being skinned alive would be the most excruciating death imaginable not just because there would be three whole layers to get through but because in losing my skin i would lose my identity. and when i die i want people to look at me and look at my skin and say ‘now that is a person who has lived passionately and indulgently and a little bit dangerously.’

its colour, its texture…the sharp needle forests of three-day regrowth. the soft inner-crook of my elbow where you touched me on the night that you told me you loved me, and the chalkboard streaks that you left down my back when it seemed we would consume each other whole, and the burn of your palm across my cheek on the day that you told me to leave and it felt like i would fall apart and my skin was the only thing keeping my crumbling bones together.

people talk of muscle memory, but i think that skin memory is probably more important.

my skin remembers rose thorns and strands of grass and the dog-eared pages of books. it remembers lone teardrops and torrents of rain and still it trembles at the thought of being pressed against yours. it has blushed pink and red and been welted purple and blue and it’s even been covered in candle wax on that one drunken night we mistakenly thought that that could ever be a good idea.

and i’m reminded of that day i got your name etched into the back of my neck. how the man told me that unlike most other girls he’d tattooed, mine would stand out because i had short hair. and i remember smiling and saying ‘that’s why i want it there’ and vowing never to let it go unnoticed. wanting to bare you to everyone i passed on the street, as if your name would be remotely significant to any of them. three months later and we were over and one year on and i’ve let my hair grow long and i never tie it back unless i’m feeling particularly masochistic. in summer especially, strands stick to my neck and i imagine them smothering you, and somehow your name’s incessant burn makes me feel less like a brainless convict (whose branding saw me 34th in the line of hearts you’d broken), and more like an amazonian warrior. strong and dignified and unashamed.

and i’m standing here in front of the mirror and i’m completely naked but i don’t feel cold. my left leg throbs from the pain of my vertical mattress stitch but still i stand there for a long time and stare at myself until i feel completely absorbed back into my own skin.


Clara Borg is a first-year Creative Writing student from Melbourne. She spends too much time trying to pronounce Nietzsche’s name in the mirror, and not enough time doing important things like facing up to her adult responsibilities. You can find more of her angst-ridden prose on her aptly-titled blog,

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